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Joseph Beuys: a shaman of the art world

Joseph
Beuys’s name might not be as popular as Warhol’s or Picasso’s. And it is
rather a pity. This name should be praised and remembered, because Joseph Beuys
is one of the most influential artists that have changed the course of the art
world forever. He studies the questions concerning artist’s public role and
status, relations with society, and the frameworks of the contemporary art. Let’s
see his most notable achievements, as well as an unusual and interesting facts
about his life. And honestly speaking, there are plenty of them.

The Resurrection Experience            

Being born in Germany in 1921, Beuys was forced to join the army and
fight in WW2. He was a pilot stationed in Crimean Peninsula. In 1944 his plane
was shot down and Beuys was heading towards a certain death. But fortunately, he
was rescued by the native inhabitants of the place, the Tatars. They had nursed
him towards the recovery. The first thing he remembered after being unconscious
for 8 days is the smell of milk and cheese. He was

also

wrapped in felt and
covered with grease in order to keep his body warm. This experience had made a
significant influence on Beuys’s life. Since then his main mediums were primarily
organic, he used grease as a work material for his sculptures and felt had
become his steady companion in almost all beginnings. The Crimea itself is on
the edge of The West meeting The East, as well as the culture of the Tatars. This topic had also become one of the central
highlight of his oeuvre. The ideas of interaction of polar cultures and societies
were very important to him.

Artist as a shaman

From his rescue during the war and further personal experiences, Beuys
developed a certain philosophical attitude towards art. Well, it is better to
say mystical. Or mythical. Because due to his incredible story, or it is better
to say personal myth, Beuys based his creative practices around the organic and
almost shaman-like actions and ideas. Combining all of the above with his
strive for creating a whole new system of approaching contemporary art, he truly
stands as a spiritual mentor of the world of art.  

Art through a dialogue

Joseph Beuys was not only an artist engaged in sculpture, performance,
happenings, drawing and much more; he was also a teacher. He had a teaching
position in Dusseldorf University and believed that teaching was even more important than the art itself. Some of his projects included just the
discussions. For instance, he organized the open discussions for Venice Biennale, and these dialogues were even more popular than regular exhibitions.

Everyone is an artist

Unlike another “big player” of the art world, Marcel Duchamp, who said
that every object could be turned into an art, Beuys thought that every person could
be an artist. Although, his understanding of the functions of art was not the
typical one. He believed that artist was a person, any person, who could make a
change in the society and in the world. In this case, every one of us is
capable of being an artist. The position of art in Beuys’s perspective was very
socially oriented and connected with the world of politics, real problems and
the environment. He saw art as a force to change the world for a better, not
just by creating beautiful pieces of art, but by actually doing something. That’s
why he worked a lot with happenings and performances, quite often involving the
interaction with an audience. To change something, we should combine an open
discussion, comprehend and make conclusions. It is even better when the conclusions
are works of art themselves.

Beuys’s heritage is a complex one; it should be viewed as a long-life achievement,
where ideas are just as important as the art projects. In the next article we
will be introduced to some of the key works of Joseph Beuys, so we can see for
ourselves, how his personal myth and thoughts about art were reflected in his
various and exciting beginnings.  

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