Makers: DIY Agents of Social Change

Everyone Is an Artist

As our society collectively awakens to the realization that it must devise ways to stem the hemorrhaging caused by years of denial and excess and as the DIY (do-it-yourself) movement grows in popularity, Joseph Beuys’ words, “everyone is an artist” ring all the more true. Beuys, who referred to himself as a “social sculptor,” believed strongly not that everyone should make (so-called) fine art, but that everyone can live a richer and more meaningful life by infusing any vocation or action with his or her own personal creativity.

From the 1950s through the mid-1980s, Beuys expressed the notion that personal creativity could be cultivated and honed by connecting with nature and by developing a more intimate relationship with it. He believed that individuals as well as our entire society could be healed by returning to a simpler way of life and by becoming more attuned to the subtle, ineffable forces of the ecosystems we inhabit.

Everyone Is a Shaman

Some call one who consciously connects to, communicates with and elaborates on the intangible a shaman. Some called Beuys that. Most just called him an artist. Shamans, artists, cooks, gardeners, scientists, inventors, and all others who bring imaginary things out of the realm of the intangible to help give them form routinely benefit from enhanced access to the mysterious force of inspiration. In this sense, everyone is a shaman as well.

And as people begin to seek opportunities to “do it themselves,” they are exercising a form of personal creativity that has been largely neglected in our culture for far too long. A basic fact of existence that has been all but forgotten is that human happiness and the sense of freedom depends largely on the ability to express personal creativity. Beuys also famously said, “To make people free is the aim of art. Therefore art for me is the science of freedom”.

The Joy of Fluxus

It is possible that the reshuffling of our collective deck, while discomfiting at times, will ultimately result in an overall increase in happiness as people come to realize that we were misguided in relating the ravenous, mindless accumulation of stuff to personal joy, and as we begin to experience instead the sense of simple, profound satisfaction that comes from planting a seed, sewing on a button or cooking a meal from scratch.

Autonomy as Radical Act

Consciously creative types (“makers” as they have come to be known) are returning to the sort of DIY approach to the creating and sharing of their work that the fluxus artists of the 1960s and ’70s pioneered – only now we have the Internet. Web sites, blogs and social networks have made the notion of the white box/velvet-rope-style gallery virtually obsolete – now everyone has the same access to the same art and artists, from the comfort and privacy of their own homes. Sculptors can create installations in a basement, musicians can give concerts in their living rooms, writers can publish in an instant – and everything can be shared with millions of people across the globe.

Digital Pioneering

The Internet is a fascinating artifact of the fundamental human longing to connect. The telegraph, telephone and television are all apparatus devised to facilitate communication. The Internet takes it all a step further – now we are able to pool resources, share information and generate tangible links. In 1998, Howard Rheingold, an early Internet researcher and pioneer, published a brilliant article called “Thinking About Thinking About Technology” in the Institute of Noetic Sciences newsletter. In the piece, Rheingold posits that for new technology to develop into tools for enhancement of creativity and “mind amplification” as opposed to becoming merely a source of “disinfotainment,” we must develop a philosophical framework within which it can evolve. That was 12 years ago. Now, we can say for certain that technology, devoid of philosophical framework, will become everything that we are – enriching and distracting, elegant and dangerous, brilliant and ridiculous.

Technology has arrived at a point in its evolution when it is exceptionally easy for the maker to direct all aspects of his or her own creation, from inception to publication, marketing and dissemination. From Facebook, Twitter and Blogger to Ebay, Etsy and YouTube, it is an exciting time for the DIY innovator.

Internet as Cave Wall

Technologies for the amplification and enhancement of imagination and conscious intent have existed in every aspect of human culture at least since the first cave painting was created. Modern western civilization’s fanatic rejection of the unquantifiable has, in many ways, done us a great disservice. To trust only that which can be measured negates inspiration, intuition and imagination – some of humanity’s most precious attributes.

Perhaps Beuys was right – re-enchantment with the intangible, reverence for nature and an open-minded acceptance of alternative modes of perception may make it possible for humanity to emerge from this period of economic, environmental and social upheaval and re-evaluation into a more peaceful and contented era. By perceiving ourselves as artists of our own particular medium (be it plumbing, politics, cooking, medicine, teaching, healing, engineering or painting), we have an opportunity to sculpt our very culture into a masterpiece that’s beyond our wildest collective imagination. We just need to keep in mind that technology is only an electronic, externalized version of some far more sophisticated software that exists inside all of us, preinstalled. There’s no Google search that can tell us how to use it, however. For that we’ll need to move away from the machines and step outside.