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Flags in Context: A Discussion of Design, Genre, and Aesthetics

Perry Dane

Rutgers School of Law - Camden

November 23, 2008

Raven: A Journal of Vexillology, Vol. 15, pp. 43-80, 2008

This article appeared in Raven, a journal devoted to vexillology, the scholarly study of flags. In recent years, vexillologists have become increasingly interested in developing criteria for judging the aesthetic quality of particular flag designs. My article gently critiques one such effort - titled "Good Flag, Bad Flag" - for proposing a set of overly simple, dogmatic, rules of flag design. It suggests, instead, a more subtle and historically sensitive approach to the study of flag design and aesthetics grounded in the simple observation that flag design has tended over the centuries to be guided by various distinct styles or genres, sometimes called flag families, many of them borrowed from related disciplines. These genres or styles or families have distinct artistic and political histories, and the article posits that the story of flag design and aesthetics can be told in terms of a continuing process of experimentation and development as various genres get tried out, work well or badly, wax and wane, combine and reconfigure, and - sometimes - get transformed by a moment of brilliant rule-breaking. The article argues that the criteria in "Good Flag, Bad Flag" can best be understood as one flag genre among others, a codification of a more eclectic and autonomous set of modern flag traditions arising out of political and aesthetic developments in the second half of the twentieth century.

More broadly, the article situates the relatively new discipline of vexillology in the space between a hobbyist activity and a scholarly enterprise; relates vexillology to more established fields of applied design such as architecture; and argues for the necessary and mutually reinforcing relationship between aesthetic theory and rigorous social science in the study of any applied art, whether vexillology or any other.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 38

Keywords: flags, aesthetics, design, criteria for applied design, art criticism and social science

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Date posted: November 24, 2008 ; Last revised: February 19, 2009

Suggested Citation

Dane, Perry, Flags in Context: A Discussion of Design, Genre, and Aesthetics (November 23, 2008). Raven: A Journal of Vexillology, Vol. 15, pp. 43-80, 2008. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1306168

Contact Information

Perry Dane (Contact Author)
Rutgers School of Law - Camden ( email )
217 N. 5th Street
Camden, NJ 08102-1203
United States
856-225-6004 (Phone)
856-969-7924 (Fax)
HOME PAGE: http://www.camlaw.rutgers.edu/bio/925/
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