TEACHING AND LEARNING
"To be a teacher is my greatest work of art."
-Joseph Beuys, 1969
Beuys was a prolific teacher. Indeed, it is nearly impossible to differentiate his artistic practice from his teaching, as it is difficult to separate his life from his art, which in turn cannot be divorced from his political and social concerns. Beuys was both a teacher in the traditional sense, as Professor of Monumental Sculpture at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art where his students included such artists as Jörg Immendorf, Anselm Kiefer, and Imi Knoebel, and he extended his role as teacher to the creation of countless open forums for debate that assumed myriad forms.
Beuys created a public persona that was a challenge to the status quo and a catalyst for change through action and interaction. For more than 20 years, Beuys' primary activity was teaching, spreading his ideas about art and the role of art in society to a wide range of audiences. In this way, Beuys has had a deep and broad-ranging influence on both contemporary art and society.
the course of his tenure at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art, Beuys'
nontraditional and antibureaucratic pedagogical philosophy made him the
focus of much controversy. Sympathetic with his expanded notion of art,
the political activism prevalent among students across the world in the
late 1960s was integrated into Beuys' classes and his teaching strategies.
In 1967, the German Student Party was founded in his class and their activities
continued there throughout the late 1960s.
Following years of controversy and conflicts with the school's administration, Beuys was dismissed from his post in 1972. Initially, complaints were filed against Beuys by his fellow professors, who protested his political activities with his students. The final bout of contention, however, that led to Beuys' dismissal was a battle waged against the bureaucracy that governed the school, particularly their policy of "restricted entry" under which only a select number of students could be enrolled. In line with his belief that those who feel they have something to teach and those who feel they have something to learn have the right to come together, Beuys deliberately over-enrolled his classes. The multiple Democracy is Merry (1973) was made from a photograph of Beuys with his students being escorted from the school after a sit-in protesting the school's admission policy.
As early as March 1970, Beuys began to expand the spectrum of people he intended to reach by establishing the Organization for Non-Voters and Free Referendum, later known as the Organization for Direct Democracy. He set up an "information office" open to the public where he and others discussed and dispersed information outlining their democratic ideals. The Organization also conducted a number of street actions that exposed these ideas to the general public.
In 1972, on the occasion of the international exhibition of contemporary art, documenta 5, Beuys opened his exhibition space as a temporary information office to debate and discuss his ideas about "Direct Democracy" with anyone who wanted to engage in conversation. The multiple We Won't Do It without the Rose (1972) shows Beuys involved in one of these conversations with the omnipresent Rose for Direct Democracy (1973) also in the image.
At the same time that Beuys' confrontations with the Düsseldorf Academy of Art were becoming more frequent and his activities as a teacher in the public realm increased, he began to develop the idea for a school open to all, which functioned outside of the existing academic system. What began in late 1971 as the Freie Hochschule, the Free School of Higher Education, soon became the Free International University (FIU). In 1972, a manifesto was drawn up by Beuys with German poet Heinrich Böll outlining the principles of this new educational paradigm. In this document the primary goal of the FIU was described as "the encouragement, discovery, and furtherance of democratic potential, and the expression of this."
Offices of the Free International University have been founded across Europe and several branches continue to function to this day. From 1972, Beuys created a number of multiples inspired by his interactions with the FIU, including Brick for FIU (1983), which was produced spontaneously at the inauguration of a branch of the FIU at Numbrecht, Germany, and La Zappa (1978), an iron hoe with an olive-wood handle that Beuys used during a discussion in Pescara, Italy.
Walker Art Center curator
Filliou, Robert. Lehren und Lernen als Aufführungs Künste/Teaching and Learning as Performance Arts. Cologne and New York: Verlag Walther König, 1970.
Kuoni, Carin. Energy Plan for the Western Man: Joseph Beuys in America. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1990.
Tisdall, Caroline. Joseph Beuys. New York: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1979.