Joseph Beuys



Joseph Beuys believed that art had the power to shape a better society and once stated that “it was simply impossible for human beings to bring their creative intention into the world any other way than through action.”


Beuys was an artist who used materials in many different ways, often repeatedly. His work was diverse, encompassing actions that took up whole gallery spaces, to suits of clothing and small objects displayed in museum cases.


All human activities are art according to Beuys. A work of art is not an act but the result of an action and, in turn every action involves a ritual. Performance art is a self-invented ritual, through which he could affect the world around him. It was a social sculpture made from materials such as food (in particular fat) felt and dust - materials that he believed retained traces of history, and as such were reminders of society’s ancient rituals [1].


As well as being everyday, these materials were also elemental - both natural and nurturing to life because they are easily converted to energy by the human body, giving both power and warmth. Additionally, the story goes fat interested Beuys because of a personal connection – during the second world war he was a shot down when a fighter pilot. Those who found him covered him in fat and wrapped him in felt blankets to keep him warm. This was a myth, but one that became central to his practice. Using it to make a suit or wrap himself in blankets but also in more obscure ways such as covering a grand piano.



In his well-known work I Like America and America Likes Me, Beuys sought to examine the dynamic interactions of nature and culture[1] spending a week living in a gallery with a coyote. While at first wary of each other, they learned to co-exist in the same space. Beuys sought to examine the dynamic interactions of nature and culture [2].


He also regularly visited Scotland and Ireland, attracted by empty landscapes and Celtic mythological. These trips inspired several works, one of which was a series of actions done in front of an audience. Immersing himself in water as well as washing spectators feet. He was drawing on Christian rituals and symbolising freedom from false preconceptions.






[1] Tate Liverpool (1993) ‘Joseph Beuys: The Revolution is Us’

[2] Jina Khayyer (unknown date ) ‘Energy Plan for the Western Man’