Joseph Beuys was an artist who emphasized the great importance of what we call “creativity in the world”, to think about the future and the changes in the realm of human affairs. According with the designation given by Joseph Beuys, thinking in the world is doing “social sculpture”. And this attitude holds that if we accept that “everyone is an artist”, creativity will transform the societies in which we live. It must begin in each human being, in his thought, in the expression of his freedom, and in this way everyone can incorporate and carry forward the impetus to change the world. And the last material in this expanded meaning of art is society itself, with its groups and organizations that form it and in which we live.
When we are thinking about the realm of human affairs, we are in the creative process, that is, we are in action in the world. Or, as Beuys put it:
“We have to create the world as a living sculpture”. “Every human being is completely based on his concepts, thoughts and freedom. This means that through the thought of man something totally new is introduced into the world. This designates thought as sculpture. It can only enter the world completely new, from a point of creation.”1
The “social plastic” has a posture that sustains that when we are all artists this transforms the societies in which we live. When this happens, art helps change the daily life of every human being and the world. Joseph Beuys believed in this and in the change of the way of thinking of each individual, and he said:
“We have to revolutionize human thought”, and “First of all revolutions takes place within man. When man is really a free, creative being who can produce something new and original, he can revolutionize time.”2
Beuys described the creative process in the world, that is, the way we mould and shape our thoughts, words and the world we live in as a “social sculpture”, in a process of creation and change in which “we are all artists”. This was his idea to expand the notion of art to everyday life. But let’s look at Beuys words in a conversation about “what is art?”:
“My objects are to be seen as stimulants for the transformation of the idea of sculpture, or of art in general. They should provoke thoughts about what sculpture can be and how the concept of sculpting can be extended to the invisible materials used by everyone:
Thinking Forms – how we mould our thoughts or
Spoken Forms – how we shape our thoughts into words or
SOCIAL SCULPTURE – how we mould and shape the world in which we live:
Sculpture as an evolutionary process; everyone an artist.
That is why the nature of my sculpture is not fixed and finished. Processes continue in most of them: chemical reactions, fermentations, colour changes, decay, drying up. Everything is in a state of change.”3
For Beuys, “everyone is an artist” because it expresses the essence of the human being, each one being the expression of his freedom, and this way each one can incorporate and carry forward the impulse for change in the world. Each individual is a free being called to participate in the transformation and remodelling of the conditions, thoughts and structures that mould and shape our lives and the world. Or in the words of Beuys:
“Every human being is an artist called upon to engage in the shaping of their lives and the world around them, with the same kind of love and passion that artists have for bringing something that is new and has a coherence into being. Then one’s own lifework becomes an artwork.”4
And the last material in this expanded meaning of art is society itself, with its groups and organizations that form it and in which we live. Which means that, in Beuys’s opinion, society in general can be seen as a work of art, the “social sculpture”, upon which we can all create and act. To change society for the better, as he tried with his social and political projects, we must create original forms and constantly improve this sculpture that is an ever-changing process. And this is a task that can only be done by taking advantage of all creative capacities of all individuals and not just those of a select group of people usually referred to as artists. “Everyone is an artist”.5
I agree with Beuys’ ideas associated with “everyone is an artist”. Every human being is completely based on his concepts, thoughts and freedom. And “we have to revolutionize human thought”, and “First of all revolutions takes place within man. When man is really a free, creative being who can produce something new and original, he can revolutionize his time.” What is your perspective on this individual creativity and social plastic?
Filipe Novais, Porto, Europe.
Note: This is part of a Text I wrote and presented at a management and arts conference in 2018, titled “Creativity in the World and Leadership in Organizations” (22 pp). If you want to read the Text, I can email it if you contact me to email@example.com
Image: Joseph Beuys; 7000 Oak Trees, 1982; Tate, London.
1. Louwrien Wijers, Ed., 1996, “Art meets Science and Spirituality in a changing Economy”; Event based in an idea of Joseph Beuys with five panel dialogues, in Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam in 1990; pp.11 and others. Academy Group Ltd, London.
2. Goldberg RoseLee, “Performance: live art, 1909 to present”, Ed.2001 (1st ed.1979); pp.96-97. Thames & Hudson Ltd, London.
3. Beuys, Joseph, and Harlan, Wolker, “What is Art? Conversation with Joseph Beuys”, 2004 (1st ed.1986 in Germany); pp.9. Edited with essays by Wolker Harlan. Clairview Books, Forest Row, UK.
4. In Beuys, 2004, op.cit.; pp.2.
5. For further information on ideas and works of Beuys see for example “The Multiples of Joseph Beuys” from the collection of the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich; “I am a sender. I transmit”; Website: http://pinakothek-beuys-multiples.de/en