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The Art Story Homepage Artists Joseph Beuys
Joseph Beuys Photo

Joseph Beuys

German Sculptor and Performance Artist

Movements and Styles: Conceptual Art, Fluxus

Born: May 12, 1921 - Krefeld, Germany

Died: January 23, 1986 - Dusseldorf, Germany

Joseph Beuys Timeline

"Every man is a plastic artist who must determine things for himself."

Joseph Beuys Signature

Summary

Joseph Beuys was a German-born artist active in Europe and the United States from the 1950s through the early 1980s, who came to be associated with that era's international, Conceptual art and Fluxus movements. Beuys's diverse body of work ranges from traditional media of drawing, painting, and sculpture, to process-oriented, or time-based "action" art, the performance of which suggested how art may exercise a healing effect (on both the artist and the audience) when it takes up psychological, social, and/or political subjects. Beuys is especially famous for works incorporating animal fat and felt, two common materials - one organic, the other fabricated, or industrial - that had profound personal meaning to the artist. They were also recurring motifs in works suggesting that art, common materials, and one's "everyday life" were ultimately inseparable.

Key Ideas

Beuys was a key participant in the 1960s Fluxus movement. At that time, many artists in Asia, Europe, and the United States became dissatisfied with a long tradition of "heroic," or object-oriented painting and sculpture (much recently typified by Abstract Expressionism). Influenced in part by contemporary experiments in music, such artists found themselves turning away from the art world's prevailing commercialism in favor of "found" and "everyday" items for creating ephemeral, time-based "happenings," impermanent installation art, and/or other largely action-oriented events.
From roughly the 1950s through the early 1980s, Beuys demonstrated how art might originate in personal experience yet also address universal artistic, political, and/or social ideas (i.e. topical issues of the day). This is part of the meaning to be gleaned from his 1965 solo performance, How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, in which materials of personal significance (one foot wrapped in felt, the cradling of a recently deceased animal) poetically suggest the healing potential of art for a humanity seeking self revitalization and a sense of renewed hope in the future (one should recall that Beuys came of age in the immediate postwar period, when many Germans were just coming to terms with many traumatic aspects of their recent past).
Beuys suggested, in both his teaching and in his mature "action" and sculptural artworks, that "art" might not ultimately constitute a specialized profession but, rather, a heightened humanitarian attitude, or way of conducting one's life, in every realm of daily activity. In this regard, Beuys's work signals a new era in which art has increasingly become engaged with social commentary and political activism.
Beuys frequently blurred the lines between art and life, and fact and fiction, by suggesting that what one believed to constitute "reality" mattered more in matters of human action, social/political behavior, and personal creativity than any definition of everyday reality based on traditional standards of "normalcy," or social codes of so-called "proper" conduct.
Joseph Beuys Photo

Joseph Beuys was born in Krefeld, a small city in northwest Germany. He was an only child, to the merchant Josef Jakob Beuys and his wife Johanna Maria Margarete Hulsermann. The two were a devout Catholic couple of the northern Rhine-Westphalian middle-class. Just months after Beuys's birth, the family moved south to the industrial town of Kleve. Beuys would later recall, in an unsubstantiated account, that when, in 1933, the recently formed National Socialist German Workers' Party (or Nazi Party) staged a book-burning rally at Kleve (Beuys would have been aged 12), he rescued from the flames Carolus Linnaeus's Systema Naturae (1735) - one of history's most groundbreaking works of scientific literature. (In an ironic turn, Beuys was himself compelled by legal fiat to join the Hitler Youth movement by the time he was a teenager).

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Joseph Beuys
Interactive chart with Joseph Beuys's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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Show influences

Artists

James JoyceJames Joyce
John CageJohn Cage
Rudolf SteinerRudolf Steiner
Martin HeideggerMartin Heidegger
George BrechtGeorge Brecht

Personal Contacts

Hanns LamersHanns Lamers
George MaciunasGeorge Maciunas
Erwin HeerichErwin Heerich
Nam June PaikNam June Paik

Movements

FluxusFluxus
HumanismHumanism
Social PhilosophySocial Philosophy
HappeningsHappenings
Influences on Artist
Influences on Artist
Joseph Beuys
Joseph Beuys
Years Worked: 1956 - 1986
Influenced by Artist
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Robert MorrisRobert Morris
Yoko OnoYoko Ono
Sigmar PolkeSigmar Polke
Robert SmithsonRobert Smithson

Personal Contacts

Lothar WollehLothar Wolleh
Georg BaselitzGeorg Baselitz
Anselm KieferAnselm Kiefer
Markus LupertzMarkus Lupertz

Movements

Land ArtLand Art
Performance ArtPerformance Art
Environmental ArtEnvironmental Art

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 01 Dec 2010. Updated and modified regularly. Information
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