Exploitation versus Reflection: In Pursuit of What is Real

Self-portrait, Andreas Friedl; Thai, Austria

Self-portrait, Andreas Friedl; Austria

Recently I got pulled into a discussion among a gathering of artists and art lovers as to the merits of a particular performance piece. A fairly well-known artist was generating a bit of notoriety by cutting up and selling portions of a photograph taken by another fairly well-known artist. To make matters more complicated (or ridiculous, depending upon your point-of-view) the subject matter of the cut-up photograph was the burnt remains of a stack of the artist’s own money–cash which he himself had set on fire deliberately. So the piece of art my friend purchased was 1/1000 of a photograph of a pile of ashes.

The question posed: Was this Art? Was this, you know, Real?

To take it one step further, exactly to whom does art belong? Once created and put out into the world for public consumption, every work of art, no matter how personal, becomes subject to a myriad of projections, interpretations and criticism–reactions that may or may not have been what was originally intended. How much responsibility should artists take for how their work is perceived and whom is affected?

In this issue, we explore the nature of art in the Real World.

What constitutes Real Art? Must a work be necessarily noble?

What do we consider authentic? Art that reflects reality? Including that which is not particularly pretty or comfortable to take in? Is there value to be derived from art that at first makes us cringe or want to turn away? Where does one draw the line between that which tells the truth and soulless exploitation?

What about imagination? Images and ideas that invite humanity to rise above? A vision of something deeper, richer, finer? Truth-telling versus dream-weaving: how do we reconcile the two?

And finally, we consider the artistic process as something that produces a product with a clear beginning, middle and end, versus an exploration that is ever-evolving and never complete. Art as leading to deeper and deeper explorations.

Welcome to the first Combustus issue of 2012. Artists and thinkers ignite!