Not Just a Few Are Called, But Everyone – Joseph Beuys
This interview with Georg Jappe was translated by John Wheelwright; first Published in Studio International, vol. 184, no. 950, London, December 1972.
JB: Things start with answers to questions . . . But since there have been these large classes I don’t carry on individual conversations – in a desperate situation like that private conversations aren’t so effective – so everyone can learn something from every correction. That way each student learns from others’ problems as well as his own.
GJ: Is that a sort of group therapy?
JB: Yes. Private problems, too – with some exceptions – are publicly discussed. It is part of group therapy that people should put their private hang-ups into words, and the questions that have mounted up and whatever anyone has on their mind. Sometimes it is really like a special school for the handicapped, developing the most primitive forms; the students bring up the most diverse things, out of the sculpture, painting and drawing fields. I have no fixed teaching plan. Everyone must build upon the basis of his own aim and then express it in a question so that something is cleared up. To begin with I refuse any pre-ordained theme; everyone must put his own theme forward. Then the conversation about how this fits in with theoretical principles begins. […] I don’t believe that an art school, which should stress new artistic concepts, should lay emphasis on fixed places to work in the school. That sort of thinking is tied up with the idea of art as a craft, with the work-bench and the drawing-table. The need for that is only now felt by a few – and those who want a place to work can still have it – because the majority is striving for movement and sees the school as a meeting-point. Discussions can arise spontaneously there, though some are also announced beforehand, on questions the students themselves have brought up, for example the question of space, or the difference between concrete plastic art and sculpture.
GJ: What does that distinction mean?
JB: It is often maintained that in my class everything is conceptual or political. But I put great value on something coming out of it that is sensuously accessible according to the broad principles of the theory of recognition. [. . .] Thought and speech should be seen as plastic in the same way that a sculptor sees a plastic object. My main interest here is to begin with speech and to let the materialization follow as a composite of thought and action. The most important thing to me is that man, by virtue of his products, has experience of how he can contribute to the whole and not only produce articles but become a sculptor or architect of the whole social organism. The future social
VIIb Attitudes to Form 891
order will take its shape from compatibility with the theoretical principles of art. Just as a relief must be unravelled and must come to life – because plasticity feels ill, as I say to my pupils in such cases – so must the organization of society. My concept of organization is an artistic one insofar as it must come to fruition according to the laws of organisms and in organic form. And that is what concrete plastic art does. Sculpture is more abstract, geometrical, a matter of assembly; concrete plastic art fulfils itself in elemental organic ways, like animals developing, like blood working its way through the veins or the moving water of a river. [. . .] Art can be learned, though a certain talent is a prerequisite, but hard work is part of the process. Art comes from intelligence, one must have something to say, but on the other side, that of capability, one must be able to express it. And then sense of proportion, of mass, of form, and feel for symmetry. Of course this is subjective, but no judgements can possibly be made outside the terms of reference of the subject. Scientific objectivity cannot stretch to objective judgements about art. Objective judgements on art are not directly rationa-lizable, but they are expressible; for example, it may be that in a work overloaded with content no overall formal coherence emerges. The pouring into form of streams of emotion that has not been thought out, the psychedelic belches that well up without being reflected upon and without being touched by the polarizing influence of form, these are a form of illness, a sort of cancerous psychical tumour. Then one goes on to the therapy: don’t take what boils up inside you so seriously, grasp something real outside, so that everything doesn’t stick in a state of chaos. [. . .]
GJ: Why do you turn almost all your energy towards education and enlightenment?
JB: It is the consequence of widening the concept of art. The ‘Political Office’ has self-determination as its focus. And art has the same focus. Every man is a plastic artist who must determine things for himself. In an age of individuation, away from collective groupings, self-determination is the central concept. But one should not lose sight of actual practice, daily coming into being under one’s hands. My pedagogic and political categories result from ‘Fluxus’. To impose forms on the world around us is the beginning of a process that continues into the political field. Discussion used to centre on the participation of the public and it became apparent that actionism as a sort of joint play was not enough; the participant must also have something to contribute from the resources of his own thought. A total work of art is only possible in the context of the whole of society. Everyone will be a necessary co-creator of a social architecture, and, so long as anyone cannot participate, the ideal form of democracy has not been reached. Whether people are artists, assemblers of machines or nurses, it is a matter of participating in the whole. Art looks more towards a field where sensitivity is developed into an organ of cognition and hence explores areas quite different from formal logic. I have to admit that only quite a small minority is still in a position to understand pictures. The times educate people to think in terms of abstract concepts . . . most people think they have to comprehend art in intellectual terms – in many people the organs of sensory and emotional experience have atrophied. Concepts must be elaborated which relate to this state of consciousness, so as to express quite different associations of force. Many people spoke of mysticism. Basically, though, I am interested in getting as far as talking of a picture of man that cannot be constrained by the prevailing scientific concepts. For this, man needs the Aesthetic Education. The isolated concept of art education must be done away with, and the artistic element must be embodied in every subject, whether it is our mother tongue, geography, mathematics or gymnastics. I am pleading for a gradual realization that there is no other way except that people should be artistically educated. This artistic education alone provides a sound base for an efficient society. The achievements of our society are channeled and determined by power relationships. But it is not just a few who are called to determine how the world will be changed – but everyone. In a true democracy there are no other differences than capability; democracy can only develop freely when all restrictive mechanisms are gone. One of the greatest of these restrictive mechanisms is the present-day school, because it does not develop people but channels them.