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The Cover
June 23/30, 2004

Three Flags

Author Affiliations

The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate, MD, Senior Contributing Editor.

JAMA. 2004;291(24):2916. doi:10.1001/jama.291.24.2916

The Cold War years of the 1950s spawned a generation of post–World War II American artists who, for want of a better word, are termed post–Abstract Expressionist painters. Acknowledged as one of the most important of this group is the Georgia-born, South Carolina–raised Jasper Johns (1930-    ), who startled the art world of the mid-1950s with his numerous paintings of bull's-eye targets, American flags, and Arabic numerals.

Johns' early years were unsettled. After a year at the University of South Carolina, he headed for New York City in 1949 to study art. The academic work was apparently a disappointment, for he soon abandoned the classroom for study on his own. Still, the first few years in New York City remained a time of what seemed to be futile struggle. Then, one night the 24-year-old had a dream. "I dreamt I painted a large American flag," he recounted nearly two decades later in a documentary featuring his work. "The next morning I went out and bought the materials to begin it." Thus begins, in Johns' typically understated manner, the story of how the Flag paintings came to be.

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