Indian shawl or Joseph Beuys wool?

In the creative method of Synectics, “Isolate” is one of the 20 categories to enhance your creativity. Crop an image so you start to see it as something else, then you might have a new vision on the world.

I really love how my hacked version of Art Tab crops images from the Art Institute of Chicago. If the image is very tall, only the top part of the image is shown in the browser.

Screenshot of a cropped image featuring an Indian Shawl

At first glance, I thought this image in my browser was Joseph Beuys and the coyote (video).

But the cropped image is actually an Indian shawl from 1850/60. The entire image of the shawl shows the detail at the bottom.

Indian Shawl, 1850/1860 from Art Institute of Chicago

Initially seeing only the top part first makes the rest of the photo more interesting.

Connections between Joseph Beuys and an Indian shawl

The essence of creativity is taking two distinct things, and combining them together. Joseph Beuys and and an Indian shawl? Is there a connection?

  • Beuys was big on the warmth of felt as a protective and life-giving fabric.
  • This Indian shawl is made of wool, twill weave and embroidery.

Connection: I tend to think of shawls as decorative, but I suppose when worn around the shoulders it can also keep one warm—especially since this one is made of wool.

Hrmmm, that’s a bit of a loose thread. Maybe there might be something more tight.

A 2011 book, “Felt: Fluxus, Joseph Beuys, and the Dalai Lama” draws more of a connection. The description of the book from the publisher (bolding mine):

Felt provides a nonlinear look at the engagement of the postwar avant-garde with Eastern spirituality, a context in which the German artist Joseph Beuys appears as an uneasy shaman. Centered on a highly publicized yet famously inconclusive 1982 meeting between Beuys and the Dalai Lama, arranged by the Dutch artist Louwrien Wijers, Chris Thompson explores the interconnections among Beuys, the Fluxus movement, and Eastern philosophy and spiritual practice.

Building from the resonance of felt, the fabric, in both Tibetan culture and in Beuys’s art, Thompson takes as his point of departure Deleuze and Guattari’s discussion in A Thousand Plateaus of felt as smooth space that is “in principle infinite, open, and unlimited in every direction,” its structure determined by chance as opposed to the planned, woven nature of most fabrics. Felt is thus seen as an alternative to the model of the network: felt’s anarchic form is not reducible to the regularity of the net, grid, or mesh, and the more it is pulled, tweaked, torn, and agitated, the greater its structural integrity.

Felt thus invents its methodology from the material that represents its object of inquiry and from this advances a reading of the avant-garde. At the same time, Thompson demonstrates that it is sometimes the failures of thought, the disappointing meetings, even the untimely deaths that open portals through which life flows into art and allows new conjunctions of life, art, and thought. Thompson explores both the well-known engagement of Fluxus artists with Eastern spirituality and the more elusive nature of Beuys’s own late interest in Tibetan culture, arriving at a sense of how such noncausal interactions—interhuman intrigue—create culture and shape contemporary art history.

Ahhh, ha! So my random viewing of an Indian shawl looking like a Beuys’ shawl does not have an accidental connection! He actually met the Dalai Lama (who resides in India).

The book’s description about felt being an anarchic form is curious. I’ve always been attracted to how you can pull and morph felt. What does Beuys say specifically about that stretchy quality of felt?

The Tate on Beuys’ artwork of a felt suit:

In 1979 he wrote that he was interested in producing sculptures that emphasize ongoing processes (such as insulation) rather than fixed states because he wanted to show that ‘Everything is in a state of change’, an idea that he linked with the concept of ‘social sculpture’, or ‘how we mold and shape the world in which we live: sculpture as an evolutionary process’

Beuys statement of everything is in a state of change messes completely with felt being a material that can morph. Yes, we can mold and shape the world. Go felt!

How do we morph and change the world? The Tate also quotes Beuys:

He stated further that when making works which seem to be everyday objects, he hoped that viewers might ‘realize that everyone is an artist, because, many people will ask themselves: “Why don’t I make something like that, something similar.” The sentence “Everybody is an artist” simply means to point out that the human being is a creative being, that he is a creator, and what’s more, that he can be productive in a great many different ways. To me, it’s irrelevant whether a product comes from a painter, from a sculptor or from a physicist.’

And there we have that famous statement, “Everybody is an artist” in the actual context of how Beuys uttered it. We can change the world by people realizing they “can be productive in a great many different ways.”

Coming back to creativity being the combination of two different things:

  • Felt: morph change
  • People: productive members of society

Connection: Together we can change in everyday ways.

Seeing this cropped Indian shawl as a Joseph Beuys shawl was a good reminder about the message of change Beuys brings to us.

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