Wednesday 15 June 2022

Freedom of will (agency) is Creativity is God (is Man). Joseph Beuys's Romantic Christianity

JB: If Man is conditioned by the environment, by what is already there, he can't be free; he can only be free if he is not governed by his environment. Of course man is always influenced by his environment, but if he is completely governed by it, then he is no longer free. 

Interviewer: But man himself is a part of the environment.

JB: Yes, but only in material terms, only in respect of his physical being. What I am concerned with is the part of myself which is not connected with the environment... 

When talking about freedom, one has to determine its foundations, and that can only be done by ascertaining its limits. We can say that freedom is possible, but freedom cannot come from the environment: it has to come from creativity... 

I said that freedom = creativity = man. And that freedom is achieved on the basis of the creative principle. And in that case, who else could be God except Man?

If we don't want to go quite this far; we could say that God is a 'generator'. 

From Joseph Beuys's interview with Achille Bonito Oliva, in Energy Plan for the Western Man (1990) writings and interviews compiled by Carin Kuoni. 


My comment:  

Here Joseph Beuys gets to essentially the same understanding of freedom/ free will/ agency that I reached (but some decades later). 

Genuine freedom of Man entails a divine concept of creativity. We are free only when we are being-creative, and creativity is an attribute of the divine. Thus man is, when free and being-creative, divine: a god.  

Freedom is not a physical but a spiritual attribute; and we cannot observe freedom if we deny the spiritual. 

Also, freedom's expression is spiritual not physical - that is, freedom may be found in thinking, but not (or not fully) in physical action; because physical action is always analyzable as a product of environment. 

This is an important insight for the Christian (here-and-now) because Christianity entails that he who is saved, the believer, the resurrected - is genuinely free: free to choose or reject salvation. 

Christianity is (or should be) built-around this absolute, existential, metaphysical freedom - yet such freedom is not satisfactorily explained by traditional theology, which sees God as utterly different from Man and the omnipotent creator of everything - leaving no room for other sources of divine creative freedom. 

Modern Man experiences absolute agency; but typically abuses (from the perspective of divine purpose) it in order (passively and unconsciously) to believe what could be termed leftist-materialism; which ideology then subverts freedom by denying God and the spiritual realm. 

Modern Man therefore chooses to regard himself as unfree - his action a product of the physical/ material environment, his thinking an irrelevant epiphenomenon... 

Hence Modern Man uses his freedom tacitly to assent to a totalitarian system of evil lies; on the basis that 'there is no alternative'. 

For Beuys as for myself; this creative freedom ought instead to be used creatively - as Beuys said "Everyone is an artist". 

(We are therefore free to deny our freedom: but this denial has the consequence that we then oppose God's creative goals.)

We can now see that this 'artistry' is to be in the realm of the spiritual, of thinking (it can be nowhere else!); and the intent is that it directed 'at-God', at the divine in a conscious way, to work in harmony with God's creative purposes expressed through the person of Jesus Christ. 

Man now needs to become aware of his God-nature, and of the nature and scope (and limits) of this God-nature; and that this life is (and is meant to be - meant By God to be) a struggle between those who deploy their creativity actively and in harmony with God...

And against that: those who remain unconscious, ignore or suppress their potential freedom, and passively-align with those who oppose God (i.e. spiritual demonic powers). 

The struggle of this mortal life is needed for us to learn... We learn by and from this struggle. 

[The fact of death is very much a part of the mortal living struggle; which means we should - consciously, actively -  take death into account in this life. Death - our death, and also death as an incisive event in world history and for all Men - is central to Christianity. Beuys wrote about this matter specifically, and I intend to quote some of his reflections on the matter in a later post.]


Lucinda said...

I enjoyed reading this. Thanks.

Francis Berger said...

"Freedom is not a physical but a spiritual attribute; and we cannot observe freedom if we deny the spiritual."

Well, that certainly hits the nail on the head as far as I'm concerned.

The interview excerpt made we wonder if Beuys had ever encountered The Meaning of the Creative Act because the conclusions he reaches mirror Berdyaev's to a great extent. Berdyaev refers to the material limitations that impose themselves on man as "necessity". As Beuys observes, the only way to overcome these limitations and be free is through spiritual creativity.

I think it's crucial to point out that the spiritual freedom man has the potential to employ via creativity is not the "created" freedom of traditional Christian doctrine but "real" freedom and agency over which God has either very limited or no control.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Frank - Beuys was a scholar and advocate of Rudolf Steiner, and I can see Steiner's fingerprints in many of the ideas - which Beuys freely acknowledged. Beuys regarded himself (and Steiner) as in the German Romantic tradition - he named Goethe, Schiller, Novalis, and Hegel as among the precursors.

Francis Berger said...

Well, that explains it then.