Beuys on the Future "Social Art"


Early 20th-century modern art had "a signal-like nature, pointing to the future." But it was only  understood by the educationally privileged. "For what then – I had to ask myself  was such a tragic situation a signal [sign]? There the work of art became a riddle for me, a riddle for which man himself must be the solution. The work of art is the greatest riddle of all, but man is the solution. Here is the threshold [sic] which I want to call the end of modernity, the end of all traditions. Together we will develop the social concept of art as a new-born child of the old disciplines. . . . Social art, social sculpture, which sets itself the task of apprehending more than just physical material. We also need the spiritual soil of social art, where every single person experiences and recognizes himself as a creative, world-determining being, . . . The slogan 'Everyone is an artist' . . . refers to re-shaping of the social body in which every single person both can and must participate so that we can bring about that transformation as quickly as possible."


from "Talking about One's Own Country: Germany," (1985 speech at München Kammerspiele) in In Memoriam  Joseph Beuys: Obituaries, Essays, Speeches  (Bonn: Inter NationesBonn, 1986), trans. Timothy Nevill, pp. 38-39.

"All my actions – whether they be only images or conceptual art – are based upon concepts of basic human energies in he form of images. For example, the power of self-determination, wich is the original form of creativity. In all of my actions the public is actively drawn in, whereby a social architecture is established.
   "To form an order of society as a sculpture is my task and that of art. Insofar as man can recognize himself as a being of self-determination, he is in the position to form the contents of the world."

from Werner Krüger, "Beuys: Mein Kampf is eine Plastik, Trotx Rausschmiss und Lehrverbot will er hart bleiben," Kölner StadtAnzeiger October 19, 1972, as quoted in Götz Adriani, Winfried Konnertz, and Karin Thomas, Joseph Beuys: Life and Works (Woodbury, NY: Barron's, 1979), trans. Patricia Lech,  p. 257.

The artist "who stands in the way of everything, who pollutes the environment – not because he plays the piano, but because he fails even to reflect on what is happening with his art, even at this threshold. . . . And beyond this threshold more will be asked of human beings. There we will be required to create a new discipline, to enhance the conception of art that has been acquired through the course of history; a new discipline, which encompasses all others, which is, as it were, the placenta of the living being of the social organism. . . . The most beautiful of the beautiful still needs to be attained: the social organism as a living being shaped by its inherent capacity for freedom and as the great achievement of a culture that goes beyond the modern age."

To Michael Ende February 8, 1985, quoted in Volker Harlan, ed., What Is Art? Conversation with Joseph Beuys (Forest Row, England: Clairview Books, Temple Lodge, 2004), p. 75.