Musings: What Shape is the Art World

To understand the art world, it might be helpful to know its shape and why it is shaped that way.

Blurring the Shape of the Art World, 14As a young artist I always thought of my endeavors as being “on the edge.” I was in the vanguard, the advanced guard, in my shinning artistic armor. I was ever pushing at the edge of what art had been and into what art was, and hopefully into what art was to become. At that time, I was sure that the shape of the art world was an advancing line. Well, I thought, if this is true, then is the line surrounded by the “stuff” that is non-art? Does it have depth? If so, would it be just as noble to fight as a rear guard to keep the line as robust as possible? As time went on, I continued to question the shape.

Then one day I was talking to an ex-marine about the Viet Nam war. He was explaining how the marines had never retreated in battle. “The closest the marines have ever come to a retreat,” he said, “ was after one of their beach assaults. They were met with marginal resistance from the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Regulars. The enemy seemed to just disappear as the Marines advanced. The Marines continued to advance inland until they met enough resistance and were stopped. The opposing army then closed in behind them. This logic was that since the enemy now surrounded the Marines, it would be possible to attack in any direction. It seems the most strategic move was to attack to the rear and return to the beachhead. This was not considered to be a retreat.”

I wondered if this theory paralleled the art world? If it did, then the shape of the art world must be an ever-expanding circle and not a line. The line is still there, but it is curved into a circle, manned (and womaned) by our army of artists, attacking in all directions.

Well, it did not take long for a sculptor to realize that this model was two-dimensional. It might work for the flat artists (painters, drawers, etc.) but not for the whole art world….World…. How simple can it be? The art world is a sphere, an ever-expanding sphere!

But no, that doesn’t quite work either. I know that some things that were once art are not art now. Could our world be rotting in its center? Yes, it had to come to this—I have the geometric model. The art world is not a sphere, it is a torus, a doughnut! How perfect, how decadent, a doughnut, or maybe it could be an ever-expanding onion ring!

Jim White