Joseph Beuys was a key participant in the 1960s Fluxus movement. At that time, many artists in Asia, Europe, and the United States became dissatisfied with a long tradition of “heroic,” or object-oriented painting and sculpture. Influenced in part by contemporary experiments in music, such artists found themselves turning away from the art world’s prevailing commercialism in favour of “found” and “everyday” items for creating ephemeral, time-based “happenings,” impermanent installation art, and/or other largely action-oriented events. From roughly the 1950s through the early 1980s, Beuys demonstrated how art might originate in personal experience yet also address universal artistic, political, and/or social ideas.
Beuys suggested, in both his teaching and in his mature “action” and sculptural artworks, that “art” might not ultimately constitute a specialised profession but, rather, a heightened humanitarian attitude, or way of conducting one’s life, in every realm of daily activity. In this regard, Beuys’s work signals a new era in which art has increasingly become engaged with social commentary and political activism.