Joseph Beuys and the Declaration of Independence


I have recently been reading about avant-garde German artist Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) in an excellent book called the Fine Art of Success: How Learning Great Art can Create Great Business.

Joseph Beuys famously declared that “every human is a artist!”

This was ‘bisociated’ with a recent presentation I heard by Tom Tresser arguing that the United States Declaration of Independence was an audacious act of creativity.

The work of Beuys was dedicated to exploring and understanding the creative process and finding ways to release the creative potential of people.

Beuys claimed that the most important piece of artwork that he ever produced was not a physical piece, but the concept of the “Social Sculpture” (Anderson et al., 2011). Beuys saw human interaction as a space that could be shaped and sculpted, on a metaphorical level.

With a sculpture we must examine it from many angles, take on different perspectives before we can construct an opinion of it as a whole. Beuys describes this assembling of different perspectives as “Sculptural Thinking”. He asserted that the same principle could be applied to social contexts.

With a sculpture it is the physical object itself’ which provides the opportunity to gather different perspectives. In a social context, it is the members of a group that provide the different perspectives, working together to give shape to an idea. Social sculptures can be formed through relationships with other people or the belonging to a team and is built through perception and dialogue. With every interaction a new experience is added to the collective memory

Beuys asserted that the quality of a ‘Social Sculpture’ would be most influenced by the creative tension involved in the process of shaping it. This tension arises from coupling an open attitude within a broad framework of restraints.

An ‘open attitude’ means that all members of the group are seen as equal, show respect for each other irrespective backgrounds and all share a common vision that diversity adds value.

Reflecting on Tom Tresser’s presentation I noted that the Declaration of Independence provides an exemplar of a broad framework of rules instilled with an open attitude:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This would seem to provide the perfect criteria for the social sculpting of a nation! It has been suggested that the USA was designed into being. However, as work in progress, is the USA is a piece of conceptual art?


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