The Whole Ball of Wax

Can Art Change the World? A Holistic Theory

Art is often political when it doesn't seem political and not political when that's all it seems to be. Neither Andy Warhol nor Donald Judd made overtly political art. Yet both changed the way the world looks and the way we look at the world. That's because art creates new thought structures. Imagine all the thought structures that either would have never existed or gone undiscovered had all of Shakespeare been lost. Art does far more than only meet the eye. It is part of the biota of the world. It exists within a holistic system.

Those neo-Cartesians are aholistic. They are art world fundamentalists who fervently believe in their one theory and quote the same 17 texts by the same 17 authors (almost all of whom they have only read in translation) to repeatedly prove the same points. It's time for them to turn the page, clear out, or concede that all art is a theory about the way art should look and that every painting ever made comments on and is a theory about all the paintings ever made. As Darwin said, "it's not the survival of the strongest or the most intelligent, it's the ones most adaptable to change."

The closest I've come to getting a handle on all this is something painter Eric Fischl has talked about. Imagine calling two pets, one a dog, the other a cat. Asking a dog to do something is an amazing experience. You say, "Come here, Fido," and Fido looks up, pads over, puts his head in your lap, and wags his tail. You've had a direct communication with another species; you and Fido are sharing a common, fairly literal language. Now imagine saying, "Come here, Snowflake" to the cat. Snowflake might glance over, walk to a nearby table, rub it, lie down, and look at you. There's nothing direct about this. Yet something gigantic and very much like art has happened. The cat has placed a third object between you and itself. In order to understand the cat you have to be able to grasp this nonlinear, indirect, holistic, circuitous communication. In short, art is a cat.

Peter Coffin's Untitled (Rainbow),2005
photo: Peter Coffin/Andrew Kreps Gallery
Peter Coffin's Untitled (Rainbow),2005

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