Chapter 14. Joseph Beuys: Gastrosophical Aesthetics
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part V  Not for Art’s Sake Ethics, Ecology, and Sustainability 247 Chapter 14 Joseph Beuys Gastrosophical Aesthetics Harald Lemke Food has long been ignored in Western philosophy. This is quite a strange fact.Should food be something that is of no interest for human life and moral reason? To be sure, one of the central themes of philosophical ethics deals with the “Socratic” question of “how we should live.”1 There is certainly nothing more urgent than the moral question of whether a better way of living is possible than the current one: a lifestyle that, through its insatiable and unequal hunger for resources, is quite literally devouring the very means of its survival.When considered in the context of growing social and environmental problems of food and hunger, the disparity between the rich and the poor and the global importance of the ethical and political relevance of food is even more underscored.This observation is the starting point of food ethics or what I call“gastrosophy.”2 Thus facing the global food crisis,philosophical ethics can be carried over into the gastrosophical approach: is there a better culinary life possible than the one we are currently cultivating? How “well” should we eat,so that our eating culture is good for all,for humanity as a whole and for the future of planet Earth (all nonhuman life)? Since the way we eat is one of the most powerful factors of how humankind interacts with nature,gastrosophy plays a central role in bringing global, social, and environmental ethics into our everyday behavior. The theoretical problem here consists of elaborating a conceptual framework for food ethics that can define “good food” as good for 248 Not for Art’s Sake all and as common wealth. An increasing number of scientists and activists are searching for answers to this important question.3 To enter the ethical debates about good food from a different­ perspective—in shifting toward art and aesthetics—this paper discusses the work of German artist Joseph Beuys.4 I will particularly focus on his works that artistically express a philosophy of food. The Beuysian art conceptualizes food in a number of ways,three of which are examined in this paper: (1) self-cooking both as an important change maker and as a convivial and creative activity available to everyone everyday; (2) the use of foodstuff as material for artistic work; and (3) the production of food as an essential issue of global economy and politics, particularly with regard to the fundamental link between agriculture and eating culture in terms of ecologically sustainable relations to nature.    In portraying Joseph Beuys’s food aesthetics, I seek to present the lesser-known side of this artist as a food ethicist. Despite being a remarkable gastrosopher, Beuys is mainly known as a performance artist, first and foremost, acknowledged for the legendary “actions” and “interventions” such as the “I Like America and America Likes Me” (1974) or the “7000 oaks” project (1982), which made him one of the key figures of German postwar art.5 These pieces will be discussed later in this paper. The public’s imagination with regard to Beuysian aesthetics was seized not by food, but by (inedible) fat and felt: many of its objects and installations relied heavily on the natural or symbolic use of these two materials. The most influential conceptual innovation associated with the name Joseph Beuys, however, is undoubtedly “der erweiterte Kunstbegriff”: Beuys’s redefinition of art as a free and creative activity that goes beyond the traditional understanding of fine art.Challenging traditional interpretations of art that imprison human creativity in a “narrow” art world, Beuys’s philosophy sought to “widen” our notion of what artistic activity is all about. Instead of producing objects and works that are meant solely for exhibition in the artificial reality of museums—artworks that have little to do with our everyday life praxis—Beuys extended art to life. Consequently, creative activity Joseph Beuys 249 would consist of an “art” of “living” that works as counterculture or, in Beuys’s terminology,6 as “social sculpture”: the latter implying the idea that society and societal reality are to be regarded as a creation to which all individuals can contribute as autonomous creators of their daily life and common wealth. In other words, the extended notion of art essentially reinvented art and artistic activity as a social-sculptural way of living—as a way of modeling,forming,and creating a transformed lifestyle that...