Notes on Joseph Beuys and his expanded conception of the aethetic in art

Raphael Zimmerman Oct, Nov. 96

Sculptural Theory in the universe of Beuys is not about sculpture in the traditional sense. In Beuys' oppinion, the central question for the artist is the question of the most suitable shape and medium.

This means that everything is a question of art, because everything has to have a certain form in order to exist. Even such things as politics, communication, TV sets, words, ... All one can imagine.
At first there arises a thought (=something is becoming conscious), an idea (= an awareness of a thought). The process to create anything in the physical realm therefore emerges right at this level, -from the ideas level. And even ideas have to be shaped, formed, constructed just like any other material.

Every human being thinks, has ideas, works, shapes material objects etc and by doing that is responsible for all other humans as he/she is influencing the others' environment and changing its state- the general and most challenging subject lifes in the Social Sculpture where ones life becomes the actual work of art , where artworks by artists are experiments that will lead to greater opportunities and where the interaction of oneself and society is the place where Social Sculpture is realized and manifests as phenomena.


Beuys' understanding of human history was as a history of thoughts, of philosophy- spiritual evolution. Since the mysteries of the antiquity, from Aristotle to the Middle Ages, man never completely existed on earth because in those days man considered himself to be guided by God. Man then consisted of soul, spirit and body. Man was created in the image of God.
From the 16th to the 18th century a change emerged, the most important philosophers were Rene' Descartes and Immanuel Kant. Later on, materialism occured and man began to describe himself as materia, as a biological body- no soul, no spirit, just quantities.

Beuys called this "the complete incarnation process", because by becoming a matter of atoms and countable materia and by narrowing his view to materialistic science, man reached the ground, the earth, completely. This kind of suicide, Beuys explained, as a consequence of man's analytical thinking led man to the Mystery of Golgatha (the hill where Jesus was crucified). In materialism, man is dead, crucified by himself on the Cartesian coordinates.

The possibility and necessity that occurs is to rise like Jesus did. Man killed God ( Nietzsche wrote in Zarathustra that we could see God's blood on our hands), man killed himself... The consequence is that for the first time man stands on earth in freedom, not guided by anyone, but himself. He will be the one he will create (J.P. Satre).

This is what Beuys meant with the "evolution principle". Man has to create himself. He has to be his own God -has to create his dignity by himself. (keyword:the will to create; the will to power/Nietzsche.) So man has to re-invent what he has forgotten by cutting it out of his self-discription.

Beuys and objectless art

One is able to see traditional sculptures- bronze, wood, steel...,but you can't see ideas, although they can be -should be worked out as if they were real material. As for Social Sculpture -it is objectless in the sense of physical material only, for example society as a work of art? Society is an abstract word. There's nothing one can see. Yet as for the idea of an object in Social Sculpture here the object is clear and tangible as the reason, the intention.

Thus Beuys showed a way to reinvent the arts by extending it as a powerful mean in society and politics etc.. He demonstrated that the artists do not have to limit themselves to doing just drawings, paintings, sculptures.... the usual stuff.

In the opinion of Sol LeWitt and Lawrence Weiner the actual work of art is the concept itself -the idea. To shape this idea into a physical phenomena, should be a short and easy step that may not be necessary at all (Lawrence Weiner)in some cases.

There is a distinct difference between the conceptual attitude and that of Social Sculpture: To say that creating an idea is allready a work of art, as conceptual artists do, would lead to the opinion that humans only had to create ideas, but not to shape them into material, not to transfer them into action. Would this attitude enable us to solve any problem we have on planet earth, in our lifes?

The artist then is a day-dreamer, creating symbols (finding what he has intuitively been looking for) by using himself as material (for example in action).Symbols that prove to be meaningful since the refer to reality in concrete terms and are linked to the living human being by the bridge of emotions.

The artist as a therapist, using the ability to bring forth symbols in day-dreaming in order to elevate the human mind to the state of "progressive" differentiated awareness where is has never been before and thus never been subjected to critical self-appraisal.

In this present media age the artist does not project his soul into the material world, into objects, but that he grasps and reclaims his soul acting out of it. This is always a personal act.

Beuys' use of his own body as material to be shaped in order to make use of the energy flowing through the body, and the relational systems he created stand for an integrated practice, with the simple and yet so challenging demand for increased awareness (of oneself), of the human being.

But there is also an important social meaning to awareness, only he who is aware of himself can take responsibility. Thus in his Social Sculptue Beuys called upon the sociality of man.

© 2000 - 2019 Raphael Zimmerman