The world is, more and more, changing into something else—and, for better or worse, human beings are the ones changing it.
The daily choices of seven billion people (and more on the way) are changing oceans and atmosphere, shaping our global and national financial, infrastructure, & governance systems, deciding between war and peace. The world is our sculpture — and we are all makers. Or, put in theatrical terms, humanity is no longer audience on this planet earth. We are the actors and directors. We are shaping the raw material that history, culture, and nature have given us.
The problem is, of course, that we don’t really know what we’re doing. We don’t know what we’re creating. And we’re going at it absolutely gangbusters.
Joseph Beuys said it first (and Ai Wei Wei says it now): it’s high time we listen to the artists and start applying creative know-how to create new social realities. The emerging and future art form that involves every single human being, whether conscious of it or not, is the art of shaping the world — social sculpture.
Magenta has worked at every level of social change, from building leaders to supporting national and international dialogues, on all kinds of problems. There are real reasons that traditional problem-solving approaches don’t and can’t touch the true causes of social problems. Shaping the world in positive, healthful ways isn’t actually a matter of “problem-solving.” It’s a creativity problem. Stopping a problem, like staunching a wound, is one thing. For a wound, I need a bandage. For a war, we need a cease-fire. But once cleaned and bandaged, the body then miraculously heals that wound. Not so with the body social. That body’s wounds sometimes heal and sometimes don’t. We have worked in areas where wounds are still unhealed after hundreds of years.
Thinking of the world and society as a “social sculpture” affords us a healing, regenerative, co-creative approach. It looks for the healing sources in social life, and activates those energetically, with focus and skill, so that in place of problems there emerges not only a solution, but a different way of life. Elinor Ostrum describes in her research how systemic problems in fisheries are solved only at the community level, by people working together to create and, importantly, co-own the solutions. A solution in Belize might look like a solution in the Aleutian Islands, or it might not. Real solutions to systemic problems are created by the actors involved in them. The art and practice of understanding, nourishing, stimulating, guiding, and otherwise supporting that creativity is the art of social sculpture. It can be done by anyone, anywhere, at any time, at any scale. It is something anyone can learn. But it is not something we are generally taught.