Presented here is a range of projects, materials, people, themes and concepts with which Beuys’s multiples were connected. Together, they offer useful information for understanding the multiples and their role within Beuys’s wider practice.

  • Animals

    From the late 1940s onward, Beuys’s art was home to an array of animal protagonists. Prominent among these were bees, hares, stags, deer and swans, with many other species appearing throughout the course of his career. Drawing on a deep knowledge of mythology, with which he had been fascinated since childhood, Beuys invested these animal figures with a range of symbolic meanings. The stag, for instance, might appear in his work as a spirit guide, a role it was accorded in Celtic mythology. The swan, by contrast, could personify the forces linking life to death, a guise it had assumed in certain Nordic traditions.1

    Beyond their mythological significance, Beuys looked to animals as potential models for human emulation. By burrowing into the earth, rabbits, in his view, drew the physical and spiritual realms together, a path he hoped humanity might follow.2 He regarded the behaviour of American coyotes as equally instructive. While typically lone hunters, coyotes will band together when threatened, a tactic that humanity could follow in managing the interplay of individual freedom and social solidarity.3

    Most significant of all for Beuys, was the access to the spiritual world that he believed all animals possessed. As he explained to Caroline Tisdall in 1974, he regarded animals as ‘figures which pass freely from one level of existence to another, which represent the incarnation of the soul or the earthly form of spiritual beings with access to other regions…’4 By virtue of this flexibility, non-human species could inspire humanity in its efforts to overcome materialism, a process that Beuys sought to foster with his art.

    1. On these meanings, see Ann Tempkin, ‘Life Drawing,’ in Ann Temkin, Thinking Is Form: The Drawings of Joseph Beuys (New York: Thames & Hudson, 1993), 33–34. 

    2. See Beuys, ‘Gespräch mit Hagen Lieberknecht,’ in Joseph Beuys. Zeichnungen 1947–1959 I (Köln: Schirmer, 1972),10. Beuys in fact spoke of hares as burrowing animals, a behaviour they do not exhibit. 

    3. See Götz Adriani, Winfried Konnertz and Karin Thomas, Joseph Beuys. Life and Works (New York, Barron’s: 1979), 274. 

    4. ‘Joseph Beuys im Gespräch mit Caroline Tisdall, 1974,’ in Dieter Koepplin (ed.), Secret Block for a Secret Person in Ireland (Tübingen: Kunsthalle Tübingen, 1988), n.p. 

  • Brown Cross

    ‘Brown Cross’ [Braunkreuz] is the name that Beuys employed for the brown colour he applied to many works from the early 1950s onwards.1 While he often used Brown Cross to create cross motifs, it could in principle assume any guise, in each case retaining the same name. Beuys connected the colour brown with the earth and blood, two sources of living and revitalising energy.2 By virtue of these associations and the connotations of healing and rescue that the cross often bore in his art, Brown Cross can be seen as a therapeutic substance. These connotations come clearly to the fore in many multiples from the late 1960s and early 1970s, which are stamped with a Brown Cross insignia, such as Sled (1969) and Celtic+∿∿∿∿ (1971). Consisting of Beuys’s last name in block capitals and a small, equilateral cross, this stamp underlined Beuys’s wish to use art as a source of healing and spiritual development.

    1. Martin Kunz, ‘Christus, Kreuz und Braunkreuz,’ in Joseph Beuys: Spuren in Italien (Luzern: Staub, 1979), n.p. 

    2. As summarised in Schellmann, Jörg Schellmann (ed.), Joseph Beuys: The Multiples (Munich, New York: Edition Schellmann, 1997), 428. For more on the connotations with which Beuys imbued Brown Cross, see Klaus-D. Pohl, ‘Farbe’, in Joseph Beuys. Die Materialien und ihre Botschaft, (Bedburg–Hau: Stiftung Schloss Moyland, Sammlung van der Grinten, Joseph Beuys Archiv des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen, 2006), 64-65. See also Beuys’s comments in ‘Joseph Beuys. Gute Cascadeure sind sehr gesucht’, in Joseph Beuys: Zeichnungen, Objekte (Bremerhaven: Kunstverein, 1978), 8–9. 

  • Cross

    Among the most widely recurring figures in Beuys’s art, the cross is a sign that he invested with a wide range of meanings.1 In its elongated form, it speaks of his interest in Christianity, which he approached from the perspective of Rudolf Steiner. For Steiner, the coming of Jesus Christ marked a turning point in human history. Preaching the need for personal salvation in the eyes of God, Christ ushered in an era of self-determination, in which the sorrows of existence could only be transcended through a strengthening of the individual ego.2 As such, the cross became a sign, in Beuys’s eyes, for the powers of individual freedom.

    In its equilateral form, the cross in Beuys’ work acquires the further connotations of danger, healing and holistic unity. Typically appearing as a stamped insignia, applied using Brown Cross paint, it calls to mind the symbol of the Red Cross and with it suggestions of emergency situations, but also of rescue and recovery.3 As a sign in which two equal yet opposing elements are merged, to form a larger, more balanced hole, the symmetrical cross alludes to Beuys’s efforts to reconcile entities and forces that are frequently opposed to or separated from one another. To evoke this fractured state, he sometimes made use of a cross that was missing one arm. This ‘half-cross,’ as he called it, referred to one term of an opposition—such as spirit and matter, or reason and intuition—whose counter-term was symbolised by its missing element. To bring the cross and its missing arm together would be to unify the terms in question—an appeal that Beuys made often in his work.

    Finally, Beuys also viewed the cross as a symbol of human striving for knowledge. As he noted in this connection to Friedhelm Mennekes: ‘The cross… appears everywhere intertwined with the striving of humanity, in its search for awareness everywhere, not only as a fixed religious sign, but rather and above all as a symbol of orientation in science.’4

    While the myriad meanings of the cruciform figures unfurl in numerous directions in Beuys’s work, they nonetheless share a common quality, for all have a broadly positive and aspirational significance. In this way, the cross becomes, as its broadest level, a sign of Beuys’s wish to foster progress in his art, whether artistic, spiritual or social.

    1. For a synopsis of many of these meanings, see Caroline Tisdall (London: Thames & Hudson, 1979), Joseph Beuys, 108.  

    2. On this point, see Steiner, ‘The Christ Impulse and the Development of the Ego-Consciousness
      Lecture 4: The Sermon on the Mount’ (1910), For parallel comments by Beuys, concerning Christ’s significance as a world historical figure and preaching of self-determination, see Beuys, ‘Im Gespräch mit Franz Joseph van der Grinten,’ in Kreuz + Zeichen. Religiöse Grundlagen im Werk von Joseph Beuys (Aachen: Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum der Stadt Aachen, 1985), 14–15. 

    3. Beuys describes the red, equilateral cross as an emergency symbol in Caroline Tisdall, Joseph Beuys, 168. 

    4. Beuys describes the cross as a symbol for knowledge in Friedhelm Mennekes, Beuys zu Christus (Stuttgart: Verlag Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1989), 80. 

  • Direct Democracy

    Direct democracy is a political process in which voters develop policies directly, instead of electing representatives to act on their behalf. It is deemed by its supporters to be more egalitarian than party-centred forms of democracy. Beuys began advocating direct democracy in March 1970, when he founded a political group called the Organisation of Non-voters, Free Collective Referendum [Organisation der Nichtwähler, Freie Volksabstimmung]. A year later, he merged this group into the Organisation for Direct Democracy Through Collective Referendum [Organisation für direkte Demokratie durch Volksabstimmung], which he co-founded with his former student Johannes Stüttgen and his friend Karl Fastabend.1 Both groups sought the abolition of political parties in favour of a system of direct referendum. By means of this system, Beuys hoped to see a more just society evolve in line with the terms of his ‘theory of social sculpture’.

    1. On the founding of these two groups, see H. P. Riegel, Beuys. Die Biographie (Berlin: Aufbau Verlag, 2013), 336 and 356. 

  • Eurasia

    As a geographic term, ‘Eurasia’ denotes the landmass that encompasses both Europe and Asia. In Beuys’s art, however, it assumed a more complex meaning, which likely derived from the work of Rudolf Steiner. At the West-East Congress [West-Ost-Kongress] in Vienna in 1922, Steiner put forward a distinction between ‘Eastern man’ [sic] [Ostmensch] and ‘Western man’ [sic] [Westmensch] who, in his view, possessed contrasting experiential outlooks. Whereas Eastern man was more intuitive and spiritually attuned, Western man was more rational and materialistic. As an advocate of spiritual development, Steiner felt that Western man had much to learn from his Eastern counterpart. Eastern man could likewise profit by assimilating aspects of the Western worldview, including the use of science to control the material environment. Steiner argued that if the regions could merge their strengths, greater social harmony would ensue and the cause of human progress would be advanced.1 From the early 1960s onward, this theme of Eurasian unity became central to Beuys’s art. Using motifs like the ‘Eurasia Staff,’ the half-cross and the samurai sword, he called for a balanced integration of the two cultures.2

    1. Beuys’s likely derivation of the Eurasia concept from Steiner is discussed in Uwe M. Schneede, Joseph Beuys. Die Aktionen (Ostfildern-Ruit: Verlag Gerd Hatje, 1994), 129 and n. 17. For summary remarks by Steiner on Eastern and Western Man, see Rudolf Steiner, West-East Aphorisms, 

    2. For a useful synopsis of the significance of Eurasia for Beuys, see Caroline Tisdall, Joseph Beuys (London: Thames & Hudson, 1979), 108.  

  • Eurhythmy

    Eurhythmy is a performative practice developed by Rudolf Steiner and his wife Marie von Sivers in the early 1910s. It turns on the expressive use of speech and body movements that, in Steiner’s view, allow actors to disclose their ‘inner being’. In communicating via words, Steiner claimed, the speakers of modern languages had lost contact with the ‘primal spirituality’ of prehistoric speech. They had also grown constrained in their use of arm and hand gestures, which in prehistoric contexts had conveyed the ‘feeling-life of the soul.’ In an effort to restore this expressive depth, Sivers and Steiner conceived their own repertoire of arm and hand movements, along with distinctive forms of vocal inflection. In both cases meaning was transmitted through the abstract rhythms and inflections of the body and the voice.1 Eurhythmic elements featured strongly in many of Beuys’s performances of the 1960s and early 1970s, and were also referenced in a number of his drawings and multiples.

    1. As outlined in Steiner, ‘A Lecture on Eurhythmy,’ available at: Accessed 10 June, 2013. 

  • Fluxus

    ‘Fluxus’ is the name of a transatlantic art movement that first came to prominence in the early 1960s. Its name which derives from the Latin word for ‘flux’ or ‘flow’ was coined by the artist George Maciunas in 1961. The many artists linked to the movement sought to blur the divisions between art forms and erode the boundary between art and life.1 Initially recognised for its street and stage concerts, which combined elements of visual art, theatre and musical performance, the movement later gained attention for its multiples, with which it hoped to democratise the art market.

    Beuys first began working with Fluxus artists such as Maciunas, Nam June Paik and Henning Christiansen, in the early 1960s—a period in which the movement brought renewed vitality to the West German art world through a series of concerts staged throughout the Rhineland.2 It was through Fluxus that Beuys began creating his own performances. As an artist fascinated by the flow of energy, Beuys drew inspiration from the notions of fluidity and dynamism that resided at the heart of the Fluxus ethos. He also shared the wish of Fluxus artists to see art play a larger, less elitist, social role. In the late 1960s, Beuys, like many of his Fluxus peers, began to take his work in a more individual direction. He remained close to Paik, however, and collaborated frequently with Christiansen, who contributed audio and music to many of his performances.

    1. For a useful overview of the Fluxus movement’s history and ambitions, see Owen F. Smith: ‘A brief history of Fluxus,’ in Elizabeth Armstrong et. al (eds.), In the spirit of Fluxus (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 1993), 24. 

    2. On Beuys’s affiliation with Fluxus, see, for example, Thomas Kellein, ‘Zum Fluxus-Begriff von Joseph Beuys,’ in Dieter Koepplin et al. (eds.), Joseph Beuys-Tagung, (Basel: Wiese, 1991), 137; and Götz Adriani, Winfried Konnertz and Karin Thomas, Joseph Beuys: Life and Works Cologne: DuMont, 1986), 77–95. 

  • Free International University (F.I.U.)

    Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, Beuys became increasingly unhappy with the administration of the Düsseldorf State Art Academy, where he had taught since 1961. His chief point of contention was the Academy’s restriction of admissions. Believing education to be a universal human right, he began to protest this policy, an action that led to his dismissal in October 1972.1 

    In the lead-up to this event, Beuys and a number of his supporters had begun considering alternatives to existing institutions of higher education. To this end, in January 1972, they formed a committee for a Free School of Higher Education.2 The following year, on April 27th, 1973, Beuys, together with the painting professor Georg Meistermann, the publisher and artist Klaus Staeck and the journalist Willi Bongard, founded The Free International University for Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research (F.I.U.).3 According to a manifesto for the fledgling institution, co-authored by Beuys and the writer Heinrich Böll, the university’s chief purpose was to allow all individuals to realise their ‘creative potential’, regardless of their social or educational backgrounds.4 Eager to see non-artistic forms of creativity accorded greater social recognition, Beuys hoped to use the F.I.U. to break down the boundaries between ‘unworldly’ professional artists, whose work is typically confined to museums and galleries, and ‘art-alienated non-artists,’ whose everyday activities are often creative, but are seldom accorded the same status as art.5 To this end, Beuys sought to expand art’s horizons to embrace these other forms of creativity. The creative activities of all individuals could then be harnessed in the service of social progress—a notion that was central to his ‘theory of social sculpture’.

    In spite of promising discussions with the state authorities in Düsseldorf in 1974 and attempts to find a home for the F.I.U. in Ireland, no campus was ever established. Instead, Beuys and his supporters opened small branch offices of the university in Düsseldorf, Achberg, Hamburg, Gelsenkirchen und Pescara, which managed Beuys’s projects in their respective locations.6 Beuys also established short-term offices for the F.I.U at documenta 5 (1972) and documenta 6 (1977). These served as platforms for public discussion and promotion of the institution’s goals.

    1. For a detailed account of these events, see Susanne Anna (ed.), Joseph Beuys, Düsseldorf, (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2008). 

    2. Ibid., 103. 

    3. H. P. Riegel, Beuys: Die Biographie (Berlin: Aufbau Verlag, 2013), 392. 

    4. See Caroline Tisdall, Joseph Beuys (New York: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1979), 278. 

    5. Ibid., 279. 

    6. Susanne Anna (ed.), Joseph Beuys, Düsseldorf (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2008), 150-163; and Caroline Tisdall, Joseph Beuys (New York: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1979), 282. 

  • Henning Christiansen

    The Danish musician and composer Henning Christiansen (1932–2008) was a Fluxus-affiliated artist with whom Beuys often collaborated. Christiansen joined the Fluxus movement after making the acquaintance of Korean artist Nam June Paik in Copenhagen in 1961. From this point forward, he became a frequent participant in Fluxus events throughout Europe. Beuys and Christiansen first met in 1964 at a Fluxus-sponsored festival for new art at the Technical University of Aachen, entitled ‘Actions/Agit-Pop/Décollage/Happening/Events/Antiart/L’Autrisme/Art Total/Refluxus.’1 Their working relationship commenced when Beuys invited Christiansen to provide sounds and music for his performance MANRESA, at Galerie Schmela in Düsseldorf in 1966. Here, as on numerous occasions to follow, Christiansen created a collage-style experimental soundscape for Beuys, using a blend of pre-recorded music, ambient noise and live instrumentation.2 A number of multiples such as Ja Ja Ja Ja Ja, Nee Nee Nee Nee Nee (1969), Celtic+∿∿∿∿, (1971), and Scottish Symphony/Requiem of Art (1973), feature recorded fragments of Christiansen’s work.

    1. Uwe M. Schneede, Joseph Beuys. Die Aktionen (Ostfildern-Ruit: Verlag Gerd Hatje, 1994), 146. 

    2. On Christiansen’s many and important contributions to Beuys’s actions, see Schneede, ibid., passim. 

  • Intuition

    Throughout his career, Beuys remained a steadfast proponent of intuition, a form of experience that he opposed to rationality and conceived as a ‘higher form of thought’ [höhere Form des Denkens].1 Following the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, Beuys believed that intuition was a spiritual faculty that served as the source of creativity. Rationality, meanwhile, was confined to the realm of matter. With the rise of reason and materialism in modern life, Western society in Beuys’s view had lost touch with the powers of intuition and had, accordingly, seen its access to the realm of spirit diminish. This decline was problematic since it constrained humanity’s creative capability, depriving it of a potent means of liberation. In an effort to restore this lost contact, Beuys sought to foster intuition with his art. The enigmatic nature of his work helped support this process, for as he never tired of asserting, his art was impervious to rational understanding. Instead, it could only be grasped fully through the insights of intuitive experience: “The point of art is not that we gain knowledge directly, but rather that we produce a deeper knowledge of experience. More has to happen than just logically comprehensible things. The point of art is not to be understood, otherwise there would be no need for art.”2

    1. Beuys, cited in German in Robert Filliou, Lehren und Lernen als Aufführungskünste (Köln: König, 1970), 165. 

    2. For remarks by Beuys of the rational inexplicability of his work, see Schellmann and Klüser, ‘Questions to Joseph Beuys,’ in Jörg Schellmann (ed.), Joseph Beuys. The Multiples (Munich, New York: Edition Schellmann, 1997), 20. 

  • Rudolf Steiner

    Throughout the course of his career, there were few ideas expressed in Beuys’s art that did not derive their impetus from Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925).1 A philosopher and spiritual teacher, Steiner was the founder of ‘Anthroposophy,’ a set of teachings on the nature of existence, which proposed a path to individual freedom through spiritual awakening. Throughout the post-Christian era, Steiner claimed, humanity had used rationality to strengthen its attunement to the material world. In doing so, it had lost touch with the realm of spirit, which he felt could only be accessed through non-rational modes of experience like intuition, imagination and introspection. He argued that individuals who developed these faculties could regain this lost contact with the spiritual world and in doing so enhance their capacity for free will. This newly won personal autonomy would in turn advance the cause of human freedom.2

    In the late 1940s, Beuys began to study Steiner’s work intensively and would remain committed to his teachings until the end of his life.3 In addition to absorbing the main outlines of Steiner’s worldview, Beuys shared Steiner’s faith in art’s potential as a vehicle for fostering intuition, which could contribute to the process of human spiritual development. His interests in restructuring society, which were central to his work in the 1970s, likewise derived from Steiner’s work, as did many of his art’s most important themes and concepts, including ‘warmth,’ the life of bees, and ‘Eurasia’.4

    1. For overviews of Beuys’s relationship to Rudolf Steiner, see Verena Kuni, Der Künstler als ‘Magier’ und ‘Alchemist’ im Spannungsfeld von Produktion und Rezeption Aspekte der Auseinandersetzung mit okkulten Traditionen
      in der europäischen Kunstgeschichte nach 1945. Eine vergleichende Fokusstudie – ausgehend von Joseph Beuys
      , unpublished doctoral dissertation, Philipps-Universität Marburg, 2004, 185–196; H. P. Riegel, Beuys. Die Biographie (Berlin: Aufbau Verlag, 2013), 100–110,124–132 and passim; and John F. Moffitt, Occultism in Avant-Garde Art: The Case of Joseph Beuys (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1988), ch.s 5 and 6. 

    2. Steiner first put forward this thesis in his Philosophy of Freedom (1894), developing and revising it thereafter in countless texts and lectures. 

    3. On Beuys’s first engagements with Steiner, which are difficult to date precisely, see H. P. Riegel, Beuys. Die Biographie, 100–103. 

    4. From the early 1970s onward, Beuys spoken often of the need for a new social order, which would fulfill the ideals of freedom, equality and brotherhood. In doing so, he adopted Steiner’s concept of a ‘tripartitioning’ [Dreigliederung] of the social ‘organism’ into several independent spheres. (For an introduction to this social model, see Steiner, The Threefold Social Order, Accessed 20th April, 2014.)

      As part of ambitious program for social reform, Beuys derived a range of ideas concerning economic reform from the anthroposophical economist Wilhelm Schmundt, whose theories are outlined in ‘Das Unternehmerkapital im sozialen Organismus,‘ available at, accessed Jul 12, 2013. For a lucid account of Beuys’s thoughts of money and production, see Ulrich Rösch, ‘Man kann Joseph Beuys erst verstehen, wenn man ihn schon verstanden hat: Erläuterungen zum Geld- und Kapitalbegriff von Joseph Beuys,’ in Rainer E. Rappmann (ed.), Was ist Geld? Eine Podiumsdiskussion (Wangen: F.I.U. Verlag, 1991).  

  • Social Sculpture

    In the early 1970s, Beuys began expanding the horizons of his practice. Having focussed in the previous decade on performances, sculptures and drawings, he now began working on a range of social and political projects, including the Organisation for Direct Democracy Through Collective Referendum (co-founded in 1971), the Free International University (co-founded in 1973), and from the middle of the decade onward, green politics and the restructuring of the financial system. He did not, however, see this change as a move away from art production. Instead, he conceived it as an expansion of art’s scope and definition.

    Whereas artworks are traditionally regarded as the physical products of a trained professional, Beuys began to challenge this understanding. Disregarding both its aspects, he argued for the acknowledgement of all forms of creativity as artistic, regardless of their enactment by a so-called professional artist or their relationship to material objects. All activities that brought change to the human environment could be seen as artistic, he argued, and any kind of ‘material,’ whether tangible or otherwise, might be shaped in an artistic fashion.1

    The ultimate material in this expanded sense was society itself, which meant, in Beuys’s view, that society at large could be viewed as a work of art, or ‘social sculpture.’ To change society for the better, as Beuys attempted with his social and political projects, was to reshape and refine this sculpture, a task that could only be accomplished by harnessing the full creative capabilities of all individuals, not just those of a select group of people referred to as artists.

    1. For a thorough account of Beuys’s views on social sculpture, especially as they relate to the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, see Rainer Rappmann, ‘Der soziale Organismus—ein Kunstwerk,’ in Volker Harlan et al (eds.), Soziale Plastik. Materialien zu Joseph Beuys (Achberg: Achberger Verlagsanstalt, 1976), 9–72. For further reading, see Frank Meyer, ‘Sichtbare Skulptur – Unsichtbare Skulptur. Der Energieplan von Joseph Beuys,’ in FIU Kassel (ed.), Die unsichtbare Skulptur. Zum erweiterten Kunstbegriff von Joseph Beuys (Stuttgart: Verlag Urachhaus Johannes M. Mayer GmbH, 1989), 91-104. 

  • Theory of Sculpture

    During the course of the 1960s, Beuys elaborated a theory of sculpture, structured around a series of formal, material and conceptual oppositions.1 At the core of this theory lay a contrast between rigid, geometric forms—which he described as ‘crystalline’—and softer, ‘organic’ entities. Aligned with this opposition were a range of contrasting energetic states, such order and chaos, stasis and dynamism, coldness and warmth, contraction and expansion, which crystalline and organic forms respectively embodied.2 While the former terms lend structure and stability to experience, he suggested, the latter are conducive to change and development. Concerned as he was to foster these two processes in his art, he tended to place greater emphasis on the latter, more dynamic qualities of organic forms, which he expressed using pliant, organic substances like fat, felt and honey that could readily assume new forms. He did not dispense with crystalline forms and qualities, however, since their stabilising presence was required to place the gains of innovation on a lasting footing. Rigid and enduring materials like steel and iron typically performed this role.

    Beuys related these substances and states to his thoughts on a number of subjects, including modes of human experience, the relationship between spirit and matter, and processes of social transformation. He linked crystalline forms and materials, for example, to the workings of the intellect, and their organic counterparts with the actions of intuition. Believing that the intellect had become too dominant in the modern era, and had given rise to rigid and materialistic social forms, he attempted in his work to harness the dynamic and creative capabilities of the intuition for the sake of societal development. As with the materials with which he worked, however, it was not a case of setting one group of experiential terms ahead of the other, but of striking a balance between them. By no means interested in dispensing with reason and materialism, he instead wished to complements its strengths in the material realm with the spiritual capabilities of will and intuition.

    1. Since Beuys first described his theory of sculpture in retrospect and never formalised it fully, its coalescence is difficult to date precisely. Its terms were certainly in place, however, by the late 1960s. 

    2. These pairings, along with the core dynamics of the theory of sculpture, are summarised in Tisdall, Joseph Beuys, 44. See also Beuys’s diagrammatic sketch of the theory, in Joseph Beuys: Werke aus der Sammlung Karl Ströher (Basel: Kunstmuseum Basel, 1969), 43, and the conversation between Beuys and Hanno Reuther published in the same volume, 38-41. 

  • Warmth

    ‘Warmth’ or ‘warm energy’ was the vehicle with which Beuys hoped to realise his creative ambitions. Beuys viewed warmth as an energy that enters into matter, but is itself immaterial and therefore spiritual. Circulating freely within physical substances, warmth acts as an animating force and thus becomes a catalyst for change. This is why he often described it as an ‘evolutionary’ power or trigger.1

    Beuys’s artworks are replete with materials that he regarded as bearers of warm energy. By transmitting this energy to viewers of his works, they could bolster the capacity of each to instigate her own creative processes, whether social, spiritual or artistic. Typical examples of Beuys’s warmth-bearing substances were fat, felt, honey and copper. Since each is soft and pliant, it can readily assume new forms and is therefore well-suited to modelling the process of change. Each also bears connotations of physical warmth. Felt and fat, for instance, serve an insulating function, while copper conducts electricity. Honey brings warmth to the body through its consumption and digestion. The physical properties of such materials play an important role in understanding his oeuvre. Yet they must also be regarded in their symbolic function. At this level they appeal to spectators to grow more flexible in their behaviour and help change society at large.

    1. See, for instance Beuys’s comments on warmth and evolution in Rainer Rappmann, Peter Schata and Volker Harlan, Soziale Plastik: Materialien zu Joseph Beuys (Achberg: Achberger Verlagsanstalt, 1976), 89.