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“Tread On Me” – It’s “Art.”

Broward College (FL) “art professor” named Lisa Rockford has created a controversy after one of her “art pieces” was actually a cut up and whitewashed American flag used as a door mat.

(click for larger image in a new window.)

Rockford’s artist’s statement says that the split flag is a symbol of current political discord, and its placement on the floor is a dual reference to vulnerability and the historical slogan “Don’t tread on me.”

“The nation lays bare. Left and right separated in two. Divided. Exposed. Vulnerable. Do we respect the country enough to tread carefully? Can we unify by meeting in the middle?” Rockford wrote. “The flag has been whitewashed, to represent the suppression of unpleasant histories and tensions. It is also a clean slate for our future actions.”

Noting that the piece includes a narrow path between the flag’s two sides, Rockford said that the “actions of the viewer become contributions to the work. Does the viewer walk forward blindly without being aware of their surroundings? When the viewer realized what they were stepping on, did they quickly jump off, or were they unaffected?”

If this work bothers visitors to the gallery, she said, “or if the viewer hesitated or considered their actions before stepping forward, then it has been effective in causing them to think about their relationship to the American flag, its value and its meaning.”

Actually, we think that this “artwork” shows more of the lack of depth in art today and certainly the lack of depth and artistic ability from some college professors.

Initially, the flag was placed in front of the door at the entrance to the gallery. People had no idea they were stepping on the American flag. That alone seems to say that this was not so much a piece to “get people to think,” but rather to simply disrespect the flag.

After complaints, the school stepped in and moved the flag from the doorway and posted a notice on the “art work.”

Broward [College] said the work “represents the opinions of the individual artist and they are not indicative of the values at [the college], the Rosemary Duffy Larson Gallery or the other artists featured in the exhibition. Professor Rockford’s artist’s statement is now placed adjacent to the display to inform the viewer

In other words, the college is saying that this is a freedom of speech issue and they have to allow it.

(That would be nice if colleges applied that reasoning to other things, but they don’t.)

(digitally enhanced to better show the flag on the ground.)

There actually is a law that covers the use, display and respect for the flag. There are no penalties for breaking the law so in many ways, it is a toothless tiger. In addition, the Supreme Court ruled in 1989 in the case of Texas v. Johnson that burning a flag in protest was protected political speech.

However, section 8 of the above law deals with “Respect of flag,” and reads:

No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing. Regimental colors, State flags, and organization or institutional flags are to be dipped as a mark of honor.
(a) The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
(b) The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.
(c) The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.
(d) The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free. Bunting of blue, white, and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below, should be used for covering a speaker’s desk, draping the front of the platform, and for decoration in general.
(e) The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.
(f) The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling.
(g) The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.
(h) The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.
(i) The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown.
(j) No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.
(k) The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.
(emphasis ours)

In our opinion, a case can be made that the flag being cut up, soiled and on the ground can be picked up by someone and disposed of properly. In fact, we’d like to see that. It would be reminiscent of Chicago Cub Rick Monday saving a flag from being burned back in 1976.

4/25/76: Rick Monday runs into center field and takes the American flag away from protesters before they have a chance to light it on fire

But there is something else going on here as well.

Is cutting up and bleaching a flag “art?” Scissors, a bucks worth of bleach and a $5 flag is “art?”

We understand the idea that art can and perhaps should, inspire thought, introspection and maybe even a bit of controversy.

When we think of pieces of art that did that, we always come back to Michelangelo’s massive carving of David.

“David” is massive in size and scope. People were in shock at the youth portrayed by the sculpture. The controversy arose in the work being nude and well muscled. People had never seen such a thing like that in an art work and it prompted conversations over the human form and the appropriateness of nude images in public.

The difference between Michelangelo’s David and Rockford’s pieces are many – including the talent of Michelangelo and the lack of talent of Rockford. Perhaps the biggest difference it that the statue of David was awe inspiring. Even those who objected to the form acknowledged that the statute lifted people up in many ways.

While causing a conversation, the statue actually brought people together.

Rockford’s “artwork” can’t say that. The piece exists only to be divisive. It doesn’t inspire anyone or anything.

Certainly Rockford has the right to be a jerk and treat the flag in that manner. We have the right to call her out on it and express our opinion. That’s the way free speech works.

While the work is, in our opinion, low brow and without merit, the truly sad thing is that Rockford’s mess is considered “art” just as the statue of David is art. Of course, comparing the two is like comparing a filet mignon with a dollar hamburger from McDonalds. They are both food, and there the similarity ends.

We long for the days when artists – and especially art professors – talked and taught actually art that inspired people rather than the lack of talent displays that divide us all.



8 Responses to ““Tread On Me” – It’s “Art.””

  1. brian says:

    I think its a great experiment/learning opportunity. They need to film the people interacting with the piece, then interview them to see what they thought. Throw in “left side right side to make it interesting, discuss afterwards. It is after all just a symbol, let people show their true colors by how they respect/disrespect it. I would probably walk down the middle, careful not to step on the fabric

    • AAfterwit says:

      brian,

      This was not billed as an “experiment.” It was billed as an “artwork.” People who were walking upon it had no idea what they were walking upon as there was no notice that there was a bleached, cut up flag was on the ground.

      It may be a “symbol,” but a symbol of what? The country that lets an so called “professor” trick people into trampling on that symbol?

      Sorry, but this is a symbol:

      What was on the floor was not.

      While I appreciate the idea that you would not have stepped on the flag (assuming that you knew it was there) we would have taken a different approach and removed it from the ground and dispose of it properly.

      Thanks for the comment.

      A. Afterwit.

    • Lisa Rockford says:

      Speaking from the horses mouth, Brian is correct on his interpretation. It was billed as an “interactive painting,” Documenation of peoples feet was taken.
      Another correction: It was painted white, not bleached.

      AAfterwit, please don’t speak for the artist when you did not see the exhibition. You also clearly don’t have an understanding of why Contemporary art evolved past the Classical.
      Try comparing my flag with Rauschenberg.

      • AAfterwit says:

        Lisa Rockford,

        Thank you for your comment.

        First, no one is “speaking for the artist.” You created something and people started to comment upon it and now you want to say that criticism of that piece is somehow wrong. It is odd that you wanted to “create” something that would spawn conversations and now you want to tell people what they can and cannot say.

        Secondly, according to multiple sources, the piece was not “billed” as anything before people walked upon it. As you are aware, the school moved the piece and put up a disclaimer as to what it was so people could make up their minds as to how “interact” with it. We are left to wonder why you deceived the public due to lack of notice before stepping on the flag and now wish to deceive people by claiming that what the piece was “billed” as is the same thing as notice to people.

        Third, “Contemporary art” has not evolved past the “Classical.” If anything, art has de-volved. What once took skill and years of training, toil and effort to learn a craft is now “replaced” in the minds of a few artists by something that a second grader could make. Comparing you or your work to the work of Rauschenberg actually demonstrates how the so called “contemporary artist” over-estimates their skill and the value of their work. Dare we say “hubris?”

        We realize that you have the sheepskin and are in a “teaching” position, but the fact of the matter remains that if you are trying to convey a message or start some sort of dialogue, it is up to you to create something that does that. Instead, you spent 3 minutes with something that you bought and called it “art” which did not start a conversation on the topic you desired, but rather a discussion on you and your “skill.” That’s all on you. If a speaker cannot get people to understand the message, that is on the speaker – not the vast audience.

        Have a great day.

        A. Afterwit.

  2. brian says:

    The more disrespect the left shows for our country the more they loose. I say let them have at it. I for one think its ok to sit back and watch them self destruct.

    • AAfterwit says:

      brian,

      While we appreciate your opinion, we wish to take another tact.

      We assume that you are aware that the internet has a great history of hyperbole to make a point. We are going to honor and continue that history with this statement:

      Allowing the left to disrespect the flag to watch them ‘self-destruct’ would be akin to not stopping a rape in order to prove that men are pigs and haters of women.

      We understand your point, but we disagree.

      At some point, instead of taking a knee, you have to stand up for what is right.

      Respectfully,

      A. Afterwit.

  3. brian says:

    Afterwit, I don’t think comparing rape to walking on the flag helps the conversation. Your vision of the flag being some sacred symbol is going a bit overboard. Should it be a crime to disrespect the flag?

    I think a better way to deal with the left is to point out the hypocrisy, laugh, and move on.

    Nobody should be above the law, but trampling the flag? That’s playground antics.

    • AAfterwit says:

      brian.

      We aren’t comparing rape and stepping on a flag. We are trying to make the point that allowing people to do something that is morally, ethically and legally wrong just to “make a point,” doesn’t work for us.

      Either a person steps up for what they believe or they do not.

      The left doesn’t care about hypocrisy as they demonstrate it all the time.

      As I said, if we had seen the flag on the ground, we would have picked it up and disposed of it properly. You have stated that you would have handled it differently.

      A. Afterwit.

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