Protect the Flame

Saturday, February 13th, 2010 | Uncategorized

searching some beuys material for a good friend, i just found his last speech that, when i heard it during my student days, went straight into my heart. i translated the key section of the speech into English (with the help of Janet Mowery). here it is. it deeply influenced how i think about the social field:


“…I found the passing on of the FLAME to a movement that… is a foundational idea for renewing the social whole, and leading to the uncovering of the SOCIAL SCULPTURE.

…I want to say that, reflecting the peak of modern sculpture in the work of Wilhelm Lehmbruck, there will be a time when the concepts of TIME and WARMTH will extend the concept of SPACE. This passing on of the PRINCIPLE of PLASTICITY to an IMPULSE that uses the character of WARMTH and TIME as a SCULPTURAL PRINCIPLE to transform society… is meant for all of us. Lehmbruck passed on the FLAME to us… I have seen it… I have seen that he passed it on to all human beings…

That’s what I have to say. I believe that the deepening of the PRINCIPLE OF PLASTICITY is essentially a principle of TIME. The essence of PLASTICITY is a concept of the FUTURE par excellence. And woe to those concepts that are ignorant of this knowing.

I want to put myself on that side where Lehmbruck lived and died, and where he passed on this inner message to every single human being:

For, if you don’t protect the flame,
Alas, before you become aware
The wind can easily put out the light that it ignited
Then you will break, very pitiable heart, silenced in pain.

I do not want to take the tragic away from Lehmbruck’s work.”

Joseph Beuys
From: Protect The Flame. His last speech (1986).
Original source:ütze-die-flamme-joseph-beuys
Translation: otto scharmer, janet mowery

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11 Comments to Protect the Flame

Kristina Kaine
February 14, 2010

Thank you Otto. I am a serious student of Rudolf Steiner’s and saw the exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria of Steiner’s blackboard drawings and Beuys’ work. How interesting that we should regard warming as a problem for the planet when what we actually need is the plasticity of warmth.

Tom Burns
February 14, 2010

Otto, this is great that you and Janet have translated the last speech of Beuys. Although I have not come across this before it resonates profoundly with me, as it has been my conviction and experience that at the core of each one of us there is a flame of Beinghood that can be accessed, especially in moments of crisis or transformation. Several years ago, when I was teaching in an art therapy school, one of my most meaningful courses took as its starting point the existential nothingness that can be experienced by any person in crisis. This is a threshold experience, where personal beinghood seems extinguished. The act of enduring it can lead to a realization that, when all else falls away, the self is left with a kernel of warmth which leads to a new impulse in time, kindling a flame of inner activity. It is a primal warmth which generates a future movement, sculpting a new experience of self out of one’s own, authentic inner activity. The next stage in the journey is like an illuminating of space- out of my inner flame activity light arises and sculptural warmth generates awareness of spatial relationships. These two stages of a sculptural warmth process have been at the core of this particular course I used to teach. There were two further stages where a colour language started to sound out of the interplay between the primal warm darkness and the space defining activity of light. The weaving, sounding colour movement then took on a more plasticizing gesture, leading to the fourth and final stage where sculptural form was finally embodied.
Of course, this may sound rather elusive in words, but it has been a revelatory and affirming journey in practical, artistic experience and accords with the dynamic of therapeutic processes I have experienced with myself and others.
When I contemplate the art practice we need most in our time- a social art, or social sculpture- i am moved by the insight and power of Joseph Beuys’ words and innovative practice.


Juergen Große-Puppendahl
February 17, 2010

For, if you don’t enlighten the “insane”
As soon as you become aware
You follow the destructive lane
That will get you to nowhere.

I don’t want to take the tragic away from our life’s work.


andrew james
February 23, 2010

i found this from an old conversation we shared with some art in circa 2004 Hope it chimes.
Beuys: (It) is the principle of resurrection, transforming the old structure, which dies or stagnates into a vital
vibrant, life enhancing, and soul – and spirit -promoting form. That is the expanded concept of art.
Q. Which work do you view as containing your most important contribution …
The expanded concept of art. That’s very simple…The expanded concept of art is not a theory but a way of
proceeding which says that the inner eye is very much more crucial than the external images that develop anyway.
The precondition for good outward pictures, which can also be hung in museums, is that the inner image, the
thought-form, the structure of the thought, imagination, and feeling, has the quality required of a corresponding
picture. I therefore shift the picture back to it’s space of origin. I go back to the sentence: In the beginning was the
word. The word is a form. That is the evolutionary principle as such. The principle of evolution must spring out of
man. It can break out of man because the old evolution has now been concluded. That is the reason for the crisis.
Everything new taking place on earth must occur through man. That will not be able to happen though if the source
is blocked –in other words if the beginning lacks form. I therefore call for a better structure of thinking, feeling and
will. They are the real aesthetic criteria. They are not merely to be evaluated in external forms though. They must be
assessed with human beings themselves, and then become visible there. We then suddenly also know that we are
spiritual beings – and that what is visible within ourselves, becoming a source of images and invested with its own
inner higher mathematics, also endows us with the ability to perceive the Christ-power. That is the evolutionary
power, the evolutionary principle, which emanates from man and woman today. (1984 F.M. & J.B)
Fragment : No responsiveness has been developed to human freedom, to creativity, to a post-modern concept of
art, and all those who so extolled art, the so called connoisseurs have also failed to develop responsiveness either to
art or to the inter-relationships leading to the catastrophes of the First and Second World Wars. There will also surely
be a Third World War if we fail to make a fresh start in the ‘Science of Freedom’ where “Everyone is an Artist”,
in being oneself and insisting on the sovereign power within every individual. Thank you. (J.B. 1985)
I saw a flame with many angels in it. I started that way and I ended that way.
‘Yesterday I read… [Beuys]…and where he entrusted every single person with this inner message: “Protect your
flame, since if you fail to do that, before you’ve noticed the wind will extinguish the light it provides. Then break o
wretched heart, silent with pain”. – There comes a moment when the concept of time and heat is added to the
concept of space. He handed on the flame in a principle of taking the nature of heat and time for the reshaping of
the social totality grouping us all. – And in the picture I saw a torch, I saw a flame and I heard the words

Martin Wienert
February 23, 2010

Otto, thank you so much!!
It is great that you’ve posted the link to the youtube clip!!
Thanks again!

Juergen Große-Puppendahl
February 24, 2010

Is that the joy to overcome all pain?
Why is my heart wide open,
close to joyful tears?
Steadily seeking –
letting go of fears.
The torch bearing the flame
brings light into what was all in vain.
Uncovering the greatest love
you could attain
the warmth of a truly human flame.

What’s it all about concerning U?

Ria Baeck
February 25, 2010

Dear Otto,
I have been carefully rereading the interview with the Circle of Seven as I am writing a book that will make a distinction between a Circle of Presence and a Circle of Co-Creation.
Reading the interview till the end I wanted to let you know that you are held by many more circles, unknown to you; but please realise when you feel alone if what you are called to do.
In these circles of co-creation there is definitely something going on with WARMTH, TIME and SPACE…
Thanks for all your work!

Juergen Große-Puppendahl
March 7, 2010

The Self and the flame
I was asked by my Self
where is the flame in the ‘empty canvas’?
since phenomena appear and dis-appear
self is disappointed and dissatisfied?
is the ‘empty canvas’ the flame
that generates warmth, light,
space and tracks for genuine human acts?
protect your Self
notice the cracks

otto scharmer
March 13, 2010

what a great thread. thank you all for co-creating this. ria, this does feel a bit like a virtual circle of co-creation, doesn’t it? and thank you for your warm words on the Circles and their relationship to the work that i am trying to advance…
juergen, i am not sure the the flame and the blank canvas is the same. the blank canvas is the utmost attention to the source level. the flame is the “Beinghood” (as Tom put it above) that under certain conditions begins to emerge from that Source. or? how do you see it?
to be continued…..

Juergen Große-Puppendahl
March 15, 2010

Hello Otto, Yes, also to my understanding, the empty canvas is the utmost attention to the source level, the deepest point in the U-process tagged with presencing, right?
It’s sometimes tricky when you use words like ‘flame’ in a different way and context as used before. I wanted to put the ‘flame’ in the empty canvas as a metaphor for energy/force which is readily available and can be tapped when you attend to the source level. For me the attention to the source level gets you in contact with the great force, the central generating force of all religions. The attention to the source level provides energy/force like a flame provides warmth and light energy. Juergen

Juergen Große-Puppendahl
March 17, 2010

Haiku of U
Embodying self
Empty canvas points no self
Embodying Self
Shifting form to Form
In-between nothingness
A new reborn U

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