Joseph Beuys

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Beuys at Feldman Gallery, 1974

Joseph Beuys (May 12, 1921January 23, 1986) was a German conceptual artist, who produced work in a number of forms including sculpture, performance art, video art and installations. He was inspired by the ideas of Rudolf Steiner and the French artist Yves Klein. Beuys was an important teacher of famous neo-expressionist German artists as Jörg Immendorff, Walter Dahn, Anselm Kiefer and Blinky Palermo. Beuys held a lot of lectures in the U.S. Beuys enlarged the area of art to the whole life of mankind; everybody is an artist. He introduced the notion of social sculpture.

Quotes of Joseph Beuys[edit]

Joseph beuys signature.


  • To be a teacher is my greatest work of art. The rest is the waste product, a demonstration. If you want to express yourself you must present something tangible. But after a while this has only the function of a historic document. Objects aren't very important any more. I want to get to the origin of matter, to the thought behind it.
    • In: Willoughby Sharp, "An interview with Joseph Beuys," Artforum, November 1969; Cited in: Lucy R. Lippard. Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972. University of California Press, 1973, p. 121
  • Art alone makes life possible – this is how radically I should like to formulate it. I would say that without art man is inconceivable in physiological terms.
    • In: Willoughby Sharp, "An interview with Joseph Beuys," Artforum, November 1969; Cited in: Lucy R. Lippard. Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972. University of California Press, 1973, p. 121


  • Creativity is not limited to people practising one of the traditional forms of art, and even in the case of artists, creativity is not confined to the exercise of their art. Each one of us has a creative potential, which is hidden by competitiveness and success-aggression. To recognize, explore and develop this potential is the task of the School. Creation – whether it be a painting, sculpture, symphony or novel – involves not merely talent, intuition, powers of imagination and application, but also the ability to shape material that could be expanded to other socially relevant spheres.
    • Joseph Beuys and Heinrich Böll (1972), cited in: Caroline Tisdall, Joseph Beuys,, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1979. p. 278.
  • It is a special kind of secret how these Asiatic elements (by the American Indians) came over the Bering Strait long ago. It’s the same with the coyote. When I worked with the coyote (his quote refers to the performance by Beuys when he was locked up together with a coyote in a cage for a few days in René Block Gallery, New York City in 1974), I had the idea that it was not an indigenous animal. It came as a wolf with the Indians over the Bering Strait. And this Asiatic wolf, or step wolf, changed his whole biological configuration and behavior. Then it was my idea to import the coyote once more back to Europe, and you could see it (the coyote) change back to the European wolf or Siberian wolf. It is a transformed European wolf, the coyote, how it came to the character of a brush wolf.
    • In: Interview with Alan Moore and Edit de Ak’, 1974; as quoted in: Joseph Beuys, Carin Kuoni. Joseph Beuys in America: Energy Plan for the Western Man. New York, 1993, p. 213
  • I am interested in the creativity of the criminal attitude because I recognize in it the existence of a special condition of crazy creativity. A creativity without morals fired only by the energy of freedom and the rejection of all codes and laws. For freedom rejects the dictated roles of the law and of the imposed order and for this reason is isolated.
    • Quoted in Germano Celant, Beuys, tracce in Italia, Amelio, 1978
  • My objects are to be seen as stimulants for the transformation of the idea of sculpture.. ..or of art in general. They should provoke thoughts about what sculpture can be and how the concept of sculpting can be extended to the invisible materials used by everyone.
THINKING FORMS – how we mold our thoughts or
SPOKEN FORMS – how we shape our thoughts into words or
SOCIAL SCULPTURE – how we mold and shape the world in which we live:
Sculpture as an evolutionary process; everyone an artist.
That is why nature f my sculpture is not fixes and finished. Processes continue in most of them: chemical reactions, fermentations, color changes, delays, drying up. Everything is in a STATE of CHANGE.
  • Beuys' quote from Theory of Social Sculpture, 1979, as cited in: Chris Thompson. Felt: Fluxus, Joseph Beuys, and the Dalai Lama. 2011. p. 88-89.
  • QUESTION: A well-known saying of yours asserts that "Every man is an artist." If every man is an artist, then why have art academies and art professors at all?
BEUYS: To be sure, every man is an artist in a general sense: one must be an artist for example, to create self-determination. But at a certain stage in his life every man becomes a specialist in a certain way; one studies chemistry, another sculpture or painting, a third becomes doctor, and so on. For this reason we understandably need special schools.
  • Götz Adriani, ‎Joseph Beuys, ‎Winfried Konnertz (1979) Joseph Beuys, life and works. p. 255
  • It is a kind of vehicle, you know. It’s a kind of making, spreading out ideas, that is what I think. It spreads out the idea. You must care for information and I personally try to make information available not only in a written way.. ..I try also to work with images, with fantasy, with jokes, with humor. It accelerates the discussion of the problem of a new society.. I work coming from the idea of art as the most important means to transform the society.
    • In: 'I put me on this train', interview with Art Papier, 1979; as quoted in: Joseph Beuys, Carin Kuoni. Joseph Beuys in America: Energy Plan for the Western Man. New York, 1993, p. 44

I Am Searching For Field Character, 1973/74[edit]

Joseph Beuys, "I Am Searching For Field Character," 1973; Translate in: Caroline Tisdall, Art Into Society, Society Into Art: Seven German Artists : Albrecht D., Joseph Beuys... : Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 30 October - 14 November 1974, London: Institute of Contemporary Art, 1974.

  • Only on condition of a radical widening of definitions will it be possible for art and activities related to art [to] provide evidence that art is now the only evolutionary-revolutionary power. Only art is capable of dismantling the repressive effects of a senile social system that continues to totter along the deathline: to dismantle in order to build ‘A SOCIAL ORGANISM AS A WORK OF ART’
    • p. 48
  • This most modern art discipline - Social Sculpture / Social Architecture - will only reach fruition when every living person becomes a creator, a sculptor, or architect of the social organism.
  • Only then would the insistence on participation of the action art of FLUXUS and Happening be fulfilled; only then would democracy be fully realized. Only a conception of art revolutionized to this degree can turn into a politically productive force, coursing through each person, and shaping history.
from his state of freedom -
the position of freedom that he experiences at first-hand -
learns to determine the other positions in the TOTAL ARTWORK OF THE FUTURE SOCIAL ORDER!
  • I think art is the only political power, the only revolutionary power , the only evolutionary power, the only power to free humankind form all repression. I say not that art has already realized this, on the contrary, and because it has not, it has to be developed as a weapon, at first there are radical levels, then you can speak about special details.
    • Quoted in: Robert C. Morgan (1978). The Role of Documentation in Conceptual Art: : An Aesthetic Inquiry. p. 176.

Joseph Beuys... Public Dialogue, 1974[edit]

"Joseph Beuys," in: Avalanche Newspaper, May 1974, p. 5-7

  • I was invited to come here to speak about my idea of art, which is to enlarge the effectivity of art beyond the idea of art as coming out of art history — an art idea which contains the well-known disciplines like sculpture, architecture, painting, music, dancing, poetry and so on. I would like to declare why I feel that it's now necessary to establish a new kind of art, able to show the problems of the whole society, of every living being — and how this new discipline — which I call social sculpture — can realize the future of humankind. It could be a guarantee for the evolution of the earth as a planet, establish conditions for other planetarians too, and you can control it with your own thinking.
    • p. 5; Lead paragraph of article
  • Art is the only power to free humankind from all repression.
    • p. 5
  • Here my idea is to declare that art is the only possibility for evolution, the only possibility to change the situation in the world. But then you have to enlarge the idea of art to include the whole creativity. And if you do that, it follows logically that every living being is an artist – an artist in the sense that he can develop his own capacity. And therefore it's necessary at first that society cares about the educational system, that equality of opportunity for self-realization is guaranteed.
  • p. 5
Joseph Beuys on his lecture "Jeder Mensch ein Künstler - Auf dem Weg zur Freiheitsgestalt des sozialen Organismus" photographed by Rainer Rappmann in Achberg / Germany 1978

Interviews with Caroline Tisdall, 1974 and 1978[edit]

  • The outward appearance of every object I make is the equivalent of some aspect of inner human life... My feelings then had this special kind of darkness – almost black like this mixture of rubber and tar. It is certainly an equivalent of the pathological state mentioned before, and expresses the need to create a space in the mind from which all disturbances were moved: an empty insulated space.
    • As cited in: Joseph Beuys, Dia Art Foundation. Joseph Beuys, Dia Art Foundation, 1988. p. 23 ; Statement about the "Rubberized Box" by Joseph Beuys 1957
  • My first concert - apart from Beethoven at School and Erik Satie at the opening of my exhibition in Kleve in 1960 - was at the gallery Parnass in Wuppertal in 1963. Dressed like a regular pianist in dark grey flannel, black tie and no hat, I played the piano all over – not just the keys – with many pairs of old shoes until it disintegrated. My intention was neither destructive nor nihilistic. “Heal like with like” – similia similibus curantur – in the homeopathic sense. The main intention was to indicate a new beginning.. ..or simply a revolutionary act. This was my first public Fluxus appearance.
    • Quoted in: Joseph Beuys, Carin Kuoni. Joseph Beuys in America: Energy Plan for the Western Man. New York, 1993, p. 128; Comment on his first Fluxus performance in 1963 'Heal like with like'.

Interview with Louwrien Wijers, 22nd November 1979 - in Beuys’ studio in Düsseldorf, Germany[edit]

Interview with Louwrien Wijers, 22nd November 1979 - in Beuys’ studio in Düsseldorf, Germany; as quoted in: Joseph Beuys, Carin Kuoni. Joseph Beuys in America: Energy Plan for the Western Man. New York, 1993.

  • I don’t know what they call mysticism, it is in truth perhaps the interest of the spirit; that the work expresses the spirit, and not the formal aspect. While in the United States a lot of art production runs along the line of formalist art; what one could call the post-modernism, a kind of formalist intention like Don Judd, Carl Andre, Robert Morris, and these.
    • p. 243; Also cited in: Louwrien Wijers (1996). Writing as Sculpture: 1978 - 1987. p. 38
  • People who say: 'Ah, this Beuys will go back to the middle ages, or to the stone dwellers, cliff dwellers.' No, there is a misunderstanding. I have nothing against the materialistic methodology of analytics, but I think we have to enlarge this thing, not to get caught in a very restricted one-sidedness in our way of looking towards life. Because the problems of life, soul, humankind’s spirit, the problems of intuition, imagination, and inspiration, the problems of birth and death, the problems of survival in a bigger shape, and to bring in the image of the meaning of man.
    • p. 249; Also cited in: Louwrien Wijers (1996). Writing as Sculpture: 1978 - 1987. p. 40


Joseph Beuys photographed by Rainer Rappmann, 1985
Some of the 7,000 Oaks planted between 1982 and 1987 for Documenta 7 (1982)
  • I wished to go completely outside and to make a symbolic start for my enterprise of regenerating the life of human kind within the body of society and to prepare a positive future in this context... I can see such a use for the future as representing the really progressive character of the idea of understanding art when it is related to the life of humankind within the social body in the future.
    • In; Studio International. Vol. 195, (9181), p. 46
  • I believe that planting these oaks is necessary not only in biospheric terms, that is to say, in the context of matter and ecology, but in that it will raise ecological consciousness-raise it increasingly, in the course of the years to come, because we shall never stop planting.
    • Joseph Beuys (1982), cited in: Jeffrey Kastner, ‎Brian Wallis (1998), Land and environmental art. p. 164 : about his 7,000 Oaks (see image).
  • I think the tree is an element of regeneration which in itself is a concept of time. The oak is especially so because it is a slowly growing tree with a kind of really solid heartwood. It has always been a form of sculpture, a symbol for this planet.
    • Joseph Beuys (1982), cited in: Claudia Mesch (2013) Art and Politics: A Small History of Art for Social Change Since 1945. p. 160
  • Let's finally try to talk about a system that transforms all the social organism into a work of art, in which the entire process of work is included, whether it's work by Goya or Kounellis or mine, as well as agriculture, the sciences, or education or technology, something in which the principle of production and consumption really takes on a form of quality. One must not only transform the creation of paintings or sculptures, but the entire social form. It's a gigantic program.
    • Lucrezia De Domizio Durini, ‎Joseph Beuys (1997) The felt hat: Joseph Beuys, a life told. p. 201
  • This is why we believe that a well-ordered idea of ecology and professionalism can stem only from art – art in the sense of the sole, revolutionary force, capable of transforming the earth, humanity, the social order etc.. ..Art is, then, a genuinely human medium for revolutionary change in the sense of completing the transformation from a sick world to a healthy one. In my opinion only art is capable of doing it.
    • In: Times Thermic Machine'’, 1982

Interview with Kate Horsefield, 1980[edit]

Interview with Kate Horsefield, 1980: Republished in: Joseph Beuys, Carin Kuoni. Joseph Beuys in America: Energy Plan for the Western Man. New York, 1993.

  • I had the feeling that another kind of life -- perhaps in a transcendental area -- would give me a better possibility to influence, or to work, or to act within this contradiction. So, this was my general feeling: on the one side, this beautiful undamaged nature form which I took a lot and had a lot of possibilities for contemplation, meditation, research, collecting things, making a kind of system; and on the other side, this social debacle that I felt already as a coming dilemma.
    • p. 62; Also cited in: Video Data Bank, School/Art Institute Chicago, (1981) Profile, Volume 1
  • But I saw the relationship between people, I saw their thoughts, I saw their kind of expressionistic behavior in every difficult situation. I saw all the time the unclearness in the psychological condition of the people. You know, that was the time called the "Roaring Twenties" and I felt that this expressionistic behavior, this unformed quality of soul power and emotion of life... I saw it, that it would lead to a kind of catastrophe. That was my general feeling.
    • pp. 62-63; Also cited in: Video Data Bank, School/Art Institute Chicago, (1981) Profile, Volume 1

Interview with Louwrien Wijers, 1981[edit]

"Joseph Beuys and the Dalai Lama; Interview with Louwrien Wijers, 1981," in: Kuoni (n.5), pp. 183-90; Republished in: Joseph Beuys, Carin Kuoni. Joseph Beuys in America: Energy Plan for the Western Man. New York, 1993.

  • He (the Dalai Lama) asked me for my participation and I rejected the plan to make a kind of sculpture there in this old way, to make in a kind of special place this special modern sculpture. I told him that my idea would be this time to plant seven thousand oaks in Kassel, seven thousand trees. And to mark every tree with a little stone, so that everybody after three, two, five or six hundred years can still see that in 1982 there was an activity. After the radical destruction of the forests here in Germany for all this technological nonsense, that there was an impulse that came in the same time, to plant seven thousand oaks. This is such a kind of activity during the Documenta [in Kassel] , that has to do with the 'Documenta', but is a real other thing in the conventional understanding of art.
    • p. 185 - Beuys' statement on planting seven thousand oaks in Kassel, in 'Joseph Beuys and the Dalai Lama'
  • I think he (= Andy Warhol) would be very interested in the moment that the Dalai Lama appears, being involved in such a kind of idea. Andy has always difficulties with this kind of political activities, because he works in another kind of world, but he is always.. ..Also when he was here [in Germany] last week, he is very interested to hear a lot of new information. He has a kind of observing sense in the back of his mind. So, he is always interested to follow the development, and there is really a kind of imaginative process going on, I think.
    • p. 189 - in 'Joseph Beuys and the Dalai Lama'

Conversation between Lama Sogyal Rinpoché and Joseph Beuys, 1982[edit]

Conversation between Lama Sogyal Rinpoché and Joseph Beuys, 1982; Republished in: Joseph Beuys, Carin Kuoni. Joseph Beuys in America: Energy Plan for the Western Man. New York, 1993.

  • The idea of creativity is for me the problem of the future. Since the creative power is not a simple thing. It has a rich structure. It is divided into a lot of different principles and represented by figures, and these figures you can also write down in a kind of symbolic mantra. It is important to work on every point of creativity and see how the human being stands in the energy that comes out from the surrounding world.
    • p. 197

Interview with Achille Bonito Oliva, 1986[edit]

Interview with Achille Bonito Oliva, 1986; Republished in: Joseph Beuys, Carin Kuoni. Joseph Beuys in America: Energy Plan for the Western Man. New York, 1993.

  • In discussing his work (the art of Marcel Duchamp, ed.) it is necessary to avoid overrating his silence. I hold him in a very high esteem, but I have to reject his silence. Duchamp was simply finished. He had run out of ideas; he was unable to come up with anything important.. ..I would say that even the bourgeois tendencies in Duchamp’s work – i.e., a form of provocative, bohemian behavior intended to 'épater le bourgeois'- follow the same path. Duchamp started out from here and wanted to shock the bourgeoisie, and because of that he destroyed his creative powers.. ..The content of Duchamp’s silence refers to the aim of leaving the subconscious passive, of developing it. This is the aspect of Duchamp, which is related to Surrealism. The surrealists asserted that they could live with their subconscious; they thought they were above reality, but instead they were beneath it. They thought they could fish in muddy waters.. ..but to my mind, the images which emerged have a repressive effect.
    • pp. 169-170 - Beuys refers to the 'art silence of Marcel Duchamp', the period that Duchamp stopped creating art

Quotes about Joseph Beuys[edit]

  • The milieu in which creativity can be developed is principally the field of culture, and Beuys starts his sociopolitical program in the area of culture, in order to develop from this special angle the concept of equality as well as of democracy and socialism as a genetic process. The intellectual life, which education must should be structured, stands most definitely at the beginning of this evolutionary process of development. Next to it is equality as the democratic principle of law, meaning concrete socialism and fraternity in relation to the economic area. Within these three areas there is no qualitative ranking system. The primary necessity in Beuys' concept of direct democracy is freedom, meaning that every man should be able to completely realize his liberty, for example, his right to a free and equal unfolding of his personality, as is firmly established as a fundamental law in the organization's statutes.
    • Götz Adriani, Winfried Konnertz and Karin Thomas, Joseph Beuys: Life and Works, New York 1979, pp.221-2; cited in: Tate Gallery (1988). The Tate Gallery, 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions : Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84. p. 490 (text online at, 2015)
  • Unlike his European peers from the late 1950's — Piero Manzoni, Arnian, or even Yves Klein — Beuys does not change the state of the object with the discourse itself. Quite to the contrary, he dilutes and dissolves the conceptual precision of Duchamp's readymade by reintegrating the object into the most traditional context of literary and referential representation: this object stands for that idea, and that idea is represented in this object.
    • Benjamin H. D. Buchloh (2003). Neo-avantgarde and Culture Industry: Neo-avantgarde and Culture Industry: Essays on European and American Art. p. 52
  • The Fluxus movement... developed its 'anti-art', anti-commercial aesthetics under the leadership of George Maciunas. Fluxus staged a series of festivals in Paris, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, London and New York, with avant-garde performances often spilling out into the street. Most of the experimental artists of the period, including Joseph Beuys, Yoko Ono and Nam June Paik, took part in Fluxus events. The movement, which still continues, played an important role in the opening up of definitions of what art can be.
  • I mean artists like Joseph Beuys, who is really a tough, strong artist. B E U Y S. He’s been working in Germany for years. He doesn't bother with the burden of ideas. What he desires to do is fill your house with margarine. Let you live encased in fat, die encased in fat. He would take three hundred pounds of margarine and put it exactly where Pat Kelly is now, and then leave it there. That’s sort of the tenor of his work.
    • Carl Andre, as quoted in 'Artists talks 1969 – 1977', ed. Peggy Gale, The Press N.S.C.A.D, Nova Scotia, Canada 2004, p. 25

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