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Joseph Beuys’ quotes and statements on his art, the meaning of Social Sculpture and his Coyote-performance in America

German Fluxus artist; famous performance with the Coyote in ‘I like America’ – made many objects: Fat Chair / Fat Corners

Josef Beuys (1921 – 1986), quotes and statements by the German artist on his art concept of ‘Social Sculpture’, his many performances like ‘I like America and America likes me’ (in a cage locked up with a coyote, ed.) and objects such as Fat Chair / Fat Corners. Beuys was a very inspirational artist, painter, sculptor and performer in the German Fluxus for younger artists; moreover he was an important art teacher for the German artist generation after World War 2, the so-called Fluxus.
* At the bottom biography facts & art links for Joseph / Josef Beuys.

JOSEPH BEUYS
his artist quotes
on Social Sculpture

editor / artist:
Fons Heijnsbroek

Joseph Beuys: 'I like America', performance with a coyote, New York

Beuys: ‘I like America’, performance in New York City, circa 1974


JOSEPH BEUYS (Josef), his art quotes on Social Sculpture, Fat objects & performance art like the Coyote

- This is a very important concept for me. If I produce something, I transmit a message to someone else. The origin of the flow of information comes not from matter, but from the “I”, from an idea. Here is the borderline between physics and metaphysics: this is what interests me about this theory of sculpture. Take a hare running from one corner of a room to another. I think this hare can achieve more for the political development of the world than a human being. By that I mean that some of the elementary strength of animals should be added to the positivist thinking which is prevalent today. I would like to elevate the status of animals to that of humans.
*art statement from: interview with Willoughby Sharp, 1969; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, compiled by Carin Kuoni, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 82 ( German Fluxus artist, famous for his art performances like ‘I like America and America likes me’ – with a Coyote, ed.) and objects like Fat Chair; biography facts at the bottom)


*****

- “Set III” is composed of nine equal elements… …they fill the space, but I am not interested in the physical aspect of filling. I want the work to become an energy centre, like an atomic station. It’s the same principle again: transmitter and receiver. The receiver is the same as the transmitter, only in felt. It is a totalization. The spectator becomes the program. The spectator, represented by the felt, equals the program.
* quote on ‘Set III’ from: interview with Willoughby Sharp, 1969; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, compiled by Carin Kuoni, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 84


*****

- To be a teacher (Beuys was art teaching on the Düsseldorf Art Academy, fh) 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.
* statement from an: interview, Willoughby Sharp, 1969; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 85


*****

- Provocateur – that’s exactly (the artist as a provocateur, fh). To provoke means to evoke something. By making a sculpture with fat or a piece of clay I evoke something. I ignite a thought within me – a totally original, totally new thought that has never yet existed in history, even if I deal with a historical fact or with Leonardo or Rembrandt. I myself determine history – it is not history that determines me… …every man is a potential provocateur.
* art statement on the artist as provocateur, source: interview with Willoughby Sharp; remark was quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, compiled by Carin Kuoni, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 86


*****

- 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… …I would say man does not consist only of chemical processes, but also of metaphysical occurrences. The provocateur of the chemical processes is located outside the world. Man is only truly alive when he realizes he is a creative, artistic being… …Even the act of peeling a potato can be a work of art if it is a conscious act.
* his quote on the metaphysical power of art, source: an interview with Willoughby Sharp in 1969; in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, Four Walls Eight Windows in New York, 1993, p. 87 ( German Fluxus artist, famous for his art performances like ‘I like America and America likes me’ – with a Coyote, ed.)


*****

- Man is really not freeing many aspects. He is dependent on his social circumstances, but he is free in his thinking, and here is the point of origin of sculpture. For me the formation of the thought is already sculpture. The thought is sculpture.
* statement on ‘Man’ by Joseph Beuys: an interview W. Sharp, 1969; quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, and compiled by Carin Kuoni, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 90


*****

- But one is forced to translate thought into action and action into object… …I am not a teacher who tells his students only to think. I say: act; do something: I ask for result. It may take different forms. It can have the form of sound, or someone can do a book, make a drawing or a sculpture. I don’t care…
* art quote Beuys from:an interview with Willoughby Sharp in 1969; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, compiled by Carin Kuoni, New York, 1993, p. 92 ( German Fluxus artist, famous for his objects like Fat Chair, more biography facts you find at the bottom)


*****

- After I am dead I would like people to say: “Beuys understood the historical situation. He altered the course of events”. I hope in the right direction.
* source of his statement on his perception of modern times in history: interview with Willoughby Sharp, 1969; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, ed. Carin Kuoni, publisher: Four Walls Eight Windows in New York, 1993, p. 92 (many biography facts at the bottom)


*****

- The ego must be developed, not for its own sake, but because it is needed by society. If you are only interested in self-realization then you cannot make a good painting. To do this you have to have thought about forming, and about how ideas of forming stem from history.
* Joseph Beuys’ quote on the Ego: lecture at the School of the Art Institute of Chigago, 1974; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, edition by Carin Kuoni, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 12


*****

- This kind of art school (The Art School of Chicago where Beuys gave this lecture, fh) is for me the least important. A spiritual structure is needed. If a person is an artist he can use the most primitive of instruments a broken knife is enough. Otherwise it remains a craft school.
* source of his artist statement on the Art school structure:his lecture in 1974 at the School of the Art Institute of Chigago; quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, ed. by Carin Kuoni, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 123 ( German Fluxus artist, more biography facts at the bottom)


*****

- 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. (1979)
* Joseph Beuys, art statement on his objects: ‘Introduction'; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, by Carin Kuoni, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 19


*****

- Only on condition of a radical widening of definition 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 to build a SOCIAL ORGANISM AS A WORK OF ART. 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…
* source of his art statement on his concept of Social Sculpture and Social Architecture: ‘I am searching for field character’, 1973; in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, compiled by Carin Kuoni, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 22


*****

- This is the concept of art that carries within itself not only the revolutionizing of the historic bourgeois concept of knowledge (materialism, positivism), but also of religious activity. EVERY HUMAN BEING IS AN ARTIST who – from his state of freedom – the position of freedom that he experience at firsthand – learns to determine the other positions in the TOTAL ARTWORK OF THE FUTURE SOCIAL ORDER… …THE FIFTH INTERNATIONAL IS BORN.
* Beuys’ quote on his art statement: ‘everybody is an artist’: ‘I am searching for field character’, 1973; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man / Joseph Beuys in America –”, by Carin Kuoni, Four Walls Eight Windows in New York, 1993, p. 22


*****

- 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… …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, in short, I’m saying, all work that’s done has to have the quality of art. We can see later about developing a proof for this by thinking about these problems. Here is a general structure to show what I means by a social sculpture (Beuys goes to the blackboard and points out symbols for archetypical elements, plants, animals, minerals, soul which he had drawn before the discussion started)
* source of his artist quote on the connection between art and evolution: ‘A public Dialogue’, in New York City, 1974 and quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, ed. by Carin Kuoni, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, pp. 25-27 ( German Fluxus artist; biography facts at the bottom)


*****

- I work in the field of art, and you know how during a period of Marxist ideology, fewer people are inclined to believe in the power of the culture as a whole: they believe in the revolutionary potential of economics, class struggle theory… …Therefore it’s time to show that art means the power of creativity, and it’s time to define art in a larger way, to include science and religion too…
* Joseph Beuys, quote on ‘art including science and religion’: from ‘I am searching for field character’, 1973; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, by Carin Kuoni, published by Four Walls Eight Windows in New York, 1993, p. 31


*****

- …I mean that the idea of art has to be changed. And you have to look for the spring point, where the creative principle begins. Art as it’s now understood is a special kind of creativity; there are others, like philosophy or electricity. But it’s very simple to see that all these activities are necessary for (designating) things in the world. An electrician, a physicist or a doctor has to form the problems he finds in the world, yes? But if you want to provide a fundamental analysis of these problems, you have to develop a special kind of consciousness-science. And then you find that the human body isn’t only located in a physical context, that he isn’t only incarnated in the physical world between birth and death… …his thinking springs from another source… … and I am saying that artists working in the West and East and Far East, cannot arrive at a good result unless they look first to the point from where creativity springs. And you see culture related to freedom, because culture implies freedom. There can be no repression from ay point.
* Beuys’ quote on the source of creativity, 1973: ‘I am searching for field character’, as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, edition and compilation by Carin Kuoni, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, pp. 31-32 (his biography facts at the bottom of the page)


*****

- I describe it (the new aesthetics, ed.) ‘radically': I say aesthetics = human being. That is a radical formula. I set the idea of aesthetics directly in the context of human existence, and then I have the whole problem in the hand, then I have not a special problem, I have a “holography” (reacting on a former suggestion form the public as a slight joke, ed.) I don’t know exactly what a holography is…
* art statement on the ‘new aesthetics’:in the chapter ‘I am searching for field character’, 1973; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, compilation from Carin Kuoni, and publisher: Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 34


*****

- 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.
* Joseph Beuys: statement on the power and impact of art: ‘I am searching for field character’ in 1973; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man / Joseph Beuys in America –”, compiled by Carin Kuoni, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 34 ( German Fluxus artist)


*****

- The outward appearance of every object I make is the equivalent of some aspect of inner human life. This box (‘Gummierte Kiste’, rubberized box, 1957) came out of my period of crisis in Düsseldorf-Heerdt and expresses my inner condition. 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… …The mixture of asphalt and rubber on wood functions as a sound insulator, too. Asphalt insulates electric power, while rubber resists blows.
* Beuys’ artist statement on object ‘Gummierte Kiste’, rubberized box, 1957: ‘On Rubberized Box’, in Discussions of a few objects and an action piece with Caroline Tisdall, 1974 and 1978; in “Energy Plan for the Western man // Joseph Beuys in America –”, publisher: Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 119 ( German Fluxus artist, famous for his objects like Fat Chair; more biography facts at the bottom)


*****

- My initial intention to use fat was to stimulate discussion. The flexibility of the material appealed to me particularly in its reactions to temperature changes… …people instinctively feel it relates to inner processes and feelings. The discussion I wanted was about the potential of sculpture and culture, what they mean, what language is about. So I took an extreme position in sculpture, and a material that was very basic to life and not associated with art.
* Beuys art statement on using FAT as material for his objects: ‘On fat Chair’, in Discussions of a few objects and an action piece with Caroline Tisdall, 1974 and 1978; in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, publication by Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 125


*****

- The fat on the ‘Fat Chair (‘Stuhl mit Fett’, 1963) is not geometric, as in the ‘Fat corners’, but keep something of its chaotic character. The ends of the wedges read like a cross section cut through the nature of fat. I placed it on a chair to emphasize this. Since here the chair represents a kind of human anatomy, the area of digestive and excretive warmth processes, sexual organs and interesting chemical change, relating psychologically to will of power. In Germany the joke is compounded as a pun since Stuhl (= Chair) is also the polite way of saying shit (stool)).
* Joseph Beuys explains his object ‘Stuhl mit Fett’, 1963, source of his artist quote: ‘On fat Chair’, in discussions of a few objects and an action piece with Caroline Tisdall, 1974 and 1978; quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man = Joseph Beuys in America =”, published by Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 125 ( German Fluxus artist, famous for his objects like Fat Chair; other biography facts at the bottom)


*****

- During the action “24 hours… …and in us… …under us… …and under… ” I held the spade at heart level and sometimes raised it above my head, which requires balance. From time to time, the spades were rammed into the floor or thrown like spears. That made a hard acoustic interruption of the tempo, as often happens in my action… …The acoustic element and the sculptural quality of sound have always been essential to me in art, and in terms of music maybe my background in piano and cello drew me to them. Then there was the use of sound as a sculptural material to enlarge the whole understanding of sculpture from the point of view of using materials… …not only solid materials, like metal, clay, stone, but also sound, noise, melody, using language.
* his statement on performance “24 hours… …and in us… …under us… …and under… “: ‘On spade with two Handles’ (‘Spatern met zwei Stielen’, 1965)’, in discussions of a few objects and an action piece with Caroline Tisdall, 1974 and 1978; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Beuys in America –” 1993, by Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, p. 127 ( German Fluxus artist


*****

- My first concert (apart from Beethoven at School and 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.
* Joseph Beuys comment on his first Fluxus performance “Heal like with like”, in: ‘On spade with two Handles’ (‘Spatern met zwei Stielen’, 1965), in discussions of a few objects and an action piece with Caroline Tisdall, 1974 and 1978; as quoted in ‘Energy Plan for the Western man’, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 128 ( German Fluxus artist, more biography facts at the bottom)


*****

- On the first night I performed a “Concert for tow Musicians”. It lasted for perhaps twenty seconds. I dashed forward in the gap between two performances wound up a clockwork toy, two drummers, on the piano, and let them play until the clockwork ran down. That was the end. The Fluxus people felt that this short action was my breakthrough, while the event of the second evening was perhaps too heavy, complicated and anthropological for them. Yet the “Siberian Symphony, section 1.” contained the essence of all my future activities and was, I felt, a wider understanding of what Fluxus could be. (The Fluxus artists, fh) held a mirror up to people without indicating how to change things. This is not to belittle what they did achieve in the way of indicating connections in life and how art could develop.
* source of his quote on the early performance “Concert for two Musicians”: ‘On spade with two Handles’ (Spatern met zwei Stielen, 1965), in Discussions of a few objects and an action piece with Caroline Tisdall, 1974 and 1978; this remark is quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man = Joseph Beuys in America –”, publisher, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, pp. 128-129


*****

- I would never have done it with a coyote (Beuys was locked up with a coyote in a cage in René Block Gallery in New York City, 1974, fh) in Europe. But there are other animals in America, which could conjure up a completely different aspect of that world. The eagle, for instance, the abstract powers of the head and the intellect, the West, powers that the Indian wore on his headdress. I believe I made contact with the psychological trauma point of the United States’ energy constellation: the whole American trauma with the Indian, the Red Man. You could say that a reckoning has to be made with the coyote, and only then can this trauma be lifted.
* Joseph Beuys, his artist quote on the famous performance with a coyote in a cage in René Block Gallery in New York City, 1974: ‘On Coyote I like America and America likes me’ (Action piece 1974);; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, by Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 141


*****

- The manner of the meeting was important. I wanted to concentrate only on the coyote. I wanted to isolate myself, insulate myself, see nothing of America other than the coyote. First of all there was the felt, which I brought in (in the cage, fh). Then there was the coyote’s straw. These elements were immediately exchanged between us: he lay in my area and I in his. He used the felt and I used the straw. That’s what I expected. I had a concept of how a coyote might behave… …it could have been different. But it worked well. It seems I had the right spiritual focus… …I really made good contact with him.
* his art statement on The Coyote performance ‘On Coyote, I like America and America likes me’ (Action piece 1974) in discussions of a few objects and action piece, with Caroline Tisdall, 1974 and 1978; Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 141


*****

- My intention was firstly to hold together and retain in the West powers, and then to appear as a being representing the group soul area. I wanted to show the coyote a parallel power, but I also wished to remind him that it was now a human being who was speaking with him, and that’s why my behavior was varied… …What I tried to do was to set up a really oscillating rhythm: First of all to remind the coyote of what you could call the geniality of his particular species, and then to demonstrate that he too has possibilities in the direction of freedom, and that we need him as an important co-operator in the production of freedom.
* Beuys’ artist quote on a performance in New York: ‘On Coyote, I like America and America likes me’, 1974) in discussions of a few objects and an action piece with Caroline Tisdall, and quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man”, by Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 142 ( German Fluxus artist, famous for his art performances like ‘I like America and America likes me’ – with a Coyote, ed.) and objects like Fat Chair; biography facts at the bottom)


*****

- You can make these energies very clear if you enter another kingdom that people have forgotten, and where vast powers survive as big personalities. And when I try to speak with the spiritual existences of this totality of animals, the question arises of whether one could not speak with these higher existences too, with these deities and elemental spirits… …The spirit of the coyote is so mighty that the human being cannot understand what it is, or what it can do for humankind in the future.
* his quote on performance with coyote: ‘On Coyote I like America and America likes me’ (Action piece 1974) in discussions with Caroline Tisdall & quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, New York, 1993, p. 142 (more biography facts at the bottom)


*****

- 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 tot 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.
* source of his quote on creativity and the Art School he founded with Böll: the Manifesto of the Foundation of a “Free International School for Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research, 1974″, Joseph Beuys and Heinrich Böll; in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, by publishers Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 149


*****

- In discussing his work (of Marcel Duchamps, fh) it is necessary to avoid overrating his silence (during Duchamp’s later years in America, fh). 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.
* Joseph Beuys statement on the ‘art silence of Marcel Duchamp’: ‘Death keeps me awake’, interview with Achille Bonito Oliva, 1986; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man”, by Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, pp. 169-170


*****

- I only want to present him (Marcel Duchamp, fh) as a figure with a general significance, standing for a lot of other things. Looked at in this way, he offers useful negative information. But of course Marcel Duchamp is free to remain silent. I respect that. I hope that is clear… …His “Pissoir” was a genuine revelation, a work which at that time undoubtedly had a considerable importance, and he could have used it as a subject for discussion during the period of his silence. Several people have told me, although I’m not sure whether it’s true, that Duchamp once said: “Somebody in Germany (Beuys!, fh) has been talking about my silence, saying that it is overrated. What does that mean?” I am convinced that he knew very well what it meant. If he was unsure about it, he could have written me a letter…
* source of his quote referring to Duchamp’s silence: ‘Death keeps me awake’, interview with Achille Bonito Oliva, 1986; quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 171 ( German Fluxus; his biography facts at the bottom)


*****

- If a painting of Rembrandt is hung on a wall, does it make any difference whether it is a museum wall or a wall in a bourgeois house? Even if it is hidden in a cellar, it doesn’t lose its value as a work of art; its absolute function is preserved. It is not only a work of art, or let us say a work produced by the creativity of Rembrandt; it is a substance which is transmitted through time and doesn’t have to be seen and admired by everybody. Something of this kind has also changed the development of human consciousness. A work of art doesn’t necessarily have to be hung on a wall.. ..It certainly can’t decay. Try though I might to imagine, from a material point of view, how it might decay, I just can’t imagine it happening.
* Joseph Beuys, statement on the character of art: ‘Death keeps me awake’, interview with Achille Bonito Oliva, 1986; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, pp. 171-172


*****

- Today the bourgeois can no longer change the function of the works of Rafael or Leonardo da Vinci. The times have changed completely. Maybe the bourgeoisie can change the function of my art or that of Marcel Duchamp, but it will only be able to do so for a certain period, only as long as the area lasts, i. e., the era of the bourgeoisie with its particular method… In order to defeat the bourgeoisie, it is necessary to develop a completely new concept of science… …I have already extended the concept of art (however, I do not wish to claim exclusive credit for this; in this respect even Marcel Duchamp achieved something). The concept of art has been extended.
* statement on art in the era of the bourgeoisie: ‘Death keeps me awake’, interview with Achille Bonito Oliva, 1986; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 173 ( German Fluxus artist, famous for his art performances like ‘I like America and America likes me’ – with a Coyote, ed.) and objects like Fat Chair; biography facts at the bottom)


*****

- I referred to certain concepts in order to show why death is the basis of consciousness. Because the entire development which takes place through Christianity, the development in philosophy and science, is a reduction of life. Our concept of materialism refers to a dead materialism, to chemical analyses, to statistics: these are all lifeless abstractions. Here it is clear that consciousness is impossible without death. It is only when I hit a sharp corner, so to speak, that I become aware. If I knock my head against a sharp edge, I wake up. In other words, death keeps me awake. (But) there is a contradiction here. It’s very mysterious. I say that I wake up when death approaches, but “waking up” represents something living. Death is a means of developing consciousness, of achieving a ‘higher’ life.
* Joseph Beuys, on the relation between consciousness & death in: ‘Death keeps me awake’, interview with Achille Bonito Oliva, 1986; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man -“, New York, 1993, pp. 179-180


*****

- He (the Dalai Lama, fh) 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, fh) , that has to do with the ‘Documenta’, but is a real other thing in the conventional understanding of art.
* statement on ‘planting seven thousand oaks’ in Kassel: ‘Joseph Beuys and the Dalai Lama’, interview with Louwrien Wijers, 1981; publish. Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 185


*****

- I think he (Andy Warhol, fh) 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 (Germany, fh) 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.
* Joseph Beuys, quote on his connection with Andy Warhol: ‘Joseph Beuys and the Dalai Lama’, interview with Louwrien Wijers, 1981; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 189 ( more biography notes at the bottom)


*****

- 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.
* statement on the idea of creativity and its rich structure: ‘Conversation between Lama Sogyal Rinpoché and Joseph Beuys’, 1982; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 197 (German Fluxus)


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- From another point of view this is all just to solve this paradoxical understanding of how the powers work together. How for instance, the light which has no color, comes to color and works together with magnetism, atomic structure, and all these things. There is an interchanging of all these things. But, so the people do understand that there are many different figures existing, and that all are working together. So that the people don’t work only one-sided, because this comes mostly to egoistic behavior. So, this is my way to speak and to make sometimes a kind of structure.
* Joseph Beuys statement on the structure of creativity: ‘Conversation between Lama Sogyal Rinpoché and Joseph Beuys” 1982; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – “, publisher: Four Walls Eight Windows in New York, 1993


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- Now we are (in the Western world, fh) are standing before a big wall. With this potential power coming from being very lonely, in this analytical field now we have to break through the wall. That is, for instance, the theme in all this very important Western world’s poetry, like (Thomas, fh) Beckett. They are knocking on the wall, but they are still isolated. They are still sitting in the garbage can. And now they are knocking on the wall. This comes more and more as a voice not only to the outer ears, but to their inner hearing. And, I think, that is the fact of the Western world’s karma and position. And this is also a problem of Christianity.
* statement on the period in the West of ‘knocking on the wall’ source of his quote: ‘Conversation between Lama Sogyal Rinpoché & Joseph Beuys’, 1982; in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, by Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 203


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- … it is a special kind of secret how these Asiatic elements (like the American Indians, fh) came over the Bering Strait long ago. It’s the same with the coyote. When I worked with the coyote (Beuys was locked up with a coyote in a cage in René Block Gallery in New York City, that year, fh), 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.
* his quote on the character of the ‘Asiatic wolf, or step wolf’ by Joseph Beuys: ‘Interview with Alan Moore and Edit de Ak’, 1974; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, by Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 213)


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- I don’t know what they (critics in the U.S.) 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 Sates a lot of art production runs along the line of formalistic art; what one could call the postmodernism, a kind of formalistic intention like Don Judd, Carl Andre, Robert Morris and these things. The people make a kind of equation between the European impulse in this moment in my work… …My work is mostly related to creative powers. Whereas the American intentions go more – I must repeat – along the formalistic aspects of the things. That’s what the critics also say often, that there lies the difference.
* Beuys’ statement as reaction on the so-called mysticism in his art and critic on the more formalistic tendency in American modern ar: interview with Louwrien Wijers, 22nd November 1979 in Beuys’ studio in Düsseldorf, Germany; on his just started Guggenheim-exhibition and on the exhibition in the Boymans, Rotterdam, in the same period, p. 243


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- A lot of people came to me and congratulated me. Only by looking at the objects (in his Guggenheim-exhibition) they felt something. And that works better in America than in Europe, because – I said it already – this openness in feeling is better developed in America than here. Here the people have very often reflections on “What does that mean?” They are asking for a kind of literal, or philosophical excuse. Whereas the people in America look at the object and have a kind of radiation, they feel the radiation. That is better developed in the United States. They can read from the phenomenon… …they have possibilities and creativity in looking at constellations.
* Joseph Beuys’ quote on the openness of the American public in : an interview with Louwrien Wijers, 22nd November 1979 in Beuys’ own studio in Düsseldorf, Germany – on his started Guggenheim-exhibition / exhibition in the museum Boymans, Rotterdam, p. 243 ( German Fluxus artist, famous for his objects like Fat Chair; biography facts at the bottom)


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- 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.
* source of Beuys’ artist quote in: an interview with Louwrien Wijers, 22nd November 1979 in Beuys’ studio in Düsseldorf, Germany; on his just started Guggenheim-exhibition and on the exhibition in the museum Boymans, Rotterdam, in the same period, p. 249 ( German Fluxus artist, famous for his art performances like ‘I like America and America likes me’ – with a Coyote, ed.) and objects like Fat Chair; biography facts at the bottom)


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- But in translating the powers to a kind of image, or to a kind of writing, we have to use signs, or we have to use letters. And so this cross (the cross of Jesus Christ) is a kind of letter to make clear what is going on. It shows the people can information on powers, if the people can read out of such a form, what such a form means. But, you know, this is the dilemma in the whole reception of the art, that normally the people cannot read what this means. What a constellation of such lines would mean. They say: “Yes, it is a cross” you know, but… …or: “It is a plus”, or “It is two lines”. That is the thing we have to educate… …so we have, in fact, to create the language, because also the language is already dead. The languages are over flooded with elements of decay, you know.
* Joseph Beuys statement on the symbol of ‘The Cross’, source of his artist quote:the interview with Louwrien Wijers, 22nd November 1979 in Beuys’ studio in Düsseldorf, Germany; on his just started Guggenheim-exhibition and on the exhibition in the museum Boymans, Rotterdam, in the same period, p. 252


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- Goethe, Hegel, Novalis, and Friedrich von Schiller were overruled by the materialistic understanding of the world, (Rudolf) Steiner was on the line of the red thread. He had a line in his head and he showed already the kind of direction people should go. Or would have to go.. So therefore the whole historical analysis is very important to bring proposals for the solution of the problems toward the future… …what I had to add to these things (the ideas of Steiner: the Threefold Social Order) was a real other thing, which has perhaps, in a way, nothing to do with Rudolf Steiner, and this is the enlarged understanding of art. So it is a constellation of methodologies, which I can work best with. But it fits in a way. It fits wit his idea of Threefold Social Order. It has an organic nearness to his ideas.
* source of his artist quote on the idea of Rudolph Steiner: the Threefold Social Order:in an interview with Louwrien Wijers, 22nd November 1979 in Beuys’ studio in Düsseldorf, Germany; on his just started Guggenheim-exhibition and on the exhibition in the museum Boymans, Rotterdam, in the same period, p. 256-5 (more biography facts at the bottom)


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- 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… …so I work coming from the idea of art as the most important means to transform the society.
* source of his artist quote on his art transforming society – the concept of Social Sculpture: ‘I put me on this train’, interview with Art Papier, 1979; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, compiled by Carin Kuoni, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 44 ( German Fluxus artist, famous for his art performances like ‘I like America and America likes me’ – with a Coyote, ed.) and objects like Fat Chair; biography facts at the bottom)


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- 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… …This was my general feeling: on the one side, this beautiful undamaged nature form which I took al 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. Yes, as a child I was aware of it, but later I could analyse the debacle… …But I saw the relationship between people, I saw their thoughts, I saw their kind of expressionistic behaviour in every difficult situation. I saw all the time the unclearness in the psychological condition of the people. You know, that was the time of 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 (during his youth, fh)
* source of his artist quote on his youth as a child: interview with Kate Horsefield, 1980; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, compiled by Carin Kuoni, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, pp. 62-63


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- The only hope I had was when I saw one day a photograph of a sculpture by Wilhelm Lehmbruck, a German sculptor of expressionistic style. This was perhaps the only example, Lehmbruck, between my sixteenth to nineteenth years in which I saw a possibility for art to be principally of interest to innovate some things, instead of writing a very boring, naturalistic repetition of what is already done by nature.
* Joseph Beuys, quote on the German sculptor Lehmbruck: interview with Kate Horsefield, 1980; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, compiled by Carin Kuoni, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 65


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- This is now the time from 1952 until the next point in my life – this point was a kind of breakdown of everything… That was not a point at all for me. The word “aesthetics” does not exist for me. I found out during all my time in an official institution, a state academy, that this use of the word aesthetics meant nothing, in my understanding. I couldn’t locate this meaning of aesthetics, which was a very nebulous, undetermined idea. I couldn’t put it in any real and concrete way in my work, my problem, my view. But later, after what I said was the next period in my life, I stated my understanding of it: human being is aesthetics. Aesthetics is the human being in it self.
* his artist quote on the ‘use of the word aesthetics’ : interview with Kate Horsefield, 1980; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, compiled by Carin Kuoni, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, pp. 68-69 ( German Fluxus; more biography facts at the bottom)


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- I know a lot before a start an action. I know a lot about the necessity of the general idea of sculpture, but I don’t know anything about the process in which the action will run. When the actions runs, my preparation works, because I am prepared to do a thing without knowing where it goes. You see, it would be a very uninteresting thing – it would have nothing to do with art – if it were not a new experiment for which I have no clear concept. If I had a clear concept of solving the problem, I would then speak about the concept and it wouldn’t be necessary to make an action. Every action, every artwork for me, every physical scene, drawings on the blackboard, performance, brings a new element in the whole, an unknown area, an unknown world.
* artist quote on his attitude in creation: interview with Kate Horsefield, 1980; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, compiled by Carin Kuoni, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 73


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- Already when I speak I need my own body, the physical flesh – it is a kind of clay to inform into – and I need my lungs, I need my tools here, existing in my anatomy; I need the physical conditions of other forms of life, in my brother or my sister. I must at once eliminate discussions, interpretations… …So, that is the second part of the problem; that the language, the thinking on the problem is a more important sculpture even than the end of the process existing in tools or in paintings, or in drawings, or in carvings. This transcendent character of information, in an invisible world, gives us at the same time the proof… … that we are not only biological beings, material beings, but first spiritual beings, not existing on this planet – that we are only partly existing on this planet – and being involved in wood, in felt, in fat, in iron, in rubber (the materials which Beuys used frequently for his ‘sculptural work’, fh) or whatever resources of this planet.
* Joseph Beuys art statement on the material side of creating and of speaking: interview with Kate Horsefield, 1980; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, compiled by Carin Kuoni, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 74


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- That is for me the reason why I have to speak, and I have to speak more often than I do so-called artwork. You see, the complication is that I have to use something… …I have to use a traditional determination for ideas, so when I speak about art, I can only say that there are two kinds of art: the traditional art, which is unable to bring up art at all or to change anything in society or in the ability and the joy for life; and then, there is another kind of art, which is related to everybody’s needs and the problems existing in the society. This kind of art has to be worked out from the beginning, it will never lead to result in any physical form… …that is my meaning.
* source of his artist quote on the new art, related to the needs of society: interview with Kate Horsefield, 1980; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America –”, compiled by Carin Kuoni, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 75 ( German Fluxus artist, famous for his art performances like ‘I like America and America likes me’ – with a Coyote, ed.) and objects like Fat Chair; biography facts at the bottom)

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Joseph Beuys’ not sourced art quotes on German Fluxus: sculpture & performance

- 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


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- And here we are straight away into the development of conscience. What exactly is man? Whatever has he in common with the oak? In what way is the oak superior to him? In short, where is the affinity between man and oak?… …that is to say that man is a creature like the oak. (Josef Beuys’ quote on the famous ‘7000 oaks’ he wanted to plant on the Kassel exhibition of 1982 in Germany, fh)

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We hope you enjoyed
Joseph Beuys’ artist quotes


editor, Fons Heijnsbroek
translation, Anne Porcelijn

Joseph Beuys, biography facts of the German Fluxus artist

Joseph Beuys was a famous and inspirational German artist, painter, sculptor, performer, art teacher and writer of the generation of artists after World War 2. In 1941 he volunteered for the Luftwaffe and was stationed in the Krym. In 1944 he was shot down and crashed. Beuys’s subsequent account of the event became one of the most controversial aspects of his artistic persona. He claimed having been rescued by a shaman Tatar medicine-man who had wrapped his broken body in animal fat and felt; both materials he would later use frequently in making his sculptures.

It was during the 1960s that Beuys formulated his famous main theoretical concepts in art concerning the social, cultural and political function and the strong potential of art. Beuys had a strong utopian belief in the power of universal human creativity; he was confident in the potential for art to bring about human social change. In 1960 he performed his first public Fluxus appearance, an early art performance. His performance in a cage together with a wild coyote has become very famous. Beuys was moreover an inspirational art teacher for younger great German artists as Katharina Sieverding, Blinky Palermo and Jörg Immendorff.


Joseph Beuys; some artist links for more biography facts and the sculpture art of the German artist

* biography and facts on life and sculpture art by the famous German artist Joseph Beuys (Fluxus), on Wikipedia

* many images of Joseph Beuys’ sculpture art & installations, on Google

* photo images of the performance ‘I like America and America likes me’ (performance with the coyote)

* life facts and writings of Beuys, in the Joseph Beuys Archive – in German language

* inspirational audio by German artist Joseph Beuys, life talks!