Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol

From the 1960/70s onwards, feminist/humanist critique has been articulated against the „notion“ of the „role model“ of the „white male genius“ as the dominant bringer of culture. Leaving this discourse aside for the moment, we shall be inclined to state that the true artist, however, shall not be expected to be as primitively and bluntly gendered as you are (supposedly): It has been noted that creative individuals usually are eqipped with qualities attributed to the opposite gender: Creative females are more self-asserted, rational and aggressive than other girls; creative males are softer and more intuitive and nurturing than other boys. The greater the artist, the more universal the artist´s personality, which means that s/he will possess both „masculine“ and „feminine“ qualities. Virginia Woolf (with reference to Samuel Taylor Coleridge) says, the best mind is the androgynous mind.

Meditate about that.

When I recently saw Andres Veiel´s new documentary film „Beuys“, Joseph Beuys also struck me as a being for which „masculinity“ and „feminity“ does not actually, immediately apply. His idiosyncratic head resemblant to a skull, but one that you would not expect a skull(-like head) to look like; Beuys` general appearance is one highly idiosyncratic and statuary and symbolic, though not in a way you would expect an idiosyncratic and statuary and symbolic person to look like. Beuys` appearance is highly emblematic but in a way that comes completely unexpected. A hipster cannot look like that. In his „artificiality“ and his deliberateness Beuys is highly natural and authentic. Beuys was an originator of what would (later) be labelled as Performance Art, Process Art, Body Art, Happening, Social Sculpture, he gave a new outlook on sculpture in general and established a connection between art and politics and the social realm and the human realm, and, finally, about art and life and about what an artist actually is. He was/established a hyperset. Due to his pronounced subjectivity he also transgressed (the impersonality of) Fluxus art and in his endeavour to create a personal mythology he also gave dignity to „mundane“ material (like fat or felt) – as well as he gave dignity to people, in personal exchange, as a teacher, as well as by claiming that „everyone is an artist“ – which means that every creative thought is actually art, therein (and also in his declarative approach, to make something a piece of art by declaration) widening our outlook on art in general. Beuys was an artist in the formation of a democratic age and embodied the spirit of democracy, and his devotion to his students (because of which he finally got expelled as a university professor) was real and not a gesture, as he spent the whole day working in class. He is described as someone who was able to connect to anyone and finding out what the other person needs and how she could be elevated. Due to his high (schizotypal) sense of connectivity he tried to build bridges between East and West, connect man to nature, the ephemeral to the large context of history and the transhistoric, embodied the shaman and a bit of heyoka (though a very polite one). Due to his connectivity, which included also the (so-called) irrational he also had some downsides – but there are worse things around than Anthroposophy or not being able to become a politician (as he was denied to become a candidate for the Green party by the Green party´s other members). He rallied against narrowmindedness and conservatism but not in any obvious way, finally he distanced himself from mass movements, and the fate of people like Beuys is that they are, in the final consequence, isolated loners, whose impact on society is a (seemingly) indirect one, since they do not inhabit the same world as man. Despite his apparently odd figure, in the film a woman spoke to us how Beuys, in their encounters, struck her as completely normal (actually as „the only truly normal person I have ever met“) and as being both a dreamer and not a dreamer at all all alike (that´s a reference to the actual state of hypernormality of the genius). As a pilot in World War II Beuys was not as easily to be unrespected by the rightwingers and conservatives, and one can say that his personal history is one of transformation and elevation (at least apparently). When in his earlier days he had no success, and alongside with the usual pains of a true originator at the beginning, he fell into deep depression, became suicidal and a befriended family had to take care of him (and an elderly woman saved him and reestablished his self-assurance). When he came to America, he elegantly/spectacularly avoided contact with anyone and only (intensely) conversated with a coyote (I like America and America likes Me). His voice was masculine, but elevated and soft, swinging in its own intensity.

When thinking about the androgynous artist, also Beuys´ contemporary and friend Andy Warhol comes to mind; a shy, highly schizotypal homosexual who was otherwordly (and frail) already as a child (whithout, however, displaying signs of a miracle child). – When asked about his opinion about the „discontent“ of our age, in 1955 (in a private conversation with Patrick Bowles), Beckett dismissively said that the „discontent of our age“ is „the discontent of every age“: „99 percent of people lack true access to their own minds“. As a genius, Warhol did not lack access to his own mind, and so, at about the same time, passed off mindless consumerism as well as mindless intellectualism (from left, right or anywere) refuting or being dismissive of consumer society (whose formation is one of the great developments in human history) and turned it into art. As a commercial illustrator Warhol had been no slouch, and his immense talent, actually genius for painting and illustrating (and use of colour) had been disovered at the art school (that being said against the apparent simplemindedness or, at least, coolness of his later art he became famous with), in addition, that professional experience gave him an understanding of how creative work has to be designed to reach a maximum audience. When, after unsuccessful attempts to establish his own territory as a „serious“ artist, he saw an early exhibition of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg (who would refuse to let him into their circle as well) he decided to use their new found language with greater purity and immediacy – which then, finally, resulted in Pop Art. They said, Warhol had a genius for immediacy – and that´s what he did: present things and art as a „fait accompli“, which either means everything or nothing – respectively, in this ambivalence, actually means everything and nothing. He gave the purest expression of a democratic mass/consumer society, and its ambiguities. While Beuys said everyone´s an artist, Warhol said everything is beautiful, and when asked whether he likes or dislikes the apparently trivial things he portrays he responded that „Pop Art loves things“ – also Warhol elevated stuff. Dali said, genius spiritualises everything, and Warhol did this to things, according to the age he inhabitated, as he „glamourised“ things (reminding us also that „spirituality“ is not a simple and easily definable, but a complex, ambiguous thing, with a sharp as well as an infinitely nuanced and spectral/auratic contour, and that is differentiated in itself). With his technique of repetition he removed emotive potential as well as he investigated about (Benjamin´s) aura (via de- and reconstruction); as he added specific colour to it, he made stuff unique and idiosyncratic again. With his genius for immediacy he apparently removed transcendence, while actually he established an endless loop and an apparently mutual gaze between the glorious human and the humble and inarticulate soup can, which is both so ephemeral and (not least as a manifestation of culture and of the most vegetative needs of man, and also as an object for intellectual reflection) destined to outlive man. In a world full of celebrities and in his relentless drive to be a celebrity, Warhol apparently nullified his persona, which amplified his charme and his significance; by apparently reduing his complexity he added a meta-level to his complexity, by taking himself out, he became universal. In fact, while seeming inexpressive Warhol was highly receptive and aware of his surroundings – to the extent that he „merely“ seemed to draw from his surroundings and exploit people and the freaks at the Factory: but in this seeming reproductiveness and derivativeness there was his originality: as originality comes from immediate as well as „paradoxical“ combination of elements and elevating it to a higher level of signicance. When he said that behind his appearance and his art there is actually „nothing“, it may refer to schizotypal self-experience (as having no clear internal locus), to mastery of Zen, to the artist becoming a „sheer“ medium – or to a correct and precise look at the considerable elusiveness of the self. He was a transperson. His films, consisting for example of filming the Empire State Building for hours, result from Warhol actually being able to look at and enjoying stuff ordinary people find drab for hours and becoming immersed into it. And you had all the stuff in it that makes art, respectively the oeuvre of an artist: the paradoxical beauty of soup cans and Brillo boxes, you have (the ambiguity/frailty) of beauty (and of the Anima: Marilyn), of flowers, you have death, accident, execution, the human portrait, Chairman Mao, etc.

In doing so, Beuys and Warhol were defining geniuses of their age and a bit of a negative mirror image of each other. In their apparent superficiality (that is to say: immediacy), they were deep (and gave a new perspective on depth). They were, however, not ultra-deep thinkers of art (hence their relatively immediate success). The ultra-deep art genius will, metaphorically, rest on the ground of the ocean or so these days, and maybe even for the rest of days. He will not really know what masculinity and feminity is, neither will he know about androgyny; he is constantly calculating the universe anew and, by shifting perspectives, creating the hyperset of high order.