Tag Archives: Joseph Beuys

Ian Alden Russell, Curator, David Winton Bell Gallery

Joseph Beuys, “Creativity = Capital” (1983), lithograph. Gift of Ron Feldman. (PR 1986.110)

CAPITAL is at present the work sustaining ability. Money is not an economic value though. The two genuine economic values involve the connection between ability (creativity) and product. That explains the formula presenting the expanded concept of art: ART=CAPITAL.

-Joseph Beuys, 1985

Impassioned by economics and politics, Joseph Beuys’ art was one of social transformation. In this 1983 lithograph Creativity = Capital, we see a palimpsest of arguments, designs and proofs reminiscent of the artist’s blackboard drawings in which he “worked out” plans and found inspiration for his socially transformative art. Standing boldly on top of these plans, the slogan “Creativity = Capital” is printed almost as the final and resolute conclusion. The slogan (also found as “Art = Capital”) is repeated in many of his other works and is often interpreted as an assertion for an expanded understanding of art in which creativity and capital are the fundamental forces for the reformation of society.

In his thought, creativity was neither the unique domain of artists, nor capital the sole realm of corporations. Rather both were equally present and available to all within their daily lives and practices. His popular aphorism “everyone is an artist,” was perhaps misleading, as it was not meant to compel everyone to produce traditional fine “artwork.” Rather it was the logical distillation of his unique and sophisticated conception of human creativity as social sculpture. Social sculpture, for Beuys, was not a physical artwork. It was the conscious actions of individuals and groups to reform their social, economic, and material conditions to free human creativity. Beuys adhered to this conception of art as politics with a pointed urgency, founding two political movements – the German Student Party (1967) (later Fluxus Zone West) and the Organization for Direct Democracy (1971) – both charged with realizing projects to bring out political conditions underwhich social sculpture would be possible to reform society. “All around us,” he said, “the fundamentals of life are crying out to be shaped, or created.”

At the time of the writing of this short text, thousands of people are occupying public spaces around the world in an effort to renegotiate and reform the conditions of social, political and economic life. The Occupy Wall Street demonstrations perhaps represent a testing of the possibilities of Beuys’ political and economic maxims. A “Beuysian” interpretation of Occupy Wall Street presents the demonstrations as direct action to invert the top-down hierarchy of supply-demand economics. They become social sculpture and an urgent call for shared global artwork reforming our economic-political structures as demand-supply – where the needs of humans are met by production rather than human needs being induced, formed or conditioned by production.

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