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The Arts and Their Mission

Schmidt Number: S-5287

On-line since: 15th March, 2007



AY before yesterday I tried to show that the anthroposophical knowledge which accompanies an inner life of the soul does not estrange one from artistic awareness and creation. On the contrary, whoever takes hold of Anthroposophy with full vitality opens up within himself the very source of such activity. And I indicated how the meaning of any art is best read through its own particular medium.

After discussing architecture, the art of costuming, and sculpture, I went on to explain the experience of color in painting, and took pains to show that color is not merely something which covers the surface of things and beings, but radiates out from them, revealing their inner nature.

For instance, I pointed out that green is the image of life, revealing the life of the plant world. Though it has its origin in the plant's dead mineral components, it is yet the means whereby the living shows forth in a dead image. It is fascinating that life can thus reveal itself. In that connection, consider how the living human figure appears in the dead image of sculpture; how life can be expressed through dead, rigid forms. In green we have a similar case in that it appears as the dead image of life without laying claim to life itself.

I shall repeat still other details from the last lecture in order to show how the course of the world moves on, then returns into itself; and shall do this by presenting the colors which make up its various elements: life, soul, spirit. I said I would draw this complete circle of the cosmic in the world of color. As I told you before, green appears as the dead image of life; in green life lies, as it were, concealed.

 Arts and Their Mission, Diagram 1
Diagram 1
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If we take the flesh color of Caucasian man, which resembles spring's fresh peach-blossom color, we have the living image of the soul. If we contemplate white in an artistic way, we have the soul image of the spirit. (The spirit as such conceals itself.) And if, as artists, we take hold of black, we have the spiritual image of death. And the circle is closed.

I have apprehended green, flesh color, white and black in their aesthetic manifestation; they represent the self-contained life of the cosmos within the world of color. If, artistically, we focus attention upon this closed circle of colors, our feeling will tell us of the need to use each of them as a self-contained image.

Naturally, in dealing with the arts I must concern myself not with abstract intellect, but aesthetic feeling. The arts must be recognized artistically. For that reason I cannot furnish conceptual proof that green, peach-blossom, white and black should be treated as self-contained images. But it is as if each wants to have a contour within which to express itself. Thus they have, in a sense, shadow natures. White, as dimmed light, is the gentlest shadow; black the heaviest. Green and peach-blossom are images in the sense of saturated surfaces; which makes them, also, shadowlike. Thus these four colors are image or shadow colors, and we must try to experience them as such.

The matter is quite different with red, yellow and blue. Considering these colors with unbiased artistic feeling, we feel no urge to see them with well-defined contours on the plane, only to let them radiate. Red shines toward us, the dimness of blue has a tranquil effect, the brilliance of yellow sparkles outward. Thus we may call flesh color, green, black and white the image or shadow colors, whereas blue, yellow and red are radiance or lustre colors. To put it another way: In the radiance, lustre and activity of red we behold the element of the vital, the living; we may call it the lustre of life. If the spirit does not wish merely to reveal itself in abstract uniformity as white, but to speak to us with such inward intensity that our soul can receive it, then it sparkles in yellow; yellow is the radiance or lustre of the spirit. If the soul wishes to experience itself inwardly and deeply, withdrawing from external phenomena and resting within itself, this may be expressed artistically in the mild shining of blue, the lustre of the soul. To repeat: red is the lustre of life, blue the lustre of the soul, yellow the lustre of the spirit.

Colors form a world in themselves and we understand them with our feelings if we experience the lustre colors red, yellow, blue, as bestowing a gleam of revelation upon the image colors, peach-blossom, green, black and white. Indeed, we become painters through a soul experience of the world of color, through learning to live with the colors, feeling what each individual color tries to convey. When we paint with blue we feel satisfied only if we paint it darker at the edge and lighter toward the center. If we let yellow speak its own language, we make it strong in the center and gradually fading and lightening toward the periphery. By demanding this treatment, each reveals its character. Thus forms arise out of the colors themselves; and it is out of their world that we learn to paint sensitively.

If we wish to represent a spiritually radiant figure, we cannot do otherwise than paint it a yellow which decreases in strength toward its edge. If we wish to depict the feeling soul, we can express this reality with a blue garment — a blue which becomes gradually lighter toward its center. From this point of view one can appreciate the painters of the Renaissance, Raphael, Michelangelo even Leonardo, for they still had this color experience.

In the paintings of earlier periods one finds the inner or color-perspective of which the Renaissance still had an echo. Whoever feels the radiance of red sees how it leaps forward, how it brings its reality close, whereas blue retreats into the distance. When we employ red and blue we paint in color-perspective; red brings subjects near, blue makes them retreat. Such color-perspective lives in the realm of soul and spirit.

During the age of materialism there arose spatial perspective, which takes into account sizes in space. Now distant things were painted not blue but small; close things not red but large. This perspective belongs to the materialistic age which, living in space and matter, prefers to paint in those elements.

Today we live in an age when we must find our way back to the true nature of painting. The plane surface is a vital part of the painter's media. Above everything else, an artist, any artist, must develop a feeling for his media. It must he so strong that — for instance — a sculptor working in wood knows that human eyes must be dug out of it; he focuses on what is concave; hollows out the wood. On the other hand, a sculptor working in marble or some other hard substance does not hollow out; he focuses his attention on, say, the brow jutting forward above the eye; takes into consideration what is convex. Already in his preparatory work in plasticine or clay he immerses himself in his material. The sculptor in marble lays on; the woodcarver takes away, hollows out. They must live with their material; must listen and understand its vital language.

The same is true of color. The painter feels the plane surface only if the third spatial dimension has been extinguished; and it is extinguished if he feels the qualitative character of color as contributing another kind of third dimension, blue retreating, red approaching. Then matter is abolished instead of — as in spatial perspective — imitated. Certainly I do not speak against the latter. In the age which started with the fifteenth century it was natural and self-evident, and added an important element to the ancient art of painting. But today it is essential to realize that, having passed through materialism, it is time for painting to return to a more spiritual conception, to return to color-perspective.

In discussing any art we must not theorize but (I repeat) abide, feelingly, within its own particular medium. In speaking about mathematics, mechanics, physics, we must kill our feeling and use only intellect. In art, however, real perception does not come by way of intellect, art historians of the nineteenth century notwithstanding. Once a Munich artist told me how he and his friends, in their youth, went to a lecture of a famous art historian to find out whether or not they could learn something from him. They did not go a second time, but coined an ironical derogatory phrase for all his theorizing. What can be expressed through the vital weaving of colors can also be expressed through the living weaving of tones. But the world of tones has to do with man's inner life (whereas the sculptor in three-dimensional space and the painter on a two-dimensional plane express what manifests etherically in space). With the musical element we enter man's inner world, and it is extremely important to focus attention upon its meaning within the evolution of mankind.

Those of my listeners who have frequently attended my lectures or are acquainted with anthroposophical literature know that we can go back in the evolution of mankind to what we call the Atlantean epoch when the human race, here on earth, was very different from today, being endowed with an instinctive clairvoyance which made it possible to behold, in waking dreams, the spiritual behind the physical. Parallel to this clairvoyance man had a special experience of music. In those ancient days music gave him a feeling of being lifted out of the body. Though it may seem paradoxical, the people of those primeval ages particularly enjoyed the chords of the seventh. They played music and sang in the interval of the seventh which is not today considered highly musical. It transported them from the human into the divine world.

During the transition from the experience of the seventh to that of the pentatonic scales, this sense of the divine gradually diminished. Even so, in perceiving and emphasizing the fifth, a feeling of liberating the divine from the physical lingered on. But whereas with the seventh man felt himself completely removed into the spiritual world, with the fifth he reached up to the very limits of his physical body; felt his spiritual nature at the boundary of his skin, so to speak, a sensation foreign to modern ordinary consciousness.

The age which followed the one just described — you know this from the history of music — was that of the third, the major and minor third. Whereas formerly music had been experienced outside man in a kind of ecstasy, now it was brought completely within him. The major and minor third, and with them the major and minor scales, took music right into man. As the age of the fifth passed over into that of the third man began to experience music inwardly, within his bounding skin.

We see a parallel transition: on the one hand, in painting the spatial perspective which penetrates into space; on the other, in music, the scales of the third which penetrate into man's etheric-physical body; which is to say, in both directions a tendency toward naturalistic conception. In spatial perspective we have external naturalism, in the musical experience of the third “internal” naturalism.

To grasp the essential nature of things is to understand man's position in the cosmos. The future development of music will be toward spiritualization, and involve a recognition of the special character of the individual tone. Today we relate the individual tone to harmony or melody in order that, together with other tones, it may reveal the mystery of music. In the future we will no longer recognize the individual tone solely in relation to other tones, which is to say according to its planal dimension, but apprehend it in depth; penetrate into it and discover therein its affinity for hidden neighboring tones. And we will learn to feel the following: If we immerse ourselves in the tone it reveals three, five or more tones; the single tone expands into a melody and harmony leading straight into the world of spirit. Some modern musicians have made beginnings in this experience of the individual tone in its dimension of depth; in modern musicianship there is a longing for comprehension of the tone in its spiritual profundity, and a wish — in this as in the other arts — to pass from the naturalistic to the spiritual element.

Man's special relationship to the world as expressed through the arts becomes clear if we advance from those of the outer world, that is architecture, art of costuming, sculpture and painting, to those of the inner world, that is to music and poetry. I deeply regret the impossibility of carrying out my original intention of having Frau Dr. Steiner illustrate, with declamation and recitation, my discussion of the poetic art. Unfortunately she has not yet recovered from a severe cold. During this Norwegian lecture course my own cold forces me to a rather inartistic croaking, and we did not want to add Frau Dr. Steiner's.

Rising to poetry, we feel ourselves confronted by a great enigma. Poetry originates in phantasy, a thing usually taken as synonymous with the unreal, the non-existent, with which men fool themselves. But what power expresses itself through phantasy?

To understand that power, let us look at childhood. The age of childhood does not yet show the characteristics of phantasy. At best it has dreams. Free creative phantasy does not yet live and manifest in the child. It is not, however, something which, at a certain age in manhood, suddenly appears out of nothingness. Phantasy lies hidden in the child; he is actually full of it. What does it do in him? Whoever can observe the development of man with the unbiased eye of the spirit sees how at a tender age the brain, and indeed the whole of his organism, is still, as compared with man's later shape, quite unformed. In the shaping of his own organism the child is inwardly the most significant sculptor. No mature sculptor is able to create such marvelous cosmic forms as does the child when, between birth and the change of teeth, it plastically elaborates his organism. The child is a superb sculptor whose plastic power works as an inner formative force of growth. The child is also a musical artist, for he tunes his nerve strands in a distinctly musical fashion. To repeat: power of phantasy is power to grow and harmonize the organism.

When the child has reached the time of the change of teeth, around his seventh year, then advances to puberty, he no longer needs such a great amount of plastic-musical power of growth and formation as, once, for the care of the body. Something remains over. The soul is able to withdraw a certain energy for other purposes, and this is the power of phantasy: the natural power of growth metamorphosed into a soul force. If you wish to understand phantasy, study the living force in plant forms, and in the marvelous inner configuratons of the organism as created by the ego; study everything creative in the wide universe, everything molding and fashioning and growing in the subsconscious regions of the cosmos; then you will have a conception of what remains over when man has advanced to a point in the elaborating of his own organism when he no longer needs the full quota of his power of growth and formative force. Part of it now rises up into the soul to become the power of phantasy. The final left-over (I cannot call it sediment, because sediment lies below while this rises upward) — the ultimate left-over is power of intellect. Intellect is the finely sifted-out power of phantasy, the last upward-rising remainder.

People ignore this fact. They see intellect as of greater reality. But phantasy is the first child of the natural formative and growth forces; and because it cannot emerge as long as there is active growing, does not express direct reality. Only when reality has been taken care of does phantasy make its appearance in the soul. In quality and essential nature it is the same as the power of growth. In other words, what promotes growth of an arm in childhood is the same force which works in us later, in soul transformation, as poetic, artistic phantasy. This fact cannot be grasped theoretically; we must grasp it with feeling and will. Only then will we be able to experience the appropriate reverence for phantasy, and under certain circumstances the appropriate humor; in brief, to feel phantasy as a divine, active power in the world.

Coming to expression through man, it was a primary experience for those human beings of ancient times of whom I spoke in the last lecture, when art and knowledge were a unity, when knowledge was acquired through artistic rites rather than the abstractions of laboratory and clinic; when physicians gained their knowledge of man not from the dissecting room but from the Mysteries where the secrets of health and disease, the secrets of the nature of man, were divulged in high ceremonies.

It was sensed that the god who lives and weaves in the plastic and musical formative forces of the growing child continues to live in phantasy. At that time, when people felt the deep inner relationship between religion, art and science, they realized that they had to find their way to the divine, and take it into themselves for poetic creation; otherwise phantasy would be desecrated.

Thus ancient poetic drama never presented common man, for the reason that mankind's ancient dramatic phantasy would have considered it absurd to let ordinary human beings converse and carry out all kinds of gestures on the stage. Such a fact may sound paradoxical today, but the anthroposophical researcher — knowing all the objections of his opponents — must nevertheless state the truth. The Greeks prior to Sophocles and Aeschylus would have asked: Why present something on the stage which exists, anyhow, in life? We need only to walk on the street or enter a room to see human beings conversing and gesturing. This we see everywhere. Why present it on a stage? To do so would have seemed foolish.

Actors were to represent the god in man, and above all the god who, rising out of terrestrial depths, gave man his will power. With a certain justification our predecessors, the ancient Greeks, experienced this will-endowment as rising up out of the earth. The gods of the depths who, entering man, endow him with will, these Dionysiac gods were to be given stage presentation. Man was, so to speak, the vessel of the Dionysiac godhead. Actors in the Mysteries were human beings who received into themselves a god. It was he who filled them with enthusiasm.

On the other hand, man who rose to the goddess of the heights (male gods were recognized as below, female gods in the heights), man who rose in order that the divine could sink into him became an epic poet who wished not to speak himself but to let the godhead speak through him. He offered himself as bearer to the goddess of the heights that she, through him, might look upon earth events, upon the deeds of Achilles, Agamemnon, Odysseus and Ajax. Ancient epic poets did not care to express the opinions of such heroes; opinions to be heard every day in the market place. It was what the goddess had to say about the earthly-human element when people surrendered to her influence that was worth expression in epic poetry. “Sing, oh goddess, the wrath of Achilles, son of Peleus”: thus did Homer begin the Iliad. “Sing, oh goddess, of that ingenious hero,” begins the Odyssey. This is no phrase; it is a deeply inward confusion of a true epic poet who lets the goddess speak through him instead of speaking himself, who receives the divine into his phantasy, that child of the cosmic forces of growth, so that the divine may speak about world events.

After the times had become more and more materialistic, Klopstock, who still had real artistic feeling, wrote his Messiade. Inasmuch as man no longer looked up to the gods, he did not dare to say: Sing, oh goddess, the redemption of sinful man as fulfilled here on earth by the Messiah. He no longer dared to do this in the eighteenth century, but cried instead: “Sing, oh immortal soul, of sinful man's redemption.” In other words, he still possessed something which was lifted above the human level. His words reveal a certain bashfulness about what was fully valid in ancient times: “Sing, oh goddess, the wrath of Achilles, son of Peleus.”

Thus the dramatist felt as if the god of the depths had risen, and that he himself was to be that god's vessel; the epic poet as if the Muse, the goddess, had descended into him in order to judge earthly conditions. The ancient Greek actor avoided presentation of the individual human element. That is why he wore high thick-soled shoes, cothurni, and used a simple musical instrument through which his voice resounded. He desired to lift the dramatic action above the individual-personal.

I do not speak against naturalism. For a certain age it was right and inevitable. For when Shakespeare conceived his dramatic characters in their supreme perfection, man had arrived at presenting, humanly, the human element. Quite a different urge and artistic feeling held sway at that period. But the time has come when, in poetic art also, we must find our way back to the spiritual, to presenting dramatic figures in whom man himself, as a spiritual as well as bodily being, can move within the all-permeating spiritual events of the world.

I have made a first weak attempt in my Mystery dramas. There human beings converse not as people do in the market place or on the street, but as they do when higher spiritual impulses play between them, and their instincts, desires and passion are crossed by paths of destiny, of karma, active through millennia in repeated lives.

It is imperative to turn to the spiritual in all spheres. We must make good use of what naturalism has brought us; must not lose what we have acquired by having for centuries now held up, as an ideal of art, the imitation of nature. Those who deride materialism are bad artists, bad scientists. Materialism had to happen. We must not look down mockingly on earthly man and the material world. We must have the will to penetrate into this material world spiritually; nor despise the gifts of scientific materialism and naturalistic art; must — though not by developing dry symbolism or allegory — find our way back to the spiritual. Symbolism and allegory are inartistic. The starting point for a new life of art can come only by direct stimulation from the source whence spring all anthroposophical ideas. We must become artists, not symbolists or allegorists, by rising, through spiritual knowledge, more and more into the spiritual world.

It can be attained quite specially if, in the art of recitation and declamation, we transcend naturalism. In this connection we should remember how genuine artists like Schiller and Goethe formed their poems. In Schiller's soul there lived an indefinite melody, and in Goethe's an indefinite picture, a form, before ever they put down the words of their poems. Often, today, the chief emphasis in recitation and declamation is placed on prose content. But that is only a makeshift. The prose content of a poem, what lies in the words as such, is of little importance; what is important is the way the poet shapes and forms it. Ninety-nine percent of those who write verse are not artists. In a poem everything depends on the way the poet uses the musical element, rhythm, melody, the theme, the imaginative element, the evocation of sounds. Single words give the prose content. The crux is how we treat that prose content; whether, for instance, we choose a fast or slow rhythm. We express joyful anticipation by a fast rhythm. If we say: The hero was full of joyful anticipation, we have prose even if it occurs in a poem. It is essential, in such an instance, to choose a rapidly moving rhythm. When I say: The woman was deeply sad, I have prose, even in a poem. But when I choose a rhythm which flows in soft slow waves, I express sorrow. To repeat, everything depends on form, on rhythm. When I say, The hero struck a heavy blow, it is prose. But if the poet speaks in fuller, not ordinary tones, if he offers a fuller u-tone, a fuller o-tone, instead of a's and e's, he expresses his intention in the very formation of speech.

In declamation and recitation one has to learn to shape language, to foster the elements of melody, rhythm, beat, not prose content. One has also to gauge the effect of a dull sound upon a preceding light sound, and a light sound upon the following dark one, thus expressing a soul experience in the treatment of the speech sounds. Words are the medium of recitation and declamation: a little-understood art which we have striven to develop. Frau Dr. Steiner has given years to it. When we return to artistic feeling on a higher level we return to speech formation as contrasted with the modern emphasis on prose content. Nothing derogatory shall be said against prose content. Having achieved it through the naturalism which made us human, we must keep it. At the same time we must again become imbued with soul and spirit. Word-content can never express soul and spirit. The poet is justified in saying: “If the soul speaks, alas, it is no longer the soul that speaks.” For prose is not the soul's language. It expresses itself in beat, rhythm, melodious theme, image, and the formation of speech sounds. The soul is present as long as the poem expresses rising and falling inner movements.

I make a distinction between declamation and recitation: two separate arts. Declamation has its home in the north; and is effective primarily through the weight of its syllables: chief stress, secondary stress. In contrast, the reciting artist has always lived in the south. In recitation man takes into account not the weight but the measure of the syllables: long syllable, short syllable. Greek reciters, presenting their texts concisely, experienced the hexameter and pentameter as mirrors of the relationship between breathing and blood circulation. There are approximately eighteen breaths and seventy-two pulse-beats per minute. Breath and pulse-beat chime together. The hexameter has three long syllables, the fourth is the caesura. One breath measures four pulse beats. This one-to-four relation appearing in the measure and scanning of the hexameter brings to expression the innermost nature of man, the secret of the relation of breath and blood circulation.

This reality cannot be perceived with our intellect; it is an instinctive, intuitive-artistic experience. And beautifully illustrated by the two versions of Goethe's Iphigenie when spoken one after the other. We have done that often and would have done so today if Frau Dr. Steiner were not indisposed. Before he went to Italy, Goethe wrote his Iphigenie as Nordic artist (to use Schiller's later word for him), in a form which can be presented only through the art of declamation, chief stress, secondary stress, when the life of the blood preponderates. In Italy he rewrote this work. It is not always noticed, but a fine artistic feeling can clearly distinguish the German from the Roman Iphigenie. Because Goethe introduced the recitative element into his Northern declamatory Iphigenie, this Italian, this Roman Iphigenie asks for an altered reading. If one reads both versions, one after the other, the marvelous difference between declamation and recitation becomes strikingly clear. Recitation was at home in Greece where breath measured the faster blood circulation. Declamation was at home in the North where man lived in his inmost nature. Blood is a quite special fluid because it contains the inmost human element. In it lives the human character. That is why the Northern poetic artist became a declamatory artist.

As long as Goethe knew only the North he was a declamatory artist and wrote the declamatory German Iphigenie; but transformed it when he had been softened to meter and measure through seeing the Italian Renaissance art which he felt to be Greek. I do not wish to spin theories, I wish to describe feelings which anthroposophists can kindle for the world of art. Only so shall we develop a true artistic feeling for everything.

One more point. How do we behave on a stage today? Standing in the background we ponder how we would walk down a street or through a drawing-room, then behave that way on the stage. It is all right if we introduce this personal element, but it does lead us away from real style in stage direction, which always means taking hold of the spirit. On the stage, with the audience sitting in front, we cannot behave naturalistically. Art appreciation is largely immersed in the unconsciousness of the instincts. It is one thing if with my left eye I see somebody walk by, passing, from his point of view, from right to left, while, from mine, from left to right. It is quite another thing if this happens in the opposite direction. Each time I have a different sensation; something different is imparted. We must relearn the spiritual significance of directions, what it means when an actor walks from left to right, or from right to left, from back to front, or vice versa; must feel the impossibility of standing in the foreground when about to start a long speech. The actor should say the first words far back, then gradually advance, making a gesture toward the audience in front and addressing both the left and right. Every movement can be spiritually apprehended out of the general picture, and not merely as a naturalistic imitation of actions on the street or in the drawing-room. Unfortunately people no longer wish to make an artistic study of all this; they have become lazy. Materialism permits indolence. I have wondered why people who demand full naturalism — there are such — do not adopt a stage with four walls. No room has three. But with a four-wall set how many tickets would be sold?

Through such paradoxes we can call attention to the great desideratum: true art in contrast to mere imitation. Now that naturalism has followed the grand road from naturalistic stage productions to the films (neither philistine nor pedant in this regard, I know how to value something for which I do not care too much) we must find the way back to presentation of the spiritual, the genuine, the real; must refind the divine-human element in art by refinding the divine-spiritual.

Anthroposophy would take the path to the spirit in the plastic arts also. That was our intention in building the Goetheanum at Dornach, this work of art wrested from us. And we must do it in the new art of eurythmy. And in recitation and declamation. Today people do breathing exercises and manipulate their speech organism. But the right method is to bring order into the speech organism by listening to one's own rhythmically spoken sentence, which is to say, through exercises in breathing-while-speaking. These things need reorientation. This cannot originate in theory, proclamations and propaganda; only in spiritual-practical insight into the facts of life, both material and spiritual.

Art, always a daughter of the divine, has become estranged from her parent. If it finds its way back to its origins and is again accepted by the divine, then it will become what it should within civilization, within world-wide culture: a boon for mankind.

I have given only sketchy indications of what Anthroposophy wishes to do for art, but they should make clear an immense desire to unfold the right element in every sphere. The need is not for theory — art is not theory. The need is for living, fully living, in the artistic quality while striving for understanding. Such an orientation leads beyond discussion to genuine appreciation and creation.

If art is to be fructified by a world-conception, this is the crux of the matter. Art has always taken its rise from a world-conception, from inner world-experience. If people say: Well, we couldn't understand the art forms of Dornach, we must reply: Can those who have never heard of Christianity understand Raphael's Sistine Madonna?

Anthroposophy would like to lead human culture over into honest spiritual world-experience.

Last Modified: 15-Nov-2017
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