The content on this page is aggregated and is not affiliated with the artist.
Photograph: Artist and Performer Joseph Beuys, 1967. By Liselotte Strelow.
“Even the act of peeling a potato can be an artistic act if it is consciously done.” Joseph Beuys
Facts are tedious. People who put great store by them even more so. Who wants to be stuck with the club bore or local know-it-all? Yet last week the country went weak at the knees before members of Oxford University's Corpus Christi quiz team, winners (and now, losers) of a TV panel show. Why? Just because they were able to chime back some speedy answers to some fairly arcane questions. Now they are being told they are special. They are not. Special people don't deal with facts; they deal with the unknown and the unknowable. Special people like to make things up.
Shakespeare made up over 3,000 words. Einstein's theories started out as ideas. Freud thought our dreams were of vital importance. But when it comes to a total disregard for facts, nobody quite tops Joseph Beuys, the very special 20th-century German artist. For instance, much of Beuys's artistic output is based on one extremely tall story. When he was rumbled in the 1980s, having propagated his myth for over 30 years, nobody really minded – it simply became part of his oeuvre as an artist.
The first time I encountered an artwork by Joseph Beuys was at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Up until that point I had been on the aggressive side of sceptical about conceptual art. That's not to say I didn't admire Marcel Duchamp – I did. I just never thought he was a brilliant visual artist – for me, he was more a formidable philosopher and thinker. Duchamp changed what art was and could be, simply through the power of his intellect and personality. That's an extraordinary achievement. His central argument was that art is anything an artist says it is: a urinal, a bottle rack, even an action, any of these is...