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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…
Substance – Style – Subject
The Three Freedoms
Major Work Sculpture – Class 12
Art Teacher sat in the soft gloom of her art room. It was twilight, and everyone had gone home. Somehow she just couldn’t tear herself away from the wonderful Class 12 sculpture pieces assembled in the center of the silent room. These were soon to be displayed at the local shopping center for a couple of days. The manager even allowed them to be sold there – and some of them were mighty saleable indeed!
She smiled as she mused on the fact that, like Sculpture’s diminutive sister, Jewelry, the higher the price, the smaller the price ticket! One ‘work of art’ – by young Dennis – of a dragon hatching from an egg, rendered in blonde, highly polished timber, had an asking price of $2000! “That’s just so that on-one buys it” she had informed her as he tied on the price tag “I don’t really want to sell it you see, but if someone give me that much for it…”
“Not likely,” she thought “but you never know with art – it did take Dennis many hours of painstaking – and inspired – work.”
The small, highly select exhibition was part of the school’s policy to create a contact point with the real world for its graduating class. Oh they could have displayed the work – one piece from each student – in the school, a decidedly sympathetic environment. But this would not have exposed them to the blowtorch of public scrutiny. “It would also be necessary,” she thought “not as a disclaimer, but just information, to put up a little sign saying that, in accord with our universal syllabus, all girls and all boys in Class 12 participated in the sculpture course – and every other year and lesson unit for that matter!”
She had certainly given them lots of good marketing ideas for their pieces. Each student had even crated a submission portfolio of his/her particular masterpiece, including good photographs and a well-written precis of the meaning, intent and/or symbolism of the work. Alan had sent a copy to a couple of architects specializing in commercial buildings. Kathy had gone to existing organizations where she thought their foyers looked a little empty – ‘price negotiable’! she had said to the Shire Clerk of the local Council! A sad smile brushed across the pretty features of the caring art educator, as she remembered that this was the last day of the last Sculpture block lesson for this happy class.
“What a program it’s been,” she whispered, eyes misting “I mean I have only been teaching them sculpture for their 5 years of high school. But before that, there were the 7 primary years. 12 years – each with a major, 3-week sculpture unit! Let’s see at 6 hours a week, that’s 18 hours for each unit – time 12 years – 216 hours sculpture education!! And that doesn’t count the legion occasions that this Art of the Formative Forces is incorporated as a corollary strand into other lessons.
Sculpture is of course only a convenient term; up to senior primary, due to the fact that children are only in the process of liberating their etheric bodies, they don’t actually sculpt at all, not in the true – high art – sense. Rather they enjoy the lesser but still valid activities of modeling and carving. As sculpture is the art of the etheric body, how can one really sculpt if one hasn’t an etheric body – a completed one that is – to sculpt with?”
She strolled around the all too familiar room, gazing at one piece, stroking another; especially one by Steen. Here a nature-spirit-type face, carved from part of a tree trunk yearned to communicate with her. Did the 18-year-old know of Rudolf Steiner’s amazing revelations of humankind’s capacity to imprison Elemental Beings? These thoughts of gnomes, sylphs, and their supersensible companions, deepened her reflective mood – all the way back to Class 1.
In her inner eye, she saw the holistic vision of the wonderful 12-year Sculpture Program; how it expressed the ‘first will be last, last will be first’ principle of cosmic unity found in all subjects. In Class 1, the 7-year-olds traditionally loved their Wax Modeling 3 weeks; mostly of form-friendly animals, like koalas, penguins, and elephants.
This was mirrored in Class 12 with the ‘etheric’ forms the 18-year-olds had done in this, their final sculpture unit. They even, like the littles, started with a sphere, form of universality, magically drawing forms from it (more of this later). Then there was Clay Modeling in Class 2. This complemented – even if in an arcane way – the Stone Sculpture unit in Class 11 – an ‘earth’ factor perhaps? Subjects were highly varied with the 8-year-olds, with impressive Assemblies of multi-formed figures – with of course every child represented.
Mask-making in Class 3 had a more direct correlation with its high school counterpart, Portrait Sculpture in Class 10! Wood Carving came next in Class 4, reflected in Wood Sculpture in Class 9. Then there was 3-dimensional Modeling/Mold-pouring in Class 5, which had its aesthetic echo in Class 8 as Relief Sculpture/Mold-pouring. And so began, in Class 8, the students’ high school Sculpture Program.
The swing-around from ‘carving-modeling’ to sculpture proper, occurred in Class 6 and 7. The 12-year-olds in Class 6 did a wonderful Sheet-metal/wax-carving Relief unit, which was followed a year later by Soapstone Sculpture – ah, that word sculpture at last – a creative testament to the fully-emancipated ether bodies of the 13-year-olds!
Art Teacher found herself standing in front of a large work by Anna, created from caste iron! The doughty teenager had shown a particular interest in metal sculpture, due to her skill with the oxy-acetylene! (No sexist programming in a Steiner school!) Her interest rose to melting point when told that the title of this, the last, sculpture unit was Substance, Style, and Subject.
“Here the students were introduced thus:” thought Art Teacher, rubbing her suntanned arms to ward off the chill of evening “As Class 12 you are now to be trusted with The Three Freedoms. Yes, I know it sounds like a Mao-inspired strand of the Cultural Revolution! And it is in a way; but one based on a recognition that there has been a comprehensive development of your sculptural skills over the past 12 years; so here is your chance to prove it!
You will have ‘freedom of substance’, of ‘body’ – yes, you can use any sculptural medium you like – and you have become familiar with most media over the years; wood, metal, stone – you name it. Next is ‘freedom of style’; your art history lessons have been invaluable in helping select a style – a ‘soul’ – to express the body of substance you choose to work in. I’ll remind you of some of them: minimalism; expressionism; naturalism; stylization; post-modernism; mannerism; abstraction – not necessarily in that order!
Finally, the spirit, the 3rd ‘freedom’, is that of Subject. If body is substance, and soul is style, then spirit dwells within the content; the idea or reality that you wish to express. This ranges from purely non-concrete notions, with works titled ‘Transitions’ and ‘Nobility’, to a more direct approach, such as the bust of a fellow student.”
It was just such a work she paused in front of, a relief piece by Edo, carved in clay and poured in plaster – with a highly-burnished ‘antique’ finish. The beauty of the girl portrayed (the lovely Kathy) held Art Teacher’s gaze – what a young Venus! And it was this ‘goddess of beauty’ factor which was the only restriction on The Three Freedoms.
In body, soul, spirit – or substance, style, subject – all works ha to meet the cryptic criterion of ‘beauty’. Not for these – still school students – the hideousness of some tortured social comment. Time enough for that in their long creative adult life – if they chose. This was the 4th Freedom, that of the Ego, the freedom to sculpt what you like!
In the broad view of a 3-fold education, we see children under 7 dwelling in the milky protection of the Moon Realm; they step out into the bright light of Mercury between 7 and 14 – and nervously cross the darkened portal of adolescence into the impassioned Mansion of Venus. There they reside until their 21st year. All teenagers are, before all else, Venus Beings – all have an inner yearning to experience beauty.
But 18-year-olds – Class 12 – have a double whammy of Venus experience. The human being develops through each 7-year life cycle, right through the 7 Planets, starting with Saturn in the first year. (The one-year-old baby … the Class 1 child … the 14-year-old…) Counting through the planets, from Saturn in Class 8, we arrive (Jupiter 9, Mars 10, Sun 11) at Venus in Class 12 – Venus Venus!!
What an imperative it is then to insist on a striving for beauty in everything they do in this year. It is only through the beautiful in art that we approach the Spirit. Great artists have a ‘vision’ for the future – if indeed there is a future at all, it will be an aesthetic one.
“Besides, it’s easier to sell a beautiful work, than an ugly one” thought Art Teacher, her grey eyes narrowing at the commercial prospects. But they shone brightly again when she saw the positive results of her ‘Yes you still have freedom, – the Three Freedoms in fact – but you are only free to create beauty!’
Her hand reached out to touch a highly dramatic work – an assemblage by Andy – a comprising bones and carved wood pieces. It has a prehistoric feel, suggestive of a dinosaur fossil. But it also reminded one of the hull – the ‘nave’ – of a boat. Beautiful? Well beauty is in the eye of the beholder! No, beauty does not preclude drama, tragedy, or even power in sculpture. It is a quality felt only by the heart. If this aesthetic organ reaches out to a work, it is – by spiritual definition at least – beautiful. But if the heart recoils …!
This ‘sense for beauty’ was enhanced by the clay exercises the students struggled with each day. The unit was twin-strand, with, as detailed above, a single ‘major work’ continuing right through the 3 weeks. This was accompanied by the exercise strand, one assignment each day. these were based on the typical sculpture-class given to adults in Steiner art courses.
These are an exploration of form – or that innermost chamber of sculpture, the etheric world. One day the students would have to model (yes, in this exercise sense it is modeling) an egg; another day a particular seed form, like a Woody Pear; then a crystal; or a water form, like a drop! But it was the modeling of bones, the most marvelous of the Spirits of Form creations, that they loved best.
How impressed were the 18-year-olds by the majesty of a femur, or a single flying atlas vertebra – or of Yorick the Skull! Naturally these were (mostly) animal bones; nevertheless, the students artistically experienced the formative, creative process within. For this was where the emphasis lay in these exercises, on the process, not the product. Indeed, many of the pieces were rolled up and returned to the clay bucket – to be re-born next day.
Some of the exercises were based on the forms Rudolf Steiner incorporated in his First Goetheanum. Here the Master Sculptor created decorative wooden elements, on column-capital and archway, which expressed, in the most sublime manner, the eternal, archetypal formative forces themselves. How much the students learnt about the world – and themselves – from these wonderful ‘exercises.
“And how much I’ve learnt about the world – and myself! – from teaching them” soliloquized Art Teacher as she cast a last glance round the silent, umbrate room. The assembly of love-filled and inspired sculptures wordlessly responded in the affirmative, as she closed the door on 12 years of – An Education in Formative Forces.