Social plastic

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The title page of the program of events of the Free International University von Beuys for documenta 7

The social sculpture , also called the social sculpture is an art theory term to refer to art , which pursues the claim to the company formative influence. Societies, actions and processes in which people creatively change conditions and shape them are also called this. On the basis of an expanded concept of art , the German artist Joseph Beuys usedthese terms to explain his idea of ​​an art that would change society. In express contrast to an understanding based on formal aesthetics, the art concept propagated by Beuys includes human activity that is geared towards structuring and shaping society. This means that the concept of art is no longer limited to the materially tangible artifact.


The theory of "social sculpture", influenced by anthroposophy , states that every person can contribute to the well-being of the community through creative action and thereby have a plasticizing effect on society. This idea gave rise to the much-cited thesis of “social sculpture” : “Everyone is an artist” , which Joseph Beuys first expressed in 1967 in the context of his political activities. In contrast, in common parlance people are viewed as artists who are creatively active in the field of the visual or performing arts and music. They create works of art or provide ideas for their creation.

Beuys contrasted this with his idea that everyone can participate in shaping life socially and creatively, especially in politics and business. To this end, he set up an information office for the Organization for Direct Democracy through Referendum at documenta 5 in 1972 and ran for the European Parliament in 1979 as a representative of the Greens . Previously, he founded the German Student Party (DSP) and the Free International University (FIU) to bring about changes in society as a whole. The Free International University later integrated into the movement of the Greens . Special skills as an artist as a creator of works of art are not required in this sense. Beuys assumed that the necessary skills for the realization of a social sculpture - he often spoke of a “social organism” - are spirituality , openness, creativity and imagination that are already present in every human being. These skills just need to be recognized, trained and promoted.

The basis of the idea of ​​a social sculpture is the person who develops social structures through thinking and language. Joseph Beuys saw this development of society as a continuous creative process. The task of art is to make people aware of this process. The overall context of social sculpture is explained by social action, i.e. action relating to the common good, and the term plastic , which designates a sculptable and malleable structure that can be experienced visually, haptically, acoustically and thermally and is to be equated with the perception of society. In contrast to a purely formal aesthetic concept of art , social sculpture as an anthropological concept of art encompasses all creative human activity. With everything that man designs and thus creates creatively as an intellectual achievement, the individual is considered to be active in changing society.

Based on this assumption, art is no longer limited to material artefacts that are exhibited in a museum or gallery, but to society as a whole, in which, according to Beuys' demand, art must take its place in all areas in order to become obsolete To replace life forms with new ones.

Background and meaning

Marcel Duchamp had a great influence on concept art , happenings and fluxus . Joseph Beuys undoubtedly received this “inspirer of modern art” through his action The Silence of Marcel Duchamp is Overrated , which took place in Düsseldorf in 1964 and in which he critically put Duchamp's “anti-art concept” up for discussion. Duchamp had introduced the everyday object into the museum for a purpose other than its intended use, Beuys now freed this everyday art from the museum and again questioned Duchamp's approach, which was based on traditional ideas of art and proclaimed: "We will develop the social concept of art together as a newborn child from the old disciplines" .

Beuys now expanded the usual physical aspect of art to include the spiritual, intangible, but equally malleable plastic component. Finally, he introduced an interplay of terms by defining polarities and juxtaposing art and anti-art, which ultimately led to the simple relation everything and nothing is art . As social he defined the knowledge that the human being is a creative being that determines the world and should participate collectively in this sensual experience. He formulated this insight in the often incoherent and arbitrary quote: "Everyone is an artist" .

Reception and interpretation

According to Beuys, with the demand for social sculpture in the broadest sense , every person receives the inner and individual freedom to act as an individual within society; thus the individual is also responsible for society as a whole. The social sculpture brings the different areas of society and in particular the problems of a society, such as the military threat, the ecological crisis or the problems of the economy, through a creative design and shared responsibility in a content-related overlap that enables a "healthy" exchange could. He saw the concept of design as a way of transforming the “social organism” - also called the “social body” - from its diseased form into a healthy one.

Behind the demand for social sculpture there is also the hope that art as an interdisciplinary language between nature and man can convey the existing environmental problems and thus change life on earth for the better in all areas of society. The expansion of the concept of art to include politics meant that Beuys' artistic work was viewed with political value standards at the same time, although Beuys did not want to achieve an ostensible political impact. The universalization of the concept of art also determined the political.

“Everyone is an artist” did not deny special talents, as in painting, for example, and did not constitute an instruction to everyone to become artistically active in the classical sense. Rather, Beuys claims that, for example, society, a democracy, can also be viewed as a work of art, for the success of which above all individual spirituality , openness, creativity and imagination are necessary, i.e. attitudes that the artist actually has towards his subjects. He assigned these qualities and abilities to everyone. He turned against a formalized, rigid distribution of roles in a specialized society that only wants to assign art a niche, or as the taz finally put it to the essayistic point: “This is what the expanded concept of art wanted: Get out of the niche, 7,000 Plant oak trees and pump honey into politics! "

Research and Teaching

At the Alanus University in Bonn, the course "Art in Dialogue" can be taken, which can be completed with an art project on social sculpture.

At Oxford Brookes University there is a Social Sculpture Research Unit (SSRU) , where there is the possibility of taking a master's degree in Social Sculpture and doing a doctorate in this subject area. This research facility was co-founded by Beuys' student Shelley Sacks .


In many concepts, such as solidarity agriculture , ideas of social plastic are implemented. Concrete projects are mostly biodynamic farms mainly in the USA, Germany and Brazil or social institutions such as the social project for favela residents in Sao Paulo Associação Comunitária Monte Azul .

See also


Writings by Joseph Beuys

  • Joseph Beuys: Everyone is an artist - On the way to the freedom figure of the social organism ( FIU-Verlag ), ISBN 3-928780-52-2
  • Joseph Beuys: A short first picture of the concrete field of activity of social art , Wangen 1987 (FIU-Verlag), ISBN 3-926673-02-8
  • Joseph Beuys: Entry into a living being - lecture a. Discussion v. 6.8.77 on the occasion of Honey pump at work, two CDs in kt. Shell; Wangen 2005 (FIU-Verlag), ISBN 3-928780-51-4
  • Joseph Beuys: KUNST = KAPITAL - Achberger lectures , Wangen (FIU-Verlag), ISBN 3-928780-03-4


  • Volker Harlan, Rainer Rappmann , Peter Schata: Social plastic - materials for Joseph Beuys , Achberg 1976 (Achberger Verlagsanstalt), ISBN 3-88103-065-4
  • Volker Harlan: What is art? Workshop talk with Joseph Beuys , Stuttgart 1986 (Urachhaus), ISBN 3-87838-482-3
  • Wolfgang Zumdick: About thinking in Josef Beuys and Rudolf Steiner , Basel 1995 (Wiese Verlag), ISBN 3-909164285
  • Hiltrud Oman: Joseph Beuys. The art on the way to life , Munich 1998, (Heyne), ISBN 3-453-14135-0
  • Thomas Mayer, Johannes Stüttgen : Work of art referendum , Wangen 2004 (FIU-Verlag), ISBN 3-9287-80239
  • Julia Kiegeland: rabbit, hat and happenings. The 68s as social plastic? . In: Robert Lorenz, Franz Walter (Ed.): 1964 - the year with which “68” began . transcript Verlag, Bielefeld 2014, ISBN 978-3-8376-2580-6 , p. 67
  • Jan Ulrich Hasecke: Social sculpture - social utopia as a work of art . Essay, juh's Sudelbuch 1998–2014, 2015

Application and further development

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Barbara Lange: Social Sculpture , in: Hubertus Butin: DuMonts Term Lexicon for Contemporary Art , p. 276.
  2. Wolfgang Zumdick: Joseph Beuys as a thinker. PAN / XXX / ttt, Social Philosophy - Art Theory - Anthroposophy , Mayer, Stuttgart, Berlin 2002, p. 12
  3. Barbara Lange: Social Sculpture , in: Hubertus Butin: DuMonts Term Lexicon for Contemporary Art , p. 276.
  4. ^ Joseph Beuys: Call for an alternative , first published in the Frankfurter Rundschau on December 23, 1978
  5. ^ A b Heiner Stachelhaus: Joseph Beuys . P. 83f.
  6. Wilfried Heidt: Lecture on the "expanded concept of art" and on "social sculpture" (the inversion of the demiurgic principle). Summer 1987 . In: The Invisible Sculpture. On the expanded concept of art by Joseph Beuys, ed. from FIU Kassel, Stuttgart, 1989 . (accessed May 6, 2009)
  7. Beuys' humanistic concept of art and the universalization of the political ( Memento of the original from November 26, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . (accessed February 25, 2008) @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  8. understanding politics, living art: joseph beuys on the eightieth in: taz , 12 May 2001
  9. Art in dialogue
  10. Homepage of the Social Sculpture Research Unit (SSRU)
  11. Social Plastic Today Interview with Shelley Sacks in Oya 09/11