Copyright Alan Whitehead & Earthschooling: No Part of this book, post, URL, or book excerpt may be shared with anyone who has not paid for these materials.
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…
The Naked Truth
Life Drawing – Class 12
The naked woman moved her smoothly rounded buttocks a little to get more comfortable; creamy breast and pink nipples glowed slightly in the luminosity of a dusty skylight …! No, you haven’t strayed into a Swills & Swoon romance; the scene is from a Class 12 Figure-drawing lesson in a Rudolf Steiner school! But let’s begin with Art Teacher’s phone call to the Julian Ashton Art School in Sydney.
“… so, as well as having a comprehensive Painting and Sculpture strand in the Visual arts stream, we have one on Drawing as well – especially in the sense of traditional skill-development. This has been developed all the way from Class 1, with a 3-week afternoon block unit in each of the 12 years. I could rattle off the lesson headings if you like, just to place in context this culminating unit, not just of drawing, but of their whole Visual Arts Syllabus.
IN Class 2, the 7-year-olds enjoy block Crayon Drawing; Class 2, Stick Crayon; Class 3, Colored Pencil; 4, Shading; 5, Color on Color; 6, Color on Black; 7, Perspective; 8, Black & White; 9, Brush & Ink; 10, Graphic Arts; 11, The Human Head; – and 12, Figure Drawing. Of course, the littles had plenty of free-drawing fun in Kindy as well.
On an imaginative or pictorial level, the knowledge legacy of mankind has – among other paths – come through the Visual Arts culture of a people – look at the Aboriginal cave paintings. In this intellectually-burdened age, it is an imperative to develop imagination, or picture-based knowledge – hence our broad Visual Arts program.”
Among much that the Principle of Aston’s said to Art Teacher in response were some of the following quotes: … we try to give a basic understanding of learning to see, there is a minimum of theory … we are not quite sure what art is, we do know what good drawing is … you have to serve your apprenticeship by looking before you can actually express your heart … if musicians played as badly as most practitioners paint, nobody would go to the Opera House … you can take from everything and make something beautiful in the present day and it doesn’t have to be a great inaccessible mystery … well-drawn painting will always touch the human heart …”
“Thank you,” replied an impressed Art Teacher, after all, those were the very same sentiments as her own!
“Not only do the students learn, in Class 12, about that most wonderful of all physical creations, the human body, when they draw it, they learn about themselves. Figure drawing is unambiguously a path of self-knowledge, even though (usually) you are drawing someone else.”
Art Teacher paused and stretched her slim legs out in front of her. As she twiddled her toes, she remembered a lesson in her student days, when she had to draw her own feet. Only then did she realize that she’d never really ‘seen’ them before; in the sense that the Principle meant at least.
She then briefly described to the plastic mouthpiece some of the exercises that led up to this moment; one which, although both rich and effective in her students’ drawing unfoldment, were still incomplete without this capping – this soul-jolting experience of the living nude.
They had drawn nudes from ‘sun-lover’ magazines; they had drawn each other- posing in swimsuits of course. These were good but could not compare with the unfettered perfection of the full nude. They had done a lot of body-detail drawing, such as the feet example, shoulders; hands (they were really hard); and backs – which were a favorite.
There had even been a home assignment to draw themselves reflected in a large mirror. Then there were the nude figures drawn purely from imagination. “I want you to depict Adam and Eve,” she had told them “they are the archetypal nudes in our Judeo/Christian consciousness. In other words, what is your image of the idealized human figure? You can see by our picture gallery around the walls that every culture has its own vison of the ‘perfect’ body.
Look at that frumpy Neolithic ‘Venus’; her sacred role was to relate these primitive folk to the fecund earth itself. That sensual Indian rendition was based on the mysteries of the Kama Sutra. Ancient India was a land where many meditations were based on sexuality.
And that picture of the naked Egyptian dancing girls; they are designed to fit into a ceremonial niche, being neither naturalistic, sexual, or symbolic. Of course, it was the Greeks who brought the physical form to perfection; but his time sensual not sexual. Those Roman drawings over there wrested the nude from the idealized, to the materialized.
We have to leap across the sphinctered Early-Christian/Islamic years before we see another undressed person in art, to the Renaissance in fact. Here we find the ‘individualized’ nude; real people at last, with all their peculiarities – including cellulite in that Rubens picture! His ‘Reclining Nude’ may be scorned by the figure-fetish freaks today, but people in the Age of Enlightenment thought her marvelous! In the nude of the 20th Century, we see not mere individuality, but Spirit.
“In that gaunt, leprous-white girl in the Modigliani by the window, we see a hint of, not mere individuality, but the soul/spirit within – often tortured, sometimes beatific. In one sense or other, we are all of these, from the Bronze Age to the Brave New World.” Art Teacher’s 18-year-olds had looked at the pictures in a different way after that.
She thought, as they got down to a drawing of a small, marble statue of the Venus de Milo, how important this lesson was to the freeing of the students from the shackles of guilt that the ‘Jehovah’ stream had imposed on their culture over the centuries. In almost no other human society is there shame of nudity as in our so-called advanced culture. When the students were confronted with a nude to draw – male or female – there would be an inevitable inner wrestling with years of societal programming. How tempting it would be at Ashton’s to mask their shame, guilt, embarrassment, etc. with a giggle or lewd comment. But they wouldn’t, she would see to that! “No, there is no chance of immature or vulgar conduct,” she assured the Principal on the other end of the phone, “they’ll be well prepared before they come to your studio. Oh, we did have a full nude Life Drawing exercise in class. A little 2-year-old, one of my students’ brothers, played on a blanket while he was drawn – naked as a billiard ball he was, and just as unconcerned!
This was not only an exercise in draftsmanship (quick sketching – be moved around quite a bit!), but of innocence. Some of the kids commented, as they sketched away, how they could dimly recall when there were in that pristine soul-state. But back to adults; we actually drew some of the nudes from our improvised ‘gallery’ – without imposing m=any preferences, I was interested to see which pictures they chose.
The winners were clearly the Greek and Roman studies. I guess they’re still questing after that physical perfection in late adolescence? Aphrodite – Venus – was the most popular of all. So I can bring my young ‘Venus’ down tomorrow? That’s kind of you; what a wonderful end to the Drawing 3 weeks – and 12 years of Art – this will be.”
Art Teacher hung up, and contemplated her slim, brown feet again. How careful she had to be to give her class access to the naked human form. The temptation was – in this liberated age – to get one or two of the braver students to do the nude modeling at school – and some of them would! But she knew that the lesson was too important to be embroiled in controversy. No, the only way was to visit an art studio; one which employed professional models. Besides, these people knew how to ‘sit’; how to present buttocks, thighs, backbone, and breasts to – aesthetic – advantage.
“The spirit of Life Drawing is its objectivity; with its essentially sexually-suggestive body elements dealt with in an a-sexual way” she carped on in the bus as they drove down to their – first ever for a high school art class as far as she knew! – appointment with maturity. “And few 18-year-olds could manage this as a sitter” she thought “oh I do hope they can handle it, after all, they’re no angels!!”
The students filed in with their bags of drawing equipment, especially a range of pencils and charcoal. They also had other colors and media, like crayon, pastels, chalks, and so on. Most were in the tertiary scale, like ochre, silver, and sepia. The mood, after yet another stern pre-drawing briefing was somber – and a little nervous.
Not nearly as nervous as the Principal though! Somehow he just couldn’t believe that a group of high school students could approach the serious business of Life Drawing with the required sense of gravity. In spite of his misgivings, he showed them to their easels. They were going to draw standing up. Art Teacher hovered around them like a worried sheep dog, alert for the first sign of a salacious breakaway!
The model, a slim 30-year-old woman with a beautifully proportioned figure, walked slowly over to the easel-encircled rostrum. She gave a warning glance to the pop-eyed teenagers and slid gracefully out of her flannel gown. In the most objective way possible, she assumed a Venus-like pose.
“Okay everyone,” said the Principal in his best business-like way “we’ll do quick sketches for a while – 5 minutes max. – then the model, er, Sandra, will change position. Go for essentials, the line of the back, turn of the head – no detailing at this stage please. Right, start!”
And that’s just want they did; after an initial few minutes in which to still the inner turbulence of years of shame-ridden voyeur-propaganda, they forgot that they were staring at a naked woman – but at an object d’art!
“these kids are good,” whispered a relieved and impressed Principal to his visitor “I hate having to deal with those first clumsy efforts in Life Drawing with new students. They draw breasts like the Bobbsey Twins, and limbs like strings of sausages! Good heavens! Who’s that coming through the door!? Why its’ John Olsen, he was a – most talented – student here at Ashton’s years ago. Who invited him?”
“I did – Hi John!; he’s a parent at our school, and – not surprisingly – has taken an interest in the art syllabus. Well John, I’m glad you could make it; you two know each other of course. So what do you think of this? As one of Australia’s most renowned non-figurative artists, would you still recommend a traditional drawing background?”
Some of John Olsen’s replies were:
“… it is vital to have that tradition because you are learning a language … it introduces you to the grammar and structure of art, and it puts spines in people … the worst thing is when students follow contemporary trends and what do they give us? Bits of rope on a bloody floor! … trends are here today, gone tomorrow … today there is a definite reaction towards realism and traditional values, and what makes good pictures…”
For two hours the students explored, under the guidance of the 3 adults, the mysteries of foreshortening, shading, proportion, structure – and the myriad subtle elements which make rendering the human figure the most difficult, yet satisfying, of artistic experiences. Most stayed with a figurative interpretation; some stylized – while one or two abstracted Sandy’s svelte forms.
One boy was heard to whisper to a friend “you know, I spend a lot of spare time thinking about naked women: and here’s one in front of me – and a good sort too! I’m even allowed to stare at her, yet there’s no sexual arousal whatever!?”
“But here is artistic appreciation, the higher aspect of opposite-sex attraction.” Smiled Art Teacher to herself “What a healthy bridge to cross that ‘rite of passage’ into sexual maturity this experience is.”
Sandra had wrapped her gown around her again, and after a flashing smile of appreciation to the class, sauntered off – she was human after all! “I’m very proud of you all,” beamed their teacher as the class clamored around in the afterglow of excitement; even realizing perhaps that they’d been part in an historic educational event “not a single vulgarism or cheap shot! So what do you want to do now, we’ve to plenty of time before we have to get back to school.”
“Let’s go to the gym for an hour or so!?” cried Anna.
“Gym?” said Steen smirking “We’ll all have to be stark naked when we go in there you know!”
“Why is that?!” demanded Art Teacher.
“Because the word gym is Greek for ‘naked’ – ha, ha, ha …”
“I knew it was too good to last!” she rued as the happy, jocose group piled into the bus.