Selections from Combat Paper: The Missing “Artist” By: Sarah Buchanan

Blog Post by: Sarah Buchanan, Stamp Gallery Staff, Class of 2013, Art History


The current exhibition, Combat Paper, at the Stamp art gallery is unique to any other we have had in the past. When preparing for the installation of this exhibition, what struck me most is that the show is not at all artist-based. Before the opening when my friends were asking me who the artist of the next show would be, in fact, I would reply that there are no “artists” in our next exhibit.

As mentioned in previous blog posts and if you have seen the show for yourself, it is known that Combat Paper is a compilation of work by veterans. Together with the Combat Paper Project, veterans pulverized their uniforms and used the resulting material to construct paper, which they used as a template to visually represent their experiences in serving their country.

The work on display is not the work of established or even emerging artists who desire to create art as a living. Which got me thinking, is this art? What exactly constitutes art? Are these images just the results of some sort of progressive art therapy? And if so, can that truly be considered “art”? Does a work of art only considered one if an “artist” creates it? Or does a person immediately become an artist just by creating a work of “art”?

We attribute contemporary art to the intentions, concepts, emotions, and personal experiences of the being that produced it. In this sense, the Combat Paper projects could be considered art. They are deeply personal, reflecting emotions and experiences of people fighting for their country. They are meaningful and more than skin deep, they tell a story and reflect a point of view.

Art is also often defined by aesthetics. In this case as well, the Combat Paper projects are certainly art. The works are raw, colorful, captivating, and interesting. To put it simply, they look nice. While they are filled with meaning and emotion, they are also pieces that would frankly look nice as prints for one to hang up in their living room to impress houseguests.

So often in contemporary art, the artist himself plays a monumental role in the work. Contemporary art is very focused on the individual and the status of this individual as an artistic “genius”; someone who is serious about art and intends to devote their lives to challenging the world and expressing unique views through visual representation. We often denote something as a great work of art by the name of the artist alone. As soon as someone finds out a painting is a Van Gogh, for instance, the value and status of the piece skyrockets. This is not because of the work itself but because of the status of the creator as a great post-impressionist artist in our contemporary time when, in van Gogh’s living life, the same exact works were paid no attention, only ever selling a single work to his brother out of pity. Art is in many aspects a popularity contest. The work itself is often overlooked, caring more about a brand name, in a sense. The contemporary art world places a strong emphasis on the individual, the artist, the creative genius. In this case, the Combat Paper projects may not be viewed as “art”. These people are not artists, just people visually representing their emotions and experiences in the midst of a war, almost as though it is a visual diary. If my crude and personal sketchbook were to be put on display in a gallery, would it be considered “art”? The individual’s names bear no real meaning to art viewers in this exhibition, their position as a veteran plays the more important role. When installing the show, in fact, we paid no mind to the names of the creators of the works, but the works themselves while picking and choosing the ones to exhibit. The “artist” of these works is practically irrelevant.

Personally, while I think Combat Paper is a powerful, educational, and wonderful exhibition, I have yet to come to a conclusion about this exhibition in relation to the contemporary art world. So what do you think? Are these veterans now considered “artists” or are their names still void of any true artistic status? Are these pieces “art” or simply the results of a sort of art therapy? What makes something art? And what makes someone an “artist”?


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