Monday, August 23, 2010

"The Arts and Their Mission"--the first of two lectures by Rudolf Steiner

Oslo, Norway, May 18, 1923:

We must emphasize again and again that the anthroposophical world-conception fosters a consciousness of the common source of art, religion and science. During ancient periods of evolution these three were not separated; they existed in unity. The Mysteries which fostered that unity were a kind of combination art institute, church and school. For what they offered was not a one-sided sole dependence upon language. The words uttered by the initiate as both cognition and spiritual revelation were supported and illustrated by sacred rituals unfolding, before listening spectators, in mighty pictures.

Thus alongside the enunciation of earthly knowledge, religious rituals imaged forth what could be divined and perceived as events and facts of the supersensible worlds. Religion and cognition were one. Moreover, the beautiful, the artistic, had its place within the Mysteries; ritual and image, acting together, produced a high art. In other terms, the religiously-oriented rituals which fired man's will and the knowledge-bearing words which illumined him inwardly had, both, a strong ally in the beautiful, the artistic. Thus consciousness of the brotherly unity of religion, science and art must today be ever-present in anthroposophical world-research; an interlinkage brought about not artificially, but in a self-evident, natural way.

Modern intellectualistic-materialistic science tries to grasp the world in thoughts. As a result, certain ideas give conceptual form to the phenomena of nature and its creatures. We translate natural laws into thoughts. During the recent materialistic age it was characteristic of those preoccupied with cognition that they gradually lost artistic sensibility. Acceptance of modern science means yielding to dead thoughts and looking for them in nature. Natural history, that proud achievement of our science, consists of dead thoughts, corpses of what constituted our soul before we descended from supersensible into sensory existence.

Anyone looking at the corpse of a human being can see by his form that he could not have achieved this state through any mere laws of nature as we know them; he had first to die. A living person became a corpse by dying. Similarly anyone with real cognition knows that his thoughts are corpses of that vital soul-being within which he lived before incarnation. Our earth-thoughts are actually corpses of our pre-earthly soul-life. And they are abstract precisely because they are corpses. As people during the last few centuries became more and more enamored of abstractions, of these thoughts which insinuated themselves into practical life, they came more and more to resemble them in their higher soul-life. Especially people with a scientific education. This estranged them from art. The more one surrenders to purely abstract thoughts, dead thoughts, the more one becomes a stranger to art. For art desires and is centered on the living.

A soul seriously occupied with anthroposophical cognition enters the opposite state. Whereas intellectuality approaches everything from the standpoint of logic, and tries to explain even the arts according to logical rules, in anthroposophical thinking there arises at a certain moment a great longing for art. For this different type of cognition leads to a realization that thoughts are not the whole living reality; something else is needed. Since the entire soul life now remains living instead of being killed by dead thoughts, one comes to need to experience the world artistically. For if one lives in abstract dead thoughts, art is only a luxury formed out of man's dreams and illusions; an addition to life. But — to repeat — the anthroposophical method of knowledge brings one to a realization that thoughts are not the living reality; they are dead gestures which merely point to that reality; and at a certain stage one feels that, to attain reality, one must begin to create; must pass over to art. Ideas alone simply cannot present the world in its rich full content. Thus Anthroposophy prepares the soul for artistic feeling and creating.

Abstract thoughts deaden artistic phantasy. Becoming more and more logical, one takes to writing commentaries on works of art. This is a terrible product of a materialistic age: scholars write commentaries on art. But these academic explanations, Faust commentaries, Hamlet commentaries, learned descriptions of the art of Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, are coffins in which genuine artistic feeling, living art, lie buried. If one picks up a Faust or Hamlet commentary, it is like touching a corpse. Abstract thoughts have murdered the work of art.

Anthroposophy, on the other hand, tries to approach art out of the living spirit — as I did in speaking of Goethe's Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily. I did not write a commentary, I let the living lead me into the living. During an inartistic age there appear many scholarly treatises on art, works on aesthetics. They are non-art, counter-art. Savants may reply: To take hold of the world artistically is to move away from reality; it is not scientific; if reality is to be seized, phantasy has to be suppressed, imagination eliminated; one must confine oneself to the logical. This may be demanded. But consider: If reality, if nature herself were an artist, then it would be of no avail to demand that everything be grasped solely through logic; something vital in it would elude logical understanding. And nature is indeed an artist; a truth discovered by anthroposophical cognition at a certain point in its development. Therefore, in order to grasp nature, especially the highest in nature, man's physical form, one must cease to live exclusively in ideas and begin to “think” in pictures. No anatomy, no physiology, can ever grasp the physical human being in his forms. Understanding is achieved only by living cognition that has been given wings by artistic feeling.

Thus it was inevitable that the idea to build a Goetheanum flowed over into artistic creation. Anthroposophical ideas flowered into artistic forms. The same ideas manifested in a different manner. This is the way true art always develops in the world. Goethe who was able to feel artistically has coined the following beautiful words: “Art a manifestation of secret laws of nature which, without it, would remain forever hidden.” He felt what anthroposophists must feel. If one has attained to a cognitional comprehension of the world, there arises a vital need not just to continue forming ideas but to create artistically in sculpture, painting, music, poetry.

But then an unfortunate thing may happen. If one tries, as I tried in my four Mystery dramas, to present what cannot be expressed in ideas concerning the essential nature of man, there spring up sympathetic but not fully comprehending people who try to explain everything in ideas, who write commentaries. This — I repeat — is an appalling thing. It happens because the deadening element of abstract thought is often carried even into the anthroposophical movement. Actually, within this movement there should be a continual quickening of abstract thoughts. What can no longer be experienced intellectually can be enjoyed through living dramatic characters as they move before and confront us. Beholding them we let them act upon us as real figures instead of trying to explain them abstractly. Genuine Anthroposophy leads, inevitably, at a certain point, into art because, far from thought-killing, it inspires us; permits the artistic spring in the human soul to gush forth.

Then one is not tempted to form ideas symbolically or allegorically, but to let all ideas flow to a certain point and to follow the purely artistic form. Thus the Goetheanum architecture rose completely idea-less (if I may use that odd expression) as a result of feeling the forms out of the spirit. It should be seen, not explained. When I had the honor of conducting guests through the Goetheanum, I usually made introductory remarks something like this: “You naturally expect me to explain the building, but this is uncongenial. During the next half hour, while guiding you, I must do something I very much dislike, for the Goetheanum is here to be seen, not explained.” This I emphasized over and over, for the edifice standing there should live as image, not in abstract deadening thoughts. Explanations being unavoidable, I tried to make mine not abstract but imbued with the feelings embodied in the building's own forms, pictures, colors. One can be spiritual in forms, colors, tones, as well as words. Indeed, only then does one experience the really artistic. For here in our sense world art is always an influx of the supersensible. We can perceive this truth in any work of art which presents itself in forms having their origin in human nature.

Take the art of architecture which, to a large degree, today serves utilitarian purposes. To understand architectural forms, one must feel the human form itself artistically. This is necessarily accompanied by a feeling that man has foresaken the spiritual worlds to which he rightfully belongs. A bear in its fur or a dog in its pelt shows itself well cared for by the universe; one senses a totality. If, on the other hand, one looks artistically at man, one realizes that, seen merely from the viewpoint of the senses, he lacks something. He has not received from the universe what the well-coated bear and dog received. In sense appearance he stands, as it were, naked to the world. The need is to see, by means of a purely artistic approach, man's physical body clothed by an imaginative-spiritual sheath.

Today, in architecture, this reality does not manifest clearly. But take the pinnacle reached by architecture when it created protective covers for the dead. As noted earlier, the monuments erected above graves at the starting point of architecture had great meaning. Primeval instinctive clairvoyance perceived that, after forsaking its physical body, its earthly prison, the naked soul shrinks from being released into cosmic space without first being enveloped by those forms by which it wants to be received. People held that the soul must not simply be turned loose into the chaotically interacting weather currents; they would tear it apart. The soul desires to expand into the universe through regular spatial forms. For this reason it must be surrounded by tomb-architecture. It cannot find its bearings in the storms of weather and wind which rush toward it; only in the artistic forms of the monument above the grave. Here paths into the cosmic reaches are formed. An enveloping sheath such as man, unlike plants and animals, never receives through sensory-natural elements, is given the soul out of the super-sensible.

Thus one can say: Originally architecture expressed the manner in which man wants to be received by the cosmos, In a house the forms should be similarly artistic. The planes, the lines: why are they there? Because the soul wishes to look out into space in those directions, and to be protected from inrushing light. If one considers the relation of the soul to the spatial universe, if one recognizes how that universe welcomes the soul of man, one arrives at the right architectural forms.

Fine architecture has a counterpart. When man leaves his physical body at death, his soul spreads into spatial forms. Architecture strives to reveal this relation of man to visible cosmic space. At birth he possesses an unconscious memory of his own pre-earthly existence. Modern man's consciousness retains nothing of this. But in unconscious feeling, especially when naively artistic, the down-plunging soul knows that previously it was quite different. And now it does not wish to be as it finds itself on dipping down into the body. It longs to be as it was before.

This desire shows up in primitive people. Because they feel artistically how they would prefer to live in their body, they first decorate and then clothe themselves, the colors of their garments displaying how they would — while in the body — present their souls. Corporeality does not suffice them, through color they would place themselves in the world in a way that harmonizes with what they feel themselves as souls. Whoever views with artistic sense the colorful clothes of primitive people sees a manifestation of the soul in space; and in like manner, in architectural forms, the disappearing of the soul into space. Here we have the impulses at work in two arts: architecture and costuming.

This art of costuming merges with the other arts. It is not without meaning that in ages with more artistic feeling than ours, say the Italian Renaissance, painters gave Mary Magdalene a color of gown different from that of Mary. Compare the yellow so often used in the robes of Mary Magdalene with the blue and red in those of Mary, and you see the soul-difference perceived by a painter living wholly in his medium.

We who love to dress grey in grey simply show the world the deceased image of our soul. In our age we not only think abstractly, we dress abstractly. And (this is said parenthetically) if we do not dress abstractly, then we show in the way we combine colors how little we retain the living thinking of the realms through which we passed before descending to earth. If we do not dress abstractly, we dress without taste. In our civilization it is precisely the artistic element that needs improvement. Man must again place himself vitally-artistically into the world: must perceive the whole cosmic being and life artistically. It will not suffice to use the well-known apparatus of research institutes for determining the angle of a face and measuring abstractly racial peculiarities; we must recognize the form through a sensitive qualitative immersion in the human being.

Then in a marvelous way we shall recognize in the human head, in its arching of forehead and crown, a copy — not just as allegory but inward reality — of the heavenly dome dynamically overarching us. An image of the universe is shaped by forehead and upper head. Similarly, an image of our experience in circling the sun, in turning round it with our planet in a horizontal circling, this participation in cosmic movement is felt artistically in the formation of nose and eyes. Imagine: the repose of the fixed stars shows in the tranquil vault of brow and upper head; planetary circling in the mobile gaze of the eye, and in what is inwardly experienced through nose and smell. As for the mouth and chin of man, we have here an image of what leads deeply into his inner nature. The mouth with the chin represents the whole human being as he lives with his soul in his body. To repeat, the human head mirrors the universe artistically. In forehead and the arching crown of the head we see the still vault of the heavens; in eye, nose and upper lip, planetary movement; in mouth and chin, a resting within oneself.

If all this is beheld as living image, it does not remain in the head as abstraction. If we really feel what I have just described, then a certain sensation arises and we say to ourselves: you were quite a clever man who had pretty ideas, but now, suddenly, your head becomes empty; you cannot think at all; you feel the true significance of forehead, crown, eye, nose, upper lip, mouth, lower lip, even while thoughts forsake you. Now the rest of man becomes active. Arms and fingers begin to act as tools of thinking. But thoughts live in forms. It is thus that a sculptor comes into being.

If a person would become a sculptor, his head must cease to think. It is the most dreadful thing for a sculptor to think with his head. It is nonsense; impossible. The head must be able to rest, to remain empty; arms and hands must begin to shape the world in images. Especially if the human image is to be recreated, the form must stream out of the fingers. Then one begins to understand why the Greeks with their splendid artistry formed the upper part of Athene's head by raising a helmet which is actually part of that head. Her helmet gives expression to the shaping force of the reposing universe. And one understands how, in the extraordinary shaping of the nose, in the way the nose joins the forehead in Greek profiles, in the whole structure, the Greeks expressed a participation in circling cosmic motion.

Oh, it is glorious to feel, in the artistic presentation of a Greek head, how the Greeks became sculptors. It is thus a spiritual sensing and beholding of the world, rather than cerebral thinking, which leads to art, and which receives an impulse from Anthroposophy. For the latter says to itself: There is something in the world which cannot be tackled by thought; to enter it at all you must start to become an artist. Then materialistic-intellectualistic scholarship appears like a man who walks around things externally and describes them logically, but still only skirts them from outside, whereas the anthroposophical way of thinking demands that he immerse himself in the not-himself, and recreate, with living formative force, what the cosmos created first.

Thus gradually one realizes the following: If as anthroposophist you acquire a real understanding of the physical body which falls away from cosmic space-forms to become a corpse, if you acquire an understanding of the way the soul wishes to be received by spatial forms after death, you become an architect. If you understand the soul's intention of placing itself into space with the unconscious memories of pre-earthly life, then you become an artist of costuming: the other pole from the architectural.

One becomes a sculptor if one feels one's way livingly into the human form as it is shaped by and emerges from the cosmos. If one understands the physical body in all its aspects one becomes, artistically, an architect. If one really grasps the etheric or formative-force body (as it is called in Anthroposophy) in its inner vitality, in its living and weaving, in the way it arches the forehead, models the nose, lets the mouth recede, one becomes a sculptor. The sculptor does nothing more nor less than imitate the form of the etheric body.

If now one looks at soul-life in all its weaving and living, then the manifold world of color becomes a universe; then one gradually acquaints oneself with an “astral” experience of the world. What manifests in color becomes a revelation of the realm of soul.

Let us look at the greenness of plants. We cannot consider this color a subjective experience, cannot think of vibrations as causing the colors, the way a physicist does, for if we do so we lose the plant. These are abstractions. In truth we cannot imagine the plants in a living way without the green. The plant produces the green out of itself. But how? Embedded in it are dead earth-substances thoroughly enlivened. In the plant are iron, carbon, silicic acid, all kinds of earth-substances found, also, in minerals. But in the plant they are woven through and through with life. In observing how life works its way through dead particles to create thereby the plant image, we recognize green as the dead image of life. Everywhere that we look into green surroundings we perceive, not life itself, but its image. In other words, we perceive plants through the fact that they contain dead substances; this is why they are green. That color is the dead image of life ruling on earth. Green is thus a kind of cosmic word proclaiming how life weaves and has its being in plants.

Now look at man. The color which comes closest to a healthy human flesh color is that of fresh peach blossoms in spring. No other color in nature so resembles this skin color, this flush. The inner health of man comes to expression in this peach-blossom-like color; and in it we can learn to apprehend the vital health of man when properly endowed by soul. If the flesh color tends toward green, he is sickly; his soul cannot find right access to his physical body. On the other hand, if the soul in egotistical fashion takes hold of the physical body too strongly, as in the case of a miser, the human being becomes pallid, whitish; also if the soul experiences fear. Between whitish and greenish tones lies the healthy vital peach-blossom flesh-tint. And just as we sense in green the dead image of life, so we can feel in the peach-blossom color of the healthy human being the living image of the soul.

Now the world of color comes to life. The living, through the dead, creates the picture green. The soul forms its own image on the human skin in the peach-blossom-like shade.

Let us look further. The sun appears whitish, and we feel that this whitish color is closely related to light. If we wake in pitch darkness, we know that this is not an environment in which we can fully experience our ego. For that we need light between us and objects; need light between us and the wall, for instance, to allow the wall to act on us from the distance. Then our sense of self is kindled. To repeat: if we wake in light, in what has a relation to white, we feel our ego; if we wake in darkness, in what is related to black, we feel strange in the world. Though I say “light,” I could just as well take another sense impression. You may find a certain contradiction because those born blind never see light. But the important matter is not whether or not we see light directly; it is how we are organized. Even if born blind, man is organized for the light, and the hindrance to ego energy present in the blind is so through absence of light. White is akin to light. If we experience light-resembling white in such a way that we feel how it kindles the ego in space by endowing it with inner strength, then we may express living, not abstract, thought by saying: White is the soul-appearance of spirit.

Now let us take black. When our spirit encounters darkness on waking, we feel paralyzed, deadened. Black is felt as the spiritual image of death.

Imagine living in colors. You experience the world as color and light if you experience green as the dead image of life; peach-blossom color, human flesh-color, as the living image of the soul; white as the soul-image of spirit; black as the spiritual image of death. In saying this I describe a circle. For just note what I said: Green, dead image of the living — it stops at “living.” Peach-blossom color, flesh-color, living image of the soul — it stops at “soul.” White, soul-image of the spirit — having started with soul I rise to the spirit. Black, spiritual image of death — I start with spirit and rise to death; but have at the same time returned, since green was the dead image of life. Returning to what is dead I close the circle. If I drew it on a blackboard you would see that this living weaving in color (in the next lecture I shall speak of blue) becomes a real artistic experience of the astral element in the world.

If one has this artistic experience, if death, life, soul and spirit show forth, as it were, in the wheel of life as one passes from the dead back to the dead through life, soul, spirit; if death, life, soul and spirit appear through light and color as described, then one realizes that one cannot remain in three-dimensional space, one must adopt the plane surface; solve the riddle of space on the plane; lose the space concept.

Just, as sculptors, we abandoned head thinking, so now we lose the concept of space. When everything wants to change into light and color we become painters. The very source of painting opens up. With great inner joy we lay one color alongside another. Colors become revelations of life, death, soul, spirit. By overcoming dead thought we attain to the point where we no longer feel impelled to speak in words, no longer to think in ideas, no longer to mould in forms, but use color and light to represent life and death, spirit and soul, as they have their being in the universe.

In this way Anthroposophy stimulates creation; instead of weaning us away from life as does abstract, idealistic-empirical cognition, it gives us back to life.

But so far we have remained outside man, considering his surface: his healthy peach-blossom tones, his pale-whitish color when his spirit plunges too deeply into the physical body, and his greenish shade when, because of sickness, his soul cannot fill that body. We have remained on the surface.

If we now enter man's inner nature, we find something set against the external world-configuration: a marvelous harmony between the breath rhythm and blood rhythm. The rhythm of breathing — a normal human being breathes eighteen times per minute — is transferred to man's nerves, becomes motion. Physiology knows very little about this process. The rhythm of breathing is contained, in a delicate psycho-spiritual manner, in the nerve system.

As for the blood rhythm, it originates in the metabolic system. In a normal adult, four pulse beats correspond to one breath rhythm; seventy-two pulse beats per minute. What lives in the blood, that is, the ego, the sunlike nature in man, plays upon the breathing system and, through it, upon the nervous system. If one looks into the human eye, one finds there some extremely fine ramifications of blood vessels. Here the blood pulsation meets the currents of the visual nerve spread through the eye. A marvelously artistic process takes place when the blood circulation plays upon a visual nerve that moves four times more slowly.

Now look at the spinal cord, its nerves extending in all directions, observe the blood vessels, and become aware of an inward playing of the whole sun-implanted blood system upon the earth-given nervous system. The Greeks with their artistic natures were aware of this interrelation. They saw the sun-like in man, the playing of the blood system upon the nervous system, as the God Apollo; and the spinal cord with its wonderful ramification of strings, upon which the sun principle plays, as Apollo's lyre.

Just as we meet architecture, sculpture, the art of costuming and painting when we approach man from the external world, so we meet music, rhythm, beat, when we approach the inner man and trace the marvelous artistic forming and stirring which take place between blood and nerve system.

Compared to external music, that performed between blood and nerve system in the human organism is of far greater sublimity. And when it is metamorphosed into poetry, one can feel how, in the word, this inward music is again released outward. Take the Greek hexameter with its initial three long syllables followed by a caesura, and how the blood places the four syllable lengths into the breath. To scan the first half of an hexameter line properly is to indicate how our blood meets, impinges on, the nervous system.

In relation to declamation and recitation, we must try to solve the riddle of the divine artist in man. I shall consider this more explicitly in the next lecture. But, having studied man's nature from without through architecture, sculpture and painting, we now penetrate into his inner nature and arrive at the arts of music and poetry; a living comprehension of world and man passes over into artistic feeling and the stimulus to artistic creation.

If at this point man feels that here on earth he does not fulfil what lies in his archetype, with its abode in the heavens, then there arises in him an artistic longing for some outer image of that archetype. Whereupon he can gain the power to become an instrument for bringing to expression the true relation of man to the world by becoming a eurythmist. The eurythmist says: All the movements which I ordinarily carry out here on earth do less then justice to the mobile archetype of man. To present the ideal human archetype I must begin by finding a way to insert myself into its motions. These motions, through which man endeavors to imitate in space the movements of his heavenly archetype, constitute eurythmy. Therefore it is not just mimicry, nor mere dancing, but stands midway between. Mimic art is chiefly a support for the spoken word. If the need is to express something for which words do not suffice, man supplements word with gesture; thus arises mimic art. It expresses the insufficiency of the words standing alone. Mimic art is indicative gesture.

The art of dancing arises when language is forgotten altogether, when the will manifests so strongly it forces the soul to surrender and follow the movement-suggesting body. The art of the dance is sweeping ecstatic gesture.

We may say: mimic art is indicative gesture; art of dance, sweeping ecstatic gesture. Between the two stands the visible speech of eurythmy which is neither indicative nor sweeping but expressive gesture, just as the word itself is expressive gesture. For a word is really a gesture in air. When we form a word, our mouth presses the air into a certain invisible gesture, imbued with thought, which, by causing vibrations, becomes audible. Whoever is able with sensory-supersensory vision to observe what is formed by the speaking mouth sees, in air, the invisible gestures being made there as words. If one imitates these gestures with the whole body, one has eurythmy, an expressive visible gesture. Eurythmy is the transformation of an air gesture into a visible expressive gesture of the limbs.

I shall touch on all this in my coming lecture on Anthroposophy and poetry. Today I wished chiefly to indicate how anthroposophical, in contrast to intellectualistic-materialistic, knowledge does not kill with its thoughts; does not turn a person into a commentator on art who thereby buries it, but, rather, causes an artistic spring, a fountain of phantasy, to well up. Turns him into an enjoyer or creator of art; verifies what must be emphasized over and over again, namely, that art, religion and science are sisters who once upon a time became estranged, but who must again enter into a sisterly relationship if man is to function as a complete human being. Thus scholars will cease haughtily to acknowledge a work of art only if they can write a commentary on it and otherwise reject it, but will say: What I interpret as thought engenders a need to fashion it artistically by means of architecture, sculpture, painting, music, poetry.

Goethe's saying that art is a kind of knowledge is true, because all other forms of knowledge, taken together, do not constitute a complete world knowledge. Art — creativity — must be added to what is known abstractly if we are to attain to world knowledge. This union of art and science will produce a religious mood. Because our Dornach building strove for this balance, friends of nationalities other than German petitioned to call it the “Goetheanum,” for it was Goethe who said:

Who possesses science and art
Possesses religion as well;
Who possesses the first two not,
O grant him religion.

For if true art and true science flow together livingly, the result is a religious life. Conversely religion, far from denying science or art, must strive toward both with all possible energy and vitality.


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