Saturday, August 28, 2010

"True art is an expression of our human search for a relationship with the spiritual"

A lecture given by Rudolf Steiner on June 2, 1923

Yesterday I tried to show how the anthroposophical world-conception stresses, more intensively than is possible under the influence of materialism, the artistic element; and how Anthroposophy feels about architecture, about the art of costuming (though this may call forth smiles), and about sculpture as dealing artistically with the form of man himself, whose head, in a certain sense, points to the whole human being.

Let us review the most important aspects of this threefold artistic perception of the world. In architectural forms we see what the human soul expects when it leaves the physical body at death or otherwise. During earth life the soul is (so I said) accustomed to enter into spatial relations with its environment through the physical body, and to experience spatial forms. But these are only outer forms. When at death the human soul leaves the physical world, it tries, as it were, to impress its own form on space; looks for the lines, planes and forms which can enable it to grow out of space and into the spiritual world. These are the forms of architecture insofar as they are artistic. Thus, if we would understand architecture's artistic element we must consider the soul's space-needs after it has left the three-dimensional body and three-dimensional world.

The artistic element in costuming represents something else; and I have described the joy of primitive people in their garments, and their sense — on dipping down into the physical body — of finding in it a sheath which did not harmonize with what they had experienced during their sojourn in the spiritual world; and how out of this deprivation there arose an instinctive longing to create clothes which in color and pattern corresponded to their memory of pre-earthly existence. The costumes of primitive peoples represent what might be called an unskillful copying of the astral nature of man as it existed before he entered earthly life.

Thus a contrast. Whereas architecture shows the human soul's striving on its departure from the body, the art of costuming shows the human soul's striving after descent into the physical world.

Which brings us to a consideration of sculpture.

If we feel, intimately, the significance of the formation of man's head (my last point yesterday) as a metamorphosis of his entire body formation minus head, during his previous incarnation; if we see it as the work of the higher hierarchies on the force relationship of a previous life, then we understand the head, especially its upper part. If, on the other hand, we see correctly the middle of man's head, his nose and lower eyes, then we understand how this part is adapted to his chest formation, for the nose is connected with the chest's breathing. And if we see correctly the lower head, mouth and chin, then we understand that, even in the head, there is a part adapted to the purely earthly. In this way we can understand the whole human form. Furthermore, the super-sensible human being manifests himself directly in the arching of the upper skull, and the protrusion or recession of the lower skull, the facial parts. For an intimate connection exists between the vaulting of the head and the heavens; also an inner connection between the middle of the face and everything circling the earth as air and ether; also between mouth and chin and man's limb and metabolic system, the last an indication of how man is fettered to earth. In this way we can understand the whole human form as an imprint of the spiritual on the immediate present; which means seeing man artistically.

To sum up: in sculpture we behold, spiritually, the human being as he is placed into the present; in architecture we behold something connected with his departure from the body; and in the art of costuming something connected with his entrance into that body. Which means a sharp contrast: whereas architecture begins with the erection of tombs, sculpture shows how man, through his earthly form's direct participation in the spiritual, constantly overcomes the earthly-naturalistic element, how, in every detail of his form and in its entirety, he is an expression of the spiritual.

Thus we have considered those arts which are concerned with spatial forms and which illustrate the different ways in which the human soul is related to the world through the physical body.

If we approach a step nearer the spaceless, we pass from sculpture to painting, an art experienced in the right way only if we take into full account its special medium.

Today, in the fifth post-Atlantean age, painting has assumed a character leading to naturalism. Its prime manifestation is the loss of a deeper understanding for color. The intelligence employed in contemporary painting is a falsified sculptural one. Painters see even human beings this way. The cause is space-perspective, an aspect of painting developed only after the fifth post-Atlantean period. Painters express through lines the fact that something lies in the background, something in the foreground; their purpose being to conjure up on canvas an impression of spatially formed objects. But in doing so they deny the first and foremost attribute of their special medium. A true painter does not create in space, but on the plane, in color, and it is nonsense for him to strive for the spatial.

Please, do not believe me so fantastic as to object to a feeling for space; in the evolution of mankind the development of spatial perspective on the plane was a necessity; that fact is self-evident. But it must now be overcome. This does not mean that in the future painters should be blind to spatial perspective, only that, while understanding it, they should return to color-perspective, employ color-perspective.

To accomplish this we must go beyond theoretic comprehension; the artistic impulse does not spring from theory; it requires something more forceful, something elemental. Fortunately it can be provided. For that purpose I suggest that you look again at some words of mine about the world of color as reported excellently by Albert Steffen in the weekly Das Goetheanum. (The report reads better than the original lectures.) This is the first aspect.

I shall now deal with the second problem.

In nature we see objects which can be counted, weighed and measured; in short, objects dealt with in physics. They appear in various colors. Color, however — this should have become perfectly clear to anthroposophists — color is something spiritual. Now we do see colors in certain natural entities which are not spiritual; that is, in minerals. Recent physicists have made matters easier for themselves by saying that colors cannot inhere in dead substances because colors are mental; they exist within the mind only; outside, material atoms vibrating in dead matter affect eye, nerve, and something else undetermined; as a result of which colors arise in the soul.

This explanation shows physicists at a loss in regard to the problem of color. To throw light on it, let us consider from a certain aspect the colorful dead mineral world.

As pointed out, we do see colors in purely physical things which can be counted, measured, weighed on scales. But what is perceived in physics does not give us colors. We may employ number, measure and weight to our heart's content: we will not arrive at color. That is why physicists say that colors exist only in the mind.

I would like to explain by way of an image. Picture to yourselves that I hold in my left hand a red sheet, in my right a green one, and that with these colored sheets I carry out certain movements. First I cover the red with the green, then the green with the red, making these motions alternately; and in order to give them more character do something additional: move the green upward, the red downard. Say I have today carried out this maneuvre. Now let three weeks pass, at which time I bring before you not a green and red sheet, but two white sheets, and repeat the movements. You immediately remember that, contrary to my present use of white sheets, three weeks ago I produced certain visual impressions with a red and a green sheet. For politeness' sake let us assume that all of you have such a vivid imagination that, in spite of my moving white sheets, you see before you, through recollecting phantasy, the colored phenomenon of three weeks ago, forget all about the white sheets and, because I carry out the same motions, see the same color harmonies called forth, three weeks ago, with the red and green. Because I carry out the same gestures, by association you see what you saw three weeks ago.

The case is similar when we see in nature, for instance, a green precious stone. Only, the jewel is not dependent on this moment's soul-phantasy; it appeals to a phantasy concentrated in our eye, for this human eye with its blood and nerve fibers is in truth constructed by phantasy; it is the result of an effective imagination. And inasmuch as our eye is an organ imbued with phantasy, we cannot perceive a green gem in any other way than that in which, in the immeasurably distant past, it was spiritually constructed out of the green color of the spiritual world. The moment we confront a green precious stone, we transport our eye back into ages long past, and green appears because at that time divine-spiritual beings created this substance through a purely spiritual green. The moment we see green, red, blue, yellow, or any other color in a precious stone, we look back into an infinitely distant past. For (to repeat for emphasis) in beholding colors, we do not merely perceive what is contemporary, we look back into distant time-perspectives. Thus it is quite impossible to see a colored jewel merely in the present, just as it is impossible, while standing at the foot of a mountain, to see in close proximity the ruin at its top; being removed from it, we have to see it in perspective.

In confronting a topaz, say, we look back into time-perspective; look back upon the primal foundation of earthly creation, before the Lemurian epoch of evolution, and see this precious stone created out of the spiritual; that is why it appears yellow. Physics (I have characterized a recent stand) does something absurd. It places behind the world swirling atoms which are supposed to produce colors within us, when all the time it is divine-spiritual beings, creative in the infinitely distant past, who call forth, through colored minerals, a living memory of primeval acts of creativity.

And we can press on to the plant world.

Every spring, when a green carpet of plants is spread over the earth, whoever is able to understand this emergence of greenness sees not merely the present, but also the ancient Sun existence when the plant world was created out of the spiritual, in greenness. We see both mineral and plant colors in the right way when they stimulate us to see in nature the gods' primeval creative activity.

This requires an artistic living with color, which involves experiencing the plane as such. If someone covers the plane with blue, we should sense a retreat, a drawing back; if with red or yellow, we should feel an approach, a pressing forward. In other words, we acquire color-perspective instead of linear perspective: a sense for the plane, for the withdrawal and surging forward of color. In painting, the linear perspective which tries to create an impression of something essentially sculptural upon the plane falsifies; what must be acquired is a sense for the movement of color: intensive rather than extensive. Thus, if a true painter wishes to depict something aggressive, something eager to jump forward, he uses yellow-red; if something quiet, something retreating into the distance, blue-violet. Intensive color-perspective! A study of the old masters reveals that some early Renaissance painters still had what belonged to all pre-Renaissance painters: a feeling for color-perspective. Only with the advent of the fifth post-Atlantean period did linear perspective displace color-perspective.

It is through color-perspective that painting gains a relationship to the spiritual. Strange that today painters chiefly ask themselves: Can we by rendering space more spatial transcend space? Then they try to depict, in a materialistic manner, a fourth dimension. But the fourth dimension can exist only through annihilation of the third, somewhat as debts annihilate wealth. For we do not, on leaving three-dimensional space, enter a four-dimensional space; or, better said, we enter a four-dimensional space which is two-dimensional, because the fourth dimension annihilates the third; only two remain as reality. If we rise from matter's three dimensions to the etheric element, we find everything oriented two-dimensionally, and can understand the etheric only if we conceive of it so. Now you may demur: Yes, but in the etheric I move from here to there, which is to say three-dimensionally. Very well, but the third dimension has no significance for the etheric, only the other two dimensions. The third dimension expresses itself through red, yellow, blue, violet, in the way explained; for in the etheric it is not the third dimension which changes, but color. Regardless of where the plane is placed, the colors change accordingly. Only then can we live with and in color; live two-dimensionally; rise from the spatial arts to those which, like painting, are two-dimensional. We overcome the merely spatial. Our feelings have no relation to the three space-dimensions; only our will. By their very nature, feelings are bound within two dimensions. That is why they are best represented by two-dimensional painting.

You see, we have to struggle free from three-dimensional matter if we would advance from architecture, costuming as an art, and sculpture. Painting is an art which man can experience inwardly. Whether he creates as a painter or just lives in and enjoys a painting, it is a soul event. He experiences inner by outer; experiences color-perspective. We cannot say, as in the case of architecture, that the soul is striving to create the forms it needs when it gazes back into the body; nor, as in the case of sculpture, that the soul is trying to depict man's shape in such a way that it is placed into space full of present meaning. None of this concerns painting. It makes no sense in painting to speak of anything as inside or outside; of the soul as inside or outside. In experiencing color the soul is within the spiritual. Really, what is experienced in painting — despite the imperfections of pigments — is the soul's free moving about in the cosmos.

With music it is different. Now we do not merge inner with outer, but enter directly into that which the soul experiences as the spiritual or psycho-spiritual; leave space entirely. Music is line-like, one-dimensional; is experienced one-dimensionally in the line of time. In music man experiences the world as his own. Now the soul does not assert something it needs upon descending into or leaving the physical; rather it experiences something which lives and vibrates here and now, on earth, in its own soul-spirit nature. Studying the secrets of music, we can discover what the Greeks, who knew a great deal about these matters, meant by the lyre of Apollo. What is experienced musically is really man's hidden adaptation to the inner harmonic-melodic relationships of cosmic existence out of which he was shaped. His nerve fibers, ramifications of the spinal cord, are marvelous musical strings with a metamorphosed activity. The spinal cord culminating in the brain, and distributing its nerve fibers throughout the body, is the lyre of Apollo. Upon these nerve fibers the soul-spirit man is “played” within the earthly sphere. Thus man himself is the world's most perfect instrument; and he can experience artistically the tones of an external musical instrument to the degree that he feels this connection between the sounding of strings of a new instrument, for example, and his own coursing blood and nerve fibers. In other words, man, as nerve man, is inwardly built up of music, and feels it artistically to the degree that he feels its harmonization with the mystery of his own musical structure.

Thus, in devoting himself to the musical, man appeals to his earth-dwelling soul-spirit nature. The discovery by anthroposophical vision of the mysteries of this nature will have a fructifying effect, not just on theory, but upon actual musical creation.

In discussing the various arts I have not been theorizing. It is not theorizing when I say: In beholding the lifeless material world in color we stir cosmic memory: and through anthroposophical vision learn to understand how in precious stones, in colored objects of all kinds, we call to mind the creative acts of the primordially active gods; and feel, therefore, the enthusiasm which only an experience of the spiritual kindles. This is no theorizing; this permeates the soul with inner force. Nor does any theory of art emerge therefrom. Only artistic creation and enjoyment are stimulated. For true art is an expression of man's search for a relationship with the spiritual, whether the spiritual longed for when his soul leaves the body, or the spiritual which he desires to remember when he dips down into a body, or the spiritual to which he feels more related than to his natural surroundings, or the spiritual as manifested in colors when outside and inside lose their separateness and the soul moves through the cosmos, freely, swimming and hovering, as it were, experiencing its own cosmic life, existing everywhere; or (our last consideration) the spiritual as expressed in earth life, in the relationship between man's soul-spirit and the cosmic, in music.

Which summary brings us to the world of poetry and drama.

Often in the past I have called attention to the way poetry was felt in ancient times when man still had a living relationship to the spirit-soul world, when poetry, including poetic dramas, by reason of that fact, was artistic through and through. Yesterday I pointed out that in artistic ages it would not have been considered sensible for playwrights to copy on the stage the way Smith and Jones move in the market place of Gotham or at home, inasmuch as their movements and conversation, there, are much richer than in any stage representation; that it would have seemed absurd, for instance, to the Greeks of the classical age; they never could have understood naturalism's strange attempt to imitate nature right down to “realistic” stage sets. Just as it would not be true painting if we tried to project color into three-dimensional space instead of honoring its own dynamics, so it is not stage art if we have no artistic feeling for its own particular medium. Actually a thorough-going naturalism would preclude a stage room with three walls and an audience in front of it. There are no such rooms; in winter we would freeze to death in them. To act entirely naturalistically one would have to close the stage with a fourth wall and play behind it. But how many people would buy tickets to a play enacted on a stage closed on four sides? Though speaking in extremes, I refer to a reality.

Now I must draw your attention again to the way Homer begins his Iliad: “Sing, oh Goddess, the wrath of Achilles, Son of Peleus.” This is no mere phrase. Homer experienced in a positive way the need to raise himself up to the level of a super-earthly divine-spiritual being who would make use of his body in artistic creation. Epic poetry points to the upper gods, those considered female because they transmitted fructifying forces: the Muses. Homer had to offer himself up to these upper gods in order to bring to expression, in the events of his great poem, the thought element of the cosmos. Epic poetry always means letting the upper gods speak; means putting one's person at their disposal. Homer begins his Odyssey this way: “Tell me, oh Muse, of that ingenious hero who wandered afar,” meaning Odysseus. Never would it have occurred to him to impose upon the people something which he himself had seen or thought out. Why do what everybody can do for himself? Homer put his organism at the disposal of the upper divine-spiritual beings that they might express through him how they perceived earthly human relationships. Out of such a collaboration arises epic poetry.

And the art of the drama? It originated — we need only to think of the period prior to Aeschylus — from a presentation of the god Dionysus working up out of the depths. At first it was Dionysus alone, then Dionysus and his helpers, a chorus grouped around him as a reflection of what is carried out, not by human beings, but by the subterranean gods, gods of will, making use of human beings to bring to manifestation not the human but divine will. Only gradually, in Greece, as man's connection with the spiritual fell into oblivion, did the divine action depicted on the stage turn into purely human action. The process took place between the time of Aeschylus, when divine impulses still penetrated human beings, and the time of Euripides, when men appeared on the stage as men, though still bearing super-earthly impulses. Real naturalism became possible only in modern times.

In poetry and drama man must find his way back to the spiritual.

Thus we may say in summary: Epic poetry turns to the upper gods, drama to the lower gods. True drama shows the divine world lying below the earth, the chthonic world, rising up onto the earth for the reason that man can make himself into an instrument for the action of this netherworld. In contrast, epic poetry sees the upper spiritual world sink down; the Muse descends and, making use of man through his head, proclaims man's earthly accomplishments or else those out in the universe. In drama the subterranean will of the gods rises up from the depths, making use of human bodies in order to give free reign to their wills.

One might say: Here we have the fields of earthly existence: out of the clouds descends the divine Muse of epic art; out of earthly depths there rise, like vapor and smoke, the Dionysian, chthonic divine-spiritual powers, working their way upward through men's wills. We have to penetrate earth regions to see how the dramatic element rises like a volcano, and the epic element sinks down from above, like a blessing of rain. And it is right here on this same plane with ourselves that the cosmic element is enticed and made gay, joyous, full of laughter, through nymphs and fire spirits; right here that the messengers of the upper gods cooperate with the lower: right here in the middle region that man becomes lyrical. Now man does not feel the dramatic element rising up from below, nor the epic element sinking down from above; he experiences the lyrical element living on the same plane as himself: a delicate, sensitive, spiritual element, which does not rain down upon forests nor erupt like volcanoes, splitting trees, but, rather, rustles in leaves, expresses joy through blossoms, wafts gently in wind. In whatever on our own plane lets us divine the spiritual in matter, stretching hearts, pleasantly stimulating breath, merging our souls with outer nature, as symbol of the soul-spiritual world — in all this there lives and weaves a lyrical element which looks up, with happy countenance, to the upper gods, and down, with saddened countenance, to the gods of the underworld. The lyrical can tense up into the dramatic-lyrical or quiet itself down into the epic-lyrical. For the hallmark of the lyrical, whatever its form, is this: man experiences what lives and weaves in the far reaches of the earth with his middle nature, his feeling nature.

You see, if we really enter the spirituality of world phenomena, we gradually transform dead abstract concepts into a living, colorful, form-bearing weaving and being. Because what surrounds us lives in the artistic, mere intellectual activity can, almost unnoticed, be transformed into artistic activity. That is why we constantly feel a need to enliven impertinently abstract conceptual definitions — physical body, ether body, astral body, all such concepts, these impertinently rigid, philistine and horribly scientific formulations — into artistic color and form. This is an inner, not merely outer, need of Anthroposophy.

Therefore the hope may be expressed that all mankind will extricate itself from naturalism, drowned as it is in philistinism and pedantry through everything abstract, theoretical, merely scientific, practical without being really practical. Man needs a new impetus. Without this impulse, this swing, Anthroposophy cannot thrive. In an inartistic atmosphere it goes short of breath; only in an artistic element can it breathe freely. Rightly understood, it will lead over to the genuinely artistic without losing any of its cognitional character.


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