Lines and Colors art blog

I want YOU to get out and vote!

Hey you! Yes, you!

Are you an American citizen?
Did you vote yet?
Well, go ahead, I’ll wait.

Back already?
That was easy enough wasn’t it? Feels good, doesn’t it? Very important too, and not just for the obvious reasons. Things like funding for the arts, federal support for art education programs and the standards for taxes as they relate to contributions for arts related non-profit organizations; all of these things are decided at the congressional level, and are directly influenced by mid-term elections.

So are issues like whether or not we’ll have to re-institute a military draft, if we can’t recruit enough to keep the military all-volunteer. But maybe we should once again call on the power of Uncle Sam to attract recruits with his famous “I want YOU for the U.S. Army!” pointed finger poster.

This image, which is the most famous and enduring image of Uncle Sam, was painted by the great illustrator James Montgomery Flagg. (Sounds too patriotic to be true, doesn’t it?)

Mostly remembered as a recruiting poster for the U.S. Army, used in both World War I and World War II, the image was originally created for a magazine cover published prior the the U.S. entry into WWI, and was accompanied by the heading “What Are YOU Doing for Preparedness?”.

The pose was based on a British Army recruitment poster for WWI (below, left), showing Lord Kitchner, then England’s Secretary of State for War. It was drawn by British illustrator Alfred Leete and was also originally created for a magazine cover.

The origin of the name of Uncle Sam is in a bit of question; suffice it to say that it works well as a name with the abbreviation “U.S.” (which is also the origin of the “$” dollar sign, by the way, an extended letter “S” overlaid with a condensed letter “U”, with the bottom of the “U” eventually removed, leaving two vertical lines).

The concept of Uncle Sam as the personification (gamers, read: “avatar”) of the United States existed for a while before he was first given representation as an image, initially drawn by cartoonist Frank Bellew in the early 1850’s.

It was famous political cartoonist Thomas Nast (who was also responsible for creating the elephant and donkey symbols to represent the Republican and Democratic parties) who gave Uncle Sam the form we now recognize, with his top hat, beard and striped pants (below, middle).

Uncle Sam

It was Flagg, however, a superb illustrator about whom I will write more in the future, who really put the image in our minds. Flagg did other illustrations of Uncle Sam (above, right), but it is the stern finger-pointing image we always remember (an image for which Flagg used his own face as the model).

It is an image so iconic and powerful that few people, if you ask, will remember that the painting has an unfinished character, leaving Sam minus his left arm. Our attention is drawn inexorably to those piercing eyes and that pointing finger.

Oh, and if you’re reading this on Election Day and you still didn’t vote yet, — go ahead. Tell ’em Sam sent you!

Uncle Sam bio and images on Son of the South Civil War site

James Montgomery Flagg on American Artchives


3 responses to “I want YOU to get out and vote!”

  1. Based on this link I’d say that you Flagg poster on the right has been modified digitally and is not his original image.

  2. Hi;
    I am looking to ID painting by James Montgomery Flagg. It looks a little like a self portrait but to me looks more like the famous American Phil Hill the only American to win the Grand Prix.

    Can you help ? Bruce A. – will post in day.

  3. I have a letter written by James Montgomery Flag to an actor friend of his by the name of Olin. It is written on 81/2″ by 11″ parchment color paper.

    Occupying the top 1/2 of the page, he sketched himself, reclining on a bench, reading a large book. It is dated Dec 19, ’37 and signed on the back “Jimmy” (He wrote on both sides of the paper).

    This is a really interesting piece and I’m wondering what the approximate value of it might be. Can anybody help?