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Video transcript

this is one that actually does speak to me in a very powerful way but when you look at something like an American flag I I think I kind of get it I mean it's such a powerful icon or image and it evokes so many things and it's something that you see so frequently at least if you're an American and if you're not an American it's something that you still probably see relatively frequently and probably does represent something to you but then to have it kind of reimaged and reimaged in this I don't know antiqued way you know I can't fully articulate it and I won't claim that it's you know somehow challenging my philosophy in some profound way but I kind of get it at a base level what's trying to go on here and and I think that's why this painting has gotten so much popular traction I mean it was on the cover of one of my history books when I was in high school I their shirts that are made with this image am I not seeing the full there when I when I'm describing that words are there even more to it well I think you're absolutely right and I think that John's would be really happy to hear what you just said and I think he wanted this painting to function as something that did raise all kinds of meanings in the person who walked up to it in a sense what he's shown us is not so much a flag as a mirror right because it is such a potent symbol and we all walk up to it with a lot of personal life experience and it can mean very different things to very many different people and in a sense he's given us a very neutral field so let's look at it really closely we're not looking at a printed American flag and we're not looking at a flag of cloth and in fact some critics at the time asked is this a painting or is this a flag in other words is it a representation or is it an actual flag and of course something that is symbolic like a flag can raise that kind of issue which is one of the reasons that I think John's was interested in it but let's just look at the surface for a moment this is an object that actually stands off the wall a few inches its canvas that's on top of plywood and so it is this slightly shallow box like form and then if you look at the surface it's really heavily worked and it's not traditional oil paint or even the more modern acrylic this is something that's called encaustic which is an ancient Egyptian painting technique that John's revived and other people have used it in history but it's an ancient and it's translucent and it's lumpy but it also allows you to see through it and when you look through the sort of lumpy surface of Wax what you see are strips of newspaper it's sort of torn up and so you can't really read it there's not a continuous story but it is clearly this pigment this wax on top of the debris of our political life yeah and I think that's why I you know maybe you guys are just doing a good job training me I mean this one really speaks to me because you know especially the texture and and the fact that it is not printed it is handmade and it has those layers to it it's a very powerful idea that you know when you when you just have a printed flag it simplifies what a country is or what the idea is a country represents are in its history and when you look at this painting it yes it's an American flag but you appreciate like America is a there's context to America there's a history to America there's depth to America there's texture to America you look closer at America it's not this simple idea there's many many many layers to it and I think this does a really good job and I think this is why this is a painting a lot of people respond to even people who might be traditionally skeptical to modern art I think they viscerally feel a lot of those things when they see that they feel a depth of connection to the nakid of of America more than just this you know this very red white and blue simple idea of it I think that that's exactly right and I think that John's is taking this opportunity to reimagine them what art can be that art can still in some really fundamental way represent really complex things not necessarily through the careful rendering or the careful representation of objects on a table or a human face but through a kind of symbolic language actually reference and in some ways actually depict a very complex American history I think that's exact clear-rite you know we talk a lot about a lot of artists you know what's really of note although I think this is one of those pieces that I actually don't need that much context to really appreciate it but to go to the next level of context I mean what was Jasper Johns really one of the first to take really powerful images like an American flag and kind of rerender them in this type of way he was and in fact this is art that's being produced before pop art exists and so this idea of actually turning his canvas turning his paintbrush on a visual form that is itself fixed is a fascinating idea think about what he's giving up the things that we value in painting traditionally have to do with the artists choice of color of composition and those things are given here those are already set he's not messing with that and yet this is still not entirely a flag so much as a representation of a flag and in that way it's walking on this very narrow edge I mean it's really strange to me because you know we've talked about the traditional art if you go back five hundred eight hundred years ago it was always representational all the way you know the Renaissance and then more modern art has all have been about ideas and pushing our thinking and this definitely falls into that latter category but it really does I don't know maybe maybe it's just me but it emotes something in me that is aesthetic that is as powerful as any of these you know it obviously is an American flag in that by itself can create powerful emotions but just the way it was rendered also creates I don't know feelings and depth that I haven't actually felt from a lot of the the modern pieces we've looked at you