About 'With Beuys'

Joseph Beuys speaking at Humbolt House Achberg

Logo image: Cliff Gorman

The aim of this website is to both draw attention to the work of the German artist Joseph Beuys (1921 – 1986) and to create a resource, in English, in which anyone who wishes to learn about him, his art and his ideas, can confidently turn to - knowing that it concerns itself solely with this matter and that all this is accessible under one hat, so to speak.

I’ve been ‘with Beuys’ for many years now - well before I read an article by the late, controversial, yet well-respected ,art critic Brian Sewell in ‘Art Review’ where he states he was tempted to liken Beuys to Leonardo da Vinci.

At the time, Sewell was probably the last person I would have imagined to have held Beuys in high esteem. But this comparison did, and still, does make sense, since he reminded readers that, among other things, both Beuys and Leonardo were, to quote, ‘scientists and technicians; both concerned with music and, if not the theatre, certainly performance; both used drawings as an expression of ideas...Both were famous, as wide as the wide worlds of their very different days; both left an astonishing legacy of ideas.’

The article was written at the time of the exhibition of Beuys’ sculptures at Tate Liverpool in 1993/1994 entitled ‘The Revolution is Us’.

And yet, despite the multi-talented Beuys being described here as ‘famous’ (which he was, particularly throughout Europe), currently his name carries nowhere near the resonance that, for example, Andy Warhol’s does. Yet, I maintain, his work is far more important.

Admittedly, Warhol’s work is very accessible whereas the work of Beuys (Warhol’s contemporary and friend) is much more challenging and far-ranging. However, among artists, academics and art critics, Beuys is widely recognised as one of the most influential artists of the latter half of the 20th Century.

From Beuys' collection of materials in Kurhaus Kleve.  Image:Cliff Gorman

Joseph Beuys action 'Coyote'

Coyote action. Image: Oriol Tuca / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

As someone who in his late teens had wanted to become a medical scientist (only to change his mind, and become an artist, when he feared that such a profession would almost certainly involve him in a high degree of specialisation) Beuys approached his art in an investigative manner, constantly changing the materials he used and expanding his art in line with his own personal/social development. His works include, in the traditional sense, drawings and paintings using a whole variety of different inorganic and organic materials, sculptures ranging from the tiny to the monumental, assemblages and installations and also what Beuys termed ‘actions’, often involving sound. Indeed, Beuys described speaking as a sculptural process. After all, when we articulate we give shape to the air by the muscles of the tongue etc.

What’s more, thinking is also a sculptural process. But this process is invisible - and here Beuys introduces the importance of ‘invisible’ substances.

Having used and incorporated into his art almost every material under the sun he came to the view that the most important material requiring an artistic/sculptural process was ‘society’. And, combining this with a very well-known statement of his ‘Everyone an artist’ (meaning that we are all artists in the sense that we are all creative in our own fields of life), then it follows that we all possess the creativity needed to shape/sculpt society in order to effect beneficial social change. Anyone can and should participate (yes, it requires us to participate) in this process – a process he termed 'social sculpture'.

This represented the culmination of his life’s work.

I invite you to participate in the development of this website. It is not about me, but us, and Beuys. It’s about sharing but I do endeavour not to infringe anyone’s copyright and give an author credit wherever possible. Please use the form on the home page to contact me should you have any concerns regarding copyright etc. and I will immediately correct any mistakes or issues.

Cliff Gorman