The 4th of July: Art Takes on America

Happy 4th of July! Independence Day! America’s Birthday! and all that.


I’ve done occasional art about America throughout my art life. And by “art about America” I don’t mean landscapes. What I mean, or at least what I picture, is either art that is loudly and unapologetically patriotic, or art that rags on this country and our issues.

My art falls into the ragging category, of course.

Any art I’ve done about America revolves around one of two themes: war or critique.

War, because I was a military brat, whose father served around the world and most notably in my memory, spent a year at war in Iraq. We were separated for a year that dragged on, punctuated by the fear that he might show up on the news one day. I watched the news, partly out of fear and partly so that I wouldn’t grow complacent. Wouldn’t accept this as normal. Wouldn’t stop worrying.


You’d think I would get patriotic with this theme, and sometimes in my sketchbook I did. But my final products lean toward depressing, rather than proud.

4th of July War Art Make it stop

Most of the time, my American art is less personal. Instead, it critiques larger forces. This is my “angry art.” The work that bubbles up in response to terrible events that I am otherwise helpless to address. Like Ferguson. Police brutality. A deeply flawed criminal justice system.

4th of July Ferguson_Police4th of July Ferguson_Uncle_Sam

Or the current disaster in our White House.

4th of July Fractured

4th of July white-house-lowered

I’ve aimed my weapons at general issues too, like greed and corruption.

4th of July Corruption Eagle

The eagle above has claws of money digging into its paper feathered chest. It chokes on bills shoved into its beak.

Subtle, right?

For this photo op, I carried it around the DU business school, held to my chest like a baby, with pride and defiance. No one really noticed the message. In fact, most people barely seemed to notice the eagle at all.

Is that where America is today? Too concerned with our individual lives to notice the problems staring us right in the face? Or worse, not recognizing them as problems at all?

I begin my July 4th bitter, wondering how we got here, and where we took a wrong turn. But perhaps it was because we did nothing to stop it. Perhaps we just became complacent.