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Alan speaks in a very symbolic and esoteric manner in some parts of his books. Although they can be read anthroposophically, passages speaking of Atlantis, archangels, gods, etc. do not need to be taken literarily to be meaningful. The more you read, the more you will realize he uses many different religions to express ideas in a symbolic manner and not in a religious manner. His writings are not religious. In some places his writings are meant to refer to religious events in a historical way. In some places he is using religious figures (from Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism, Ancient Roman and Greek Religions, etc.) in a symbolic manner. However, at no point is he promoting a specific religion or speaking from a religious point of view.
I have kept the writing as close to one-hundred percent original so you will also find that he speaks of Australia often and some spelling or manners of speaking may be cultural. Any words I have changed are presented like this: <word>.
Also keep in mind that these books are written by a Waldorf teacher with decades of experience who also studied with a Steiner student himself, so he speaks to an audience that is dedicating their lives to the Waldorf method without exception.
Because of this, all of his views are not reflected in the Earthschooling curriculum and not all of them may be ones you want to embrace or are able to use. In all of Alan Whitehead’s writings the opinions are his own and may not align with Earthschooling or Waldorf Books. In some cases, we will be updating some of these chapters in the future with additional and/or updated information.
Ultimately, however, as I read through these passages I find I can distill wisdom from even those paragraphs that do not resonate with me.
We invite you to read with an open mind and heart and with eagerness to learn and discuss…
Colored Rivers of Blood
Watercolor Painting – Class 10
“I want to be a book illustrator when I leave school.” said 16-year-old Steen to no-one in particular as he waited for Art Teacher to introduce this new 3-week afternoon block lesson.
“No chance,” replied Alan glumly “you’ve got to be a genius to get into that field.”
“I suppose so, but maybe I can be just that kind of artist who produces those neat watercolor paintings for children’s books.”
“That’s nice – but I would rather work with the children themselves; especially the littles.” Said Kathy quietly, her dark, wavy hair framing a wistful milk-white face. Art Teacher thought how interesting it was that both Steen and Kathy were expressing a new power invested in the 16th year – one of Creation.
16 is known in esoteric schools as the Number of Fertility; but this can refer to both a fertile body (expressing at that moment in the still-small yearning for procreation in Kathy), and a fertile Imagination; that which was moving the tall, serious Steen to an impatience to paint. Both forces are based on the water element, that which most easily transmutes soul to matter – into watercolor paintings and babies!
The whole of the 7 years of adolescence is a Venus Age; never will these young human beings be more beautiful – Venus like. And never will they be more physically ready to reproduce; although in this strange age in which we live, never will they be less prepared psychically! Consort of Venus is mars; these dual cosmic principles of female/male, or Yin/Yang, meet like a divine kiss in the 16th year. This is the year of Mars in the soul-unfolding of the 7 teenage years.
This 7-fold ‘planet’ development began in Class 8, when the students were, inwardly at least, Saturnian in nature; then in Class 9 it was the invisible Jupiter soul which moved them – leading to Mars in Class 10. And Mars is a water planet; reflecting Old Moon as it is; the planetary state in which the liquid element was created.
“Oh yes,” thought Art Teacher as the last stragglers took their seats “we associate Mars with fire and violence, etc., but Rudolf Steiner assures us that this mysterious red ember cruising through the ecliptic is actually made of water, the complementary element to fire – or liquid at least; the consistency of warm, lumpy raspberry jelly perhaps?!”
Art teacher smiled at her little jest; a look caught by the ever-alert Anna “What’s so funny – why don’t we start painting?!” she demanded from beneath her wild, auburn curls.
“Because I want to tell you a few things first!” replied her teacher, snapping out of her reverie – and at her student!
“What’s to tell – we’ve been doing Watercolor Painting since kindergarten. WE can do it with our head in a bag by now. In fact, even last week Science Teacher has us paint plants in our botany class – ‘to bring in the artistic element’ he said. We do Watercolor Painting all the time!”
“Not like this you don’t,” pressed on Art Teacher patiently “there are two ‘watercolors’ actually; one developed by the Steiner-inspired artists; the kind you’re so familiar with. Here we only use spectrum colors, mixed up in little bottles. As such, the pictures usually have a rainbow, or fairly simple color range. There is a good reason for this; these pure colors are a spectral bridge to higher worlds, which is the intention of the Steiner ‘soul’ painting.
But we’re going to spend 3 weeks of afternoons exploring the second kind, the watercolor that evolved as an earthly/artistic phenomenon. First we have to time-travel all the way back to Egypt to find the genesis of watercolor painting – to the tomb paintings; indeed, including their celebrated hieroglyphics, or pictographs.”
“They’ve survived because of the dry desert air and were in complete darkness. Science Teacher told us that watercolor is not very permanent – unless you can provide those essential conditions.” Said Dennis brightly. He wasn’t the most talented artist in Class 10, preferring scientific pursuits – or sport! – but he cooperated where he could, especially with little discursions like the above!
“Thanks Dennis,” smiled Art Teacher sweetly, wishing she had known why these non-fast colors had survived for thousands of years. “Due to the fading nature of watercolor, the medieval artists developed fresco painting. Here the color is painted straight on to the newly laid, wet plaster, where it impregnates to some depth. The hues are not brilliant, as one can obtain with tempera or oils, but they are permanent. The plaster gives a kind of pleasing matt finish as well.
It wasn’t until after the invention of the printing press, with its insatiable demand for quality paper, that watercolor painting, as we know it, was born. These large sheets of painting paper (she held one up), with their absorbent properties, interesting textures, various ‘weight’ (120gm, etc.), and gleaming whiteness, are the result of a trial-and-error path of paper evolution over the last 500 years.”
“Gleaming whiteness?” said Anna skeptically “That means the paper’s not recycled – so we should be saving trees, not painting on them!’ Art teacher was ready for this one.
“No, our paper’s not recycled, but I do go to the trouble to look for ‘plantation’ paper. In high quality watercolor, with its ever-so-subtle tones and hues, whiteness – the sun behind the color – is all important. Anyway, those young trees outside in the pots are going to be our gesture of gratitude to the trees which were sacrificed so that we could paint. At the end of this unit, we’re going to plant them out, with a simple ceremony of some kind. In 15 years’, time, they will contain a thousand times more wood than we’ll use in this block lesson!”
“Gosh, if everyone did that, there would be no problems of diminishing timber resources!” exclaimed an obviously delighted Anna, reassured that her artistic education was not at the expense of Mother Earth’s wild forests.
“Anyway, back to our ‘history’; watercolor painting today stands proudly beside oils in all fine-arts schools. Not only has paper evolved to suit the most fastidious needs of artists, but pain has as well – as seen by those little tubes on your desks. Compare these with the big, fat oil, acrylic or poster tubes, and you can see that there is a difference in the substance – the actual matter of the various media.
Oil painting is, in spite of its great expressive power, the medium of materialism, from the ‘matter’ point of view at least. This is not necessarily a pejorative, rather an artistic, evolutionary imperative. So, this wonderful range of tubed watercolor pains has evolved to suit the needs of modern artists world-wide. There is a far greater range in front of you, than the simple prismatic colors you’ve been previously used to. Here we have to extend our color expression: viridian; alizarin; carmine; madder; ochre; gamboge; sienna; citrine; cobalt; cerulean; cadmium – and many more!
Now these, in most cases standard, hues are not mixed up in little bottles, but on saucer palettes. After an hour or so of painting you will probably have 4 or 5 saucers covered with dozens of little dollops and smudges of the most extraordinary range of color that you’ve – mostly inadvertently – mixed. All of these are usable, for one sitting at least, so be careful when squeezing the paint out of the tube – a little goes a long way with watercolor, after all, you’re really only painting tints, not matter.”
Art Teacher then told her 16-year-olds that, unlike their earlier watercolor experiences, where they completed a (mostly wet-on-wet) painting at a single sitting, these larger pictures might take days.
Paintings which extend over perhaps several days require that the young artists carefully moisten, with brush or sponge, that part of the picture they intend to work on. As such, the paper has to be firmly mounted; this is on clean, straight painting boards, ideally cut out of sheets of heavy particle board (Masonite).
The paper is well soaked (again in clean water) and sponged flat onto the pre-wet board surface. Wide, brown-paper (packaging) tape, moistened only, not drenched, is applied all the way round the painting paper. This overlaps on the corners, leaving no gaps. Then it is left to dry, where it stretches to a perfectly flat, drum-tight surface.
“Steen was right,” said Art Teacher as the students busied themselves with this important task “watercolor is widely used in the graphic arts world, especially for children’s book illustration. It is a free and colorful medium and reproduces well. I’ve brought in a few books to show you that even commercial work can be true – or fine – art. Some of these pictures illustrating a story of Arctic exploration could hang with pride in galleries anywhere.”
“I think this is better than a lot of stuff that’s palmed off on us as ‘art’.” Commented Steen, a touch of acid on his tongue “So what are we going to paint?”
“I was just getting to that. You’ve all been studying Coleridge’s, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in your English main lesson. (Another ‘water’ theme, at least this Class 10 program is consistent in its subject integration!) Well, I want you to choose a favorite line of text, one in which this master of the poetic image has ‘painted’ a dramatic word picture – then translate it into a watercolor painting!”
“I like – ‘in the land of ice and snow’. I could even do an aurora like the picture in the book you just showed us.” Exclaimed Dennis, his hazel eyes ashine with expectation.
“I’m going to do that scary bit about the ‘spectre barque’ – you now, how the setting sun shines through the ribs of the hull.” Anna’s complexion reddened with dramatic promise.
“What about the albatross who – ‘came to the Mariner’s hollow’? That way I get to paint the ship!” added Steen. And so it went, with every student working on a common theme, but at an individual level. This story or ‘event’ content is very popular with Class 10, being active ‘Mars’ advocates as they are. The drama however is not only in the content, but in the color tones themselves. Art Teacher spent quite a bit of time encouraging her students to darken their shadows, and highlight, in vivid contrast, other elements. As illustration, she showed them pictures by that master of light & dark, Tiepolo.
Indeed, this Age of Enlightenment, as expressed by both Tiepolo and Coleridge, provided a ready access to the student’s inner life; as in their cultural development they were re-enacting this period themselves, the 17th and 18th Centuries – unconsciously of course. As Art Teacher watched the students silently painting away – encouraged to imagine that they were working on a publishing commission! – she could intuit the effect his process of consciously mixing and applying colored water was having on the soul; and in turn, on the blood.
Visual Arts in general, the ‘ego’ afternoon block lessons – the ego lives in the blood – are blood-stimulating subjects, with of the 3, Painting, Sculpture and Drawing, painting singling out the arterial, will-filled blood. This is known as the ‘female’ blood, as compared with the blue/venous/rational/right-side/male element of the circulatory system.
The female is specifically the receptive element; this blood is an ever-mobile sensitive membrane which receives health-giving impulses from the soul – or not! When a student mixes and applies a delicate mauve, for instance, the soul silently says of one of its illimitable properties – ‘Ah, thus am I!’. It has recognized, as an inner alchemy, an externalized element of its own Being. It then impresses this self-knowledge down onto the waiting, receptive arterial blood, so that soul and body are in harmony – psychosomatic painting at its best! This is why Rudolf Steiner tells us that watercolor painting cultivates – of all things! – the Will. The red, active arterial blood is the bearer of the will in man (the blue venous blood, the ‘thought’).
“Speaking of will,” said Kathy, as if turning into her teacher’s thought “I saw the biggest watercolor ever the other day.” she applied a tint of viridian to her ‘furrow followed free’ picture “it was at least 6 foot wide – the artist must have bought the paper straight off the roll from the manufacturer. This giant work was simply of the buttress roots of an old fig tree in the rainforest. The scene was so simple, in its dappled light and shade – but so complex in its detail, with fungi and rotting leaves, palm fronds and secret holes in which (I imagined) hide tiny forest creatures and … thank heavens we’ve got good sable brushes for this unit – especially the Number 3 for fine work. To my surprise, I actually want to paint the rigging of the ship!’
Art Teacher was aware of the need to express detail through fine line with this age group and had therefore provided quality materials This conforms to the increasing artistic discriminative powers of 16-year-olds, or ‘hansa’ as it’s known in the East. She remembered one Class 10 student who mounted a full A1 sheet and painted a huge watercolor of a coral garden.
This kaleidoscopic work took her the whole 3 weeks, but it was a masterpiece, with literally thousands of undersea elements painted and overpainted, crating patterns of mauves, aquas, emeralds, pinks – and countless other gentle or dramatic spectrum and tertiary colors.
Her warm reminiscence was interrupted by a knock at the door; it was English Teacher, she who moonlighted as a children’s book publisher. “So, you’re doing the Ancient Mariner?” she said appreciatively “Gosh, some of these pictures are great! I’m producing a big color number on The Mariner – we’re looking for a fresh approach, could I have a look at this lot when they’re finished?”
Class 10 Watercolor painting, Marine theme.
Ars nihilni scienta est. “Art without knowledge is nothing.” From a Gnostic Medieval code.
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