Symbiosis International University Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts

Introduction to Social Sculpture and the field of Freedom

 Brief Overview 

Social Sculpture or 'Soziale Plastik' was a term coined by Joseph Beuys for ‘an expanded conception of art’ in which we are all potentially ‘sculptors’ and creative participants shaping the social fabric, which in turn then also enables creative participation. Beuys’ well known formulation for this is 'every human being is an artist'.

Social Sculpture as a praxis tries to create 'fields of interaction' where our inherent, but very often ignored and dormant, capacities of imagination and reflection can guide our social and political impulses. Such awareness not only helps us to apply ourselves to a socio/economic/political situation in new ways, but also to understand what emerges thereby as social sculpture! Thus, moving away from a linear problem-solving approach to the challenges of life and the society, we engage in a more phenomenological and emergent mode as part of an expanded concept of art!

Social sculpture, then, offers possibilities to transform the inefficient systems and chaotic workings of society and our environment through humane and aesthetic forms.
Social Sculpture has to do with exploring new values, new forms of thinking and new ways of being in the world . Beuys also believed that art works are not ‘objects of attention’ but rather ‘instruments of consciousness’.

This course will explore such an expanded concept of art through the works of Beuys and Shelley Sacks, a contemporary social sculpture practitioner and thinker who continued to develop this field. With a view of such a ‘connective aesthetic’ we will try to explore fields of interaction between inner and outer, individual and community. The students will engage in ideas and creative strategies developed by Prof. Shelley Sacks.

The uniqueness of this course lies in opening students up to a 'connective aesthetics', and 'a phenomenological way of understanding' that links us more closely to the world: an aesthetics of enlivenment (as opposed to enlightenment, rationality and logic - that has disconnected us from our lives, our nature base, etc.) that foregrounds 'experiential, embodied knowing' and enhances our capacities as connected, ecological citizens.

Thus, it is an invitation to a creative way of understanding and developing our philosophical and creative capacities for moving towards a society that enables every human being to become a creative participant.  

 Course Objectives 

  1. To acquaint the students with the capacities of Imagination, Reflection and Active Listening. The course will train them to use these in different ways.
  2. To dissolve the line between inner and outer work and rather recognise them as a continuum.
  3. To give students an insight into a practice oriented research methodology i.e. exploring their questions through practice and the free play of imagination and reflection.
  4. To incorporate an inter/multi-disciplinary approach.
  5. To understand phenomenological method as facilitating active creative engagement in ones own life and the world around one.

 Teaching Methodology 

  1. Interactive discussions in lecture sessions.
  2. Introduction to dynamic group processes and dialogue as a method.
  3. Introduction to practice-based research through developing individual ‘small acts’.
  4. Audio and Visual aids wherever possible to reinforce concepts.
  5. Importance of feedback process and descriptive methods rather than merely critical / analytical thinking.



 Course Outline 






·       Exploring our questions – “What’s in your rucksack?”

·       Understanding the term – “social sculpture”

·       Introduction to Beuys’ work and ethos



Role of the Imagination

·       In Arts and Creativity v/s other disciplines

·       In Social Sculpture

·       In Kant’s notion of free-play between imagination and understanding



Philosophical Concepts

·       Importance of the Subject

o   In Kantian framework

o   In Rudolf Steiner

·       Freedom and Responsibility:

o   Jean-Paul Sartre

o   J. Krishnamurti

o   Waldorf education (Steiner)

o   Shelley Sacks



Practice oriented sessions / Processes

·       Revisiting questions from Session 1

·       Exploring creative agency: in what sense am I an ‘Agent of Change’

·       Active Listening and its role in the ‘field of interaction’



Phenomenology – Bridging the gap between theory and practice

·       Introduction

·       ‘12 Senses’ – Steiner

·       Goethean Phenomenology



What Social Sculpture is not, and why

·       Activism

·       Social Work

·       Social Awareness Campaign

·       Group Therapy



Small Acts (Student presentations)