Joseph Beuys: An Interview

1980 | 01:01:00 | United States | English | B&W | Mono | 4:3 | Video

Collection: On Art and Artists, Interviews, Single Titles

Tags: Blumenthal/Horsfield Interviews, Interview, Visual Art

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Joseph Beuys (1921–1986) was born in Kleve, Germany. After serving as a volunteer in the German military, Beuys attended the Dusseldorf Academy of Art to study sculpture, where in 1959 he became a professor. Much of his artwork reflects his attempt to come to terms with his involvement in the war. During the ’60s, Beuys became acquainted with the group Fluxus and artists such as Nam June Paik. The Fluxus movement inspired Beuys, and he staged “actions” to promote the idea that the artistic process was more important than a final product; for example, Beuys felt that all people were artists because they shape the content of their particular environment. Beuys’s political activism, his broad concept of creativity, and his commitment to both art and education challenged the traditional role of an artist. While he considered activism, discussion, and teaching essential to his expanded definition of art, Beuys also engaged in traditional artistic practice, creating objects and installations and performing.

In this interview, Beuys recounts his own tangled experiences as a child in interwar Germany. The contradiction between an undestroyed natural environment, full of possibility, and the deeply troubled social body at the time was an intense and formative one. He recounts that “when I was five years old, I felt that my life had to go to an end because I experienced already too much of this contradiction.” Beuys tracks his increasing ability to analyze the contradictions he felt, and the urgency during the WWII-era for renewing and re-posing questions central to the life, labor and freedom of the people.

Beuys also discusses his engagement with materials, the limits of preparation for a performance, and other issues important to his art practice. He continually addresses the urgency of an expanded understanding of art with the radical potential to transform the social body. He holds out the vital possibility of “another kind of art” where aesthetics is meaningless except as “the human being in itself.”

A historical interview originally recorded in 1980 and re-edited in 2003 with support from the Lyn Blumenthal Memorial Fund.