Friday, October 30, 2015
" It’s possible that you are right that the government is only inclined to give the money where they have the possibility to speak with us, or to have a special power in this school, but if this were the fact then we would not have the money from the government." - Joseph Beuys in conversation with William Furlong, 1974
Joseph Beuys in conversation with William Furlong
at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, November 1974
from Audio Arts Issue: Vol. 2, No. 1, 1974
This conversation took place during the exhibition ‘Art into Society. Society into Art’, curated by Christos Joachimides and Norman Rosentbal as part of the German Month interdisciplinary season at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, November 1974. The exhibition presented aspects of German preoccupation with relationships between art, ideology and politics. Far from presenting a passive retrospective exhibition of artworks, the organisers and participants created an active event with the artists present. Against this background Joseph Beuys held lectures and discussions, mainly about his proposed Free International School for Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research. (The term School as well as University was used by Beuys at this time.) Audio Arts recorded many hours of tape on that occasion; the following extracts focus on specific themes.
Description of existing world social and economic systems
Joseph Beuys Now we have to speak once more about the new necessity that the things have to be done. And we see that the government cannot make these things and cannot give out this knowledge, and the specialists in faculties too are not able to do it. We must really collect people who are interested to reach these abilities. This must be the first step. We have to care that we find as soon as possible as large a quantity as possible of people who are propagating this idea, this new way to go, because there is no other way to go.
The established systems in the world are well known. There are only two principal ones – the Western private capitalistic system and the Eastern communistic system with a politburo with the principle of a one-party dictatorship. Both sides are special owners of the means of production. In the West there are private owners of the means of production. The politburo as a private owner is in principle the same thing, with the special difference that in the Eastern countries the lack is that there is no individual freedom. The difference in the Western private countries is that there is not enough possibility for brotherhood in economics, because it still exists abreast of freedom. I can speak about a revolutionary model now, but I could not do it in Russia. Here I can do it but that is not as a result of politicians, it is a result of tradition. It stems from the bourgeois revolution, the French Revolution, with ideals of freedom, equality and brotherhood. There is a bit of heritage here. I need now the heritage possibilities not the results of the politicians. The politicians will take care that in the future there will be no more freedom. They will take this freedom from our heritage and they will destroy it too. Then there will come a very worldwide economical fascistic system without freedom, without equal laws and without socialism in economics.
Therefore it is necessary to start with this very intensively. This is the first step in organising these things, and then you can make proposals and you have to collect people who already have a knowledge in this new way – and there are already a lot of people with such, I am not alone. For instance, my Office for Direct Democracy already has followers and has already collected people who research in this field. Yes, we look to and collect from the past and models in the past where this idea appears already, and so it is a systematic research in this field. This must be the inner task and the inner aim of a Free International University for Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research.
This is the idea of this model, and I try to establish a university like this. Nevertheless, this Information Office for Direct Democracy is a small model for a free and independent school. It must have more effectiveness, and therefore I try now – and this is my next step – I try to establish in Düsseldorf, in Glasgow, in Dublin and in Belfast this type of school.
Restructuring of society by individual creativity and self-management
I speak about the fact that all theories and ideas have to be after the idea of art. The idea of art is the principal means for other things in that the people do it by their own creativity; it is a very simple thing. I find it the rule that everybody is in a special way an artist in different fields. Surely not all people are painters – this is a reduced understanding of art; but in all fields every living being is an artist. Then he has only to create from his ability in the field of the society. First, it is a culture organisation, then the democratic sphere; two, then the result will be a change of behaviour in economics. All this whole field, all this subsocial field is material for the moulding power of everybody. This is the principle, and we have to find more effectiveness in this direction, because the existing political structure is struggling against this idea of freedom, equality and brotherhood. Therefore all the systems are from the devil, and you can really say the systems are anti-human. The actions of the political parties are anti-human.
William Furlong So do you feel that on one hand art and science can determine, or define, an aspect or facet of society, while on the other hand you have political systems, or systems of constraint on human beings that also shape, or provide a facet for them and their existence?
Beuys Exactly. As a result of having history and as a result of this government structure with the so-called parliamentary democracies, as a result from the French Revolution, surely. There was one step in history with a bourgeois revolution and with different results. For instance, technological results, the results in science, the result in the so-called exact nature of science idea. But together with this exact nature of science idea the whole point of creativity came out of discussion. This was a ruling idea, therefore, and a repressive understanding of science, a materialistic understanding of science. Nevertheless it has a special function and there is a special demand for this science, but only a special demand. As a rule, the exact nature of science idea plays only in the whole idea and understanding of science – the role of a special vector in this. You can develop from this, for instance, technology and mechanical things – you can go to the moon with this thing but you cannot develop, for instance, a soul science, a spiritual science, an imagination science. Building up of the whole field of creativity with the power to build up by self-management of the whole body of society – that you cannot develop from this reduced understanding of science, and therefore I say, no, we can make a theory like this and like this. You can make a lot of theories and a lot of structures, we have to do it. Therefore I think the only thing which could work would be a permanent forum in this matter, where all the scientists and artists are discussing together. If they discuss together they will find overlapping insights into the problem. The whole problem is a problem of insight.
Education as a strategy for bringing about change: participation – education – information
Furlong So in this proposed total restructuring of society – given that it’s agreed upon that this is a useful and important thing to take place – where does one go from here? Is it a question of education or of protest?
Beuys Firstly, it’s a question of education, because a question of protest is too early and is a result of education. Only the people with the ability to protest, they protest only when they know the problem and they find reasons to protest. Therefore the protest is already an act of solidarity as a result of education and information – information, education, participation. These are three very important things in culture. But now the culture is exactly organized. There is no possibility for everybody to become educated. Only privileged persons can enter the schools. It is not the ability for the majority to participate in all cultural events and events in the society. And there is no information, because the information we know from the TV is manipulation; it’s a lie from the beginning to the end, a lie or a distortion of the problems. Therefore the most important things are participation, education and information. It is not possible in this structure now. This was a problem when we tried to start this, all other things would be illusions. And there we tried to make directly organisations and institutions. For instance, my model of the direct democratic bureau is a model for free information, free education and free participation, because it is an independent structure in society – an independent school. You could say already it is a type of free school. Therefore you have to cut the dependency to the government, and surely this is only a knowledge. Surely it is difficult to do it but you can do it already better when you have the knowledge that it is necessary. If you understand the problem then it is necessary and it cannot function as another solution, then people in the future will do it. If this is a real clear knowledge and the result of a clear objective science then it will come one day. Therefore firstly you have to do the research as objectively as possible, then the real solutions will follow. Then you could say that the whole problem is a problem of thinking, and in this way is a problem of science.
Furlong How would you define that, because what we term science is largely responsible for some of the problems or difficulties that exist?
Beuys Now we come once more back to this total understanding of science and the reduced understanding of science. Now the manipulating power of the systems works with the reduced understanding of science. They work with the materialistic, atomistic exact nature of science idea, and the system works against the interest of the majority of the people. This is very important – that they have already a theory and a tool with which they can work. Therefore the people need a tool too, they need a theory too – that is necessary to know. Then you have to throw light on this repressive understanding of science. The new interesting theory for humankind is the science of humankind. Now we are on the point. Not the science of material. Surely the science of material conditions in the laboratory is very important to develop technology, but you cannot develop from this reduced understanding of science a science about humanity, and I am speaking about this total aspect. Therefore it is anthropology, but not a restricted anthropology in a positivistic understanding. It is more than this. You could say it is a kind of sophia – like philosophia – it is a sophia of humankind. This is the whole aspect of science. Then you find the special functions of science, the necessity to have materialistic science, because it is surely necessary. Therefore I am not against this reduced understanding of science, but I say what is necessary is to enlarge this understanding of science. You see, science is very important because you have the only possibility to go into research with nature, for instance, with the resources of nature, with iron and with metal, with what physicists do and what chemists do and all these people do. This kind of research is very important, but it is not the only aspect of science.
Evolution from drawings to action art, to environment art and social sculpture; ICA blackboard environment
Furlong What about the artworks or drawings that you make. How do you see them fitting into this wider system?
Beuys This whole project is my artwork, you know. This catalogue says exactly that the period of my drawings ended in principle in I960. After I960 the character of the drawings is going more in this direction, but there is not so much drawing, because I was interested more in action. Therefore the beginning of my activities is drawings. It is a time when I made sculptures, and I made objects, and from I960 to 1970 I was fully involved in action art and environment art. For instance, this is an environment and becomes more and more an environment as a result of this doing. At the end of the exhibition the floor will change more and more to a black floor, because every day I do more black spots as a result from this discussion. I do not make it artificially. It is exactly a result of the discussion with other people, with this kind of action. Therefore it is still action art, only now the content is changed.
Furlong There is no need for these to be preserved after the time that you have used them?
Beuys No, only if the ICA is interested, perhaps. But first this show goes to Edinburgh, and I cannot find time to go personally to Edinburgh and stay the whole time there, so we will give this stuff to Edinburgh.
Structure of school, practical problems; the three levels: the faculty level, open forum, the institutes; ecological problems, evolutionary science
Beuys First you have to see that it is a work in progress, and because it hangs together with money resources and with supporting moneys, perhaps we can start in Düsseldorf with only two or three teachers, because I have not found that all people who are there are active to do it without payment and without money and only for so-called idealism. We have to find money for the teachers and for the equipment, and I will say only as an example how we tried to promote this idea. We already have a free space from the community of Düsseldorf. They gave us an empty hall one hundred metres by one hundred metres. There is nothing inside, therefore we have to care for heating, electric light and for chairs and for a minimum of equipment. For this we need already a lot of money for a very simple kind of administration, a secretariat and three teachers and equipment. These teachers are not established teachers like civil servants. They have only a contract for half a year or a year because we are trying to find interest in all sides of society and we can only make contracts with teachers or informators to work there. This is a dynamic system and will not have the civil servant structure to call for a professor or teacher for longer than one year. After one year the interest in the school and the whole entity is there, then we can make a new contract with the same person.
Now in the beginning there are three teachers. These are three initiators of this movement and cannot for instance realize the whole structure of the school. The whole structure of the school has more levels. For instance, the faculty level where students can come to study officially and they can make a special end with a special bill of study. Not state examined and all these things, but they can study a special faculty. That is the faculty structure. Then there is the common open structure where everybody can come at any age and teach, learn, have information and all these things in relationship to the faculties, a cooperation. The third level will be the institutions. An institute for ecological problems, and an institute for evolutionary science. The idea of evolution directed to the whole body of society for finding solutions for building up the social organism. These are therefore three levels. Two institutions inside a common open forum for everybody and the faculty structure. Because this idea is developed from the idea of art, a student could study painting there, for instance, or sculpture or architecture. This founding group comes together every month to speak about the development of the school. At the moment we are fully engaged with the problem of the money. We want to have some money from the government because this is the only serious formula not to reach a private school structure.
[Audience] In a way these teachers will become civil servants, because you have to make a contract with government.
Beuys No, no, we have nothing to do with the government.
[Audience] If the government gives you money …
Beuys Yes – no, it is a problem, exactly. We will be fully independent but nevertheless we will have money from the national income. That is a new idea, otherwise it would be like a normal new university or another kind of art school. They are all fully independent of the ideology of the government by means of civil servants and dependent teachers. We will have all independent teachers, the school will be self-managed and we will make contracts.
[Audience] But the situation today is that the government will just give you money for influence.
Beuys No, that’s not the matter, that’s not the problem
Furlong Otherwise you would have the money already.
Beuys Then surely we cannot have the money from the government. It’s possible that you are right that the government is only inclined to give the money where they have the possibility to speak with us, or to have a special power in this school, but if this were the fact then we would not have the money from the government. Then we would have to look for other resources for money.
Moving to a more effective position as an artist within society
Furlong I’m interested to know how a sculptor – an artist – becomes involved in this restructuring scheme for society. This is surely traditionally outside the limits, which I imagine has something to do with your attitudes at the moment towards art.
Beuys That is another problem. The artist now existing is a special type developed from the past. He runs the traditional line of the so-called culture without the ability to reach the body of the society. Therefore he stands in an insulated field of action and cannot reach the point where everybody is involved with his life, with his questions. Therefore we would say this type of an artist and this behaviour of the culture is now fully divided from life, is fully divided from the interests of the majority. Therefore from the point of view of the majority of the people with their sores and with their problems, art looks like a special luxury – a luxury for rich people, for privileged people, for people with more advantage in class and all these things, and therefore this is a division from art and society. But because this is exactly the fact, artists do not begin to transform the phenomena in the special fields, the so-called art-historical line. You see, for instance, the possibility to change the style in sculpture, as from Minimal art to body art and from body art to conceptual art. Because this cannot work in this direction, we are speaking about reaching everybody’s point where he has his problems in society, and where the whole body of the society is a problem we have to see it as a form problem.
I transform, therefore, not the discipline, the style in art, like artists who are interested in changing from Minimal art to body art to conceptual art; I try to metamorphose. This is the normal running coming from the past exchanging styles and so-called innovations in all these special fields where artists are acting as sculptors, musicians, poets. Then we become so-called modern art. Surely this is a special possibility in changing things in the world, but as long as they are only possibilities to come to innovation in this insulated field, this insulated field cannot reach the whole body of society. This is a cultural behaviour or activity whose activities in the cultural institutes like museums, art schools, galleries and market problems are fully divided from the interests of the body of society. Therefore I try not to change this stylistic understanding in these special fields. I try to metamorphose the whole understanding of art. If this is the art coming from the past, until now I try not to transform the styling in the special fields, I try to widen and to metamorphose the whole understanding of art. In this moment appears another thing. I enlarge the understanding of art to the point where everybody is a creative being in the different fields of the body of society. Therefore I am no longer only speaking about artists like painters, sculptors, musicians. I am speaking of everybody living in the world as a potential creative ability to come and create, for instance, self-determination and so on.