LANGUAGE / COMMUNICATION





The mechanisms, functions, and symbolism of language played a prominent role in Beuys' Theory of Social Sculpture, as it did throughout his artistic career. In it, semantics are the plastic vehicle by which sounds are given form and thoughts are given meaning, allowing communication to take place. Beuys equated the phenomenon of language with evolution: it is a catalyst that molds and propels human society.

"When I speak here about my own country [Germany], I cannot base what I say on anything more recent and primal than our language. My path, strange as it is, took me by way of the language rather than my so-called visual ability being the starting point. As many people know, I started to study the natural sciences, and then came to the conclusion that my possibility perhaps lay in a sphere demanding something completely different from the ability to become a good specialist in some scientific occupation, and that my talent lay in exerting an all-embracing impact on the task facing the nation. The concept of a people is elementally coupled with its language. Mind you, a people is not a race. The fact that this was also the only way of overcoming all the surviving racist machinations, terrible sins, and indescribable darkness without losing sight of them for even a moment led me to decide in favor of art, albeit of an art that took me to a concept of sculpture which starts with speaking and thinking, thereby learning to construct concepts which can and will bring feeling and willing into form if I do not slacken and keep rigorously going, so that forward-looking images will present themselves and ideas take shape. The precondition for a successful sculpture was thus that an inner form first came into being in thought and understanding which could then be expressed in the shape of the material used in the work."[6]
-Joseph Beuys, 1985

 

Beuys' view can be considered logocentric--he believed in the equation of language according to the originally concept Logos from St. John's gospel in which it was decreed "in the beginning was the word," equating God's word with God's will of creation. Hence, the cognitive, or presemantic elements of language--the process of thought or thinking--is a process analogous to the physical process (or principle) of warmth (signifying energy, creation), and to the (evolutionary) moment of the revelation of the thought and will of God.

 

In Beuys' artistic theory and practice, however, language and communication often were entirely discrete entities. Language was one possible vehicle for communication; it functioned as a catalyst, whereas communication was more profound, elemental, and universal--fundamentally biological. Multiples then, were devices of communication, vehicles for the distribution of ideas that could reach an even wider group of people than could a single work of art. Yet all of Beuys' objects had meaning only in relation to his ideas; the objects, however widely distributed, always return to their maker. This creates a circular system consisting of Beuys' art, his persona, and the metaphors that weave in and out of his work.



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