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…
See Class 8 Poster color Painting Chapter 1.
Above: Tape cover for class-produced music album, by Class 10 student
See Commercial Art Chapter 9.
Gold is my Favorite Color!
Poster Color Painting – Class 8
The new Class 8 had made their fabulous, all-purpose desks in the 3-week Technics Block Lesson – and were ready to use them! The students drifted into the classroom from common-room, playing-field, swimming pool, and kitchen, on a golden Autumn afternoon. They were full of anticipation for this, their first painting lesson in high school.
Now the shining new desks would be tested, artistically at least, for the first time. The desks had, over a normal desk-base with drawers, a large drawing board made from non-twist 5-ply. This was adjustable from flat to almost perpendicular. For this unit, a 30° slope would do, which is how they were told to set their boards by Art Teacher.
She was a diminutive blonde, but her small stature and sweet smile were deceptive; she had a core of tempered steel, which glinted from her censorial stare if any of these gangly 14-year-olds became obstreperous – or ‘restless’ – as she euphemized!
“Now,” she began “most of you have been right through the primary school, and as such, have had a very intensive painting education. But towards the end, in Class 7, you began to ask – ‘Why do we always paint in watercolor?’. And rightly so; for the whole 7 years, virtually all painting was in those lovely, clear, transparent watercolors.
There is a good reason for this – it made true painters out of you! You see, watercolor is the most subtle medium of all; if you can handle that, you can eventually master any medium or technique. So, the primary program had depth – the learning of one medium to perfection – or as close to perfection one can expect from children. In high school however, we seek rather breadth of artistic experience – now that the fundamental skills have been established.
Over the next 5 years I will try to bring you, in all 3 Visual Arts, (Painting, Sculpture and Drawing) a range of experiences in both media and content which will truly make of you – Artists of the World!
This first painting unit is Poster Color Painting. No, we’re not going to design posters; that comes later in the Drawing strand. I’m referring to the medium, Poster Paint. Now for contrast I’ve chosen this because it is so opposite from watercolor – in so many ways. Watercolor is transparent, poster opaque; indeed, in this paint, you will be asked to lay in on thick – to completely cover that is beneath. As you know, watercolor lets everything shine through; so, this new non-transparent technique will at first be hard for some of you – and you won’t like it. You will be wishing still to express in the relative purity of wash. So, you will then down the poster paint, trying to obtain the same ‘veiling’ effect you’ve been so comfortable with for years. But gouache, as this medium is called, is different – more matter-bound, the light reflecting off the opaque paint surface, rather than the white paper underneath, as in watercolor.”
‘Matter-bound? As indeed you are’ thought Art Teacher in the pause, referring to the descent into the body that adolescence is. Now necessary then to recognize this in the objective world of painting; to have ‘without resound within’. Her 14-year-olds were going to be reassured by the very tangibility of this medium. Then she noticed a ‘restlessness’ – ah, they wanted to get on with it, not listen to a lecture!
“What do we paint?” said Anna impatiently. She was a pretty girl, with clear, grey, intelligent eyes, and a shock of silver-mink hair which crinkled away from her heart-shaped face in all directions. Art Teacher knew that there would be time for talk after they were into it.
“I want you to paint – among other similar subjects over the next 3 weeks – a picture of one of the outstanding people from your Medieval world history main lesson. Only one figure mind, and it an appropriate setting. Now draw it first, in blue pencil, on the stiff, white paper provide.” Good, now the hands were busy – as well as the minds and hearts she hoped – she could continue to describe the essence of the Painting block lesson without the flames of expectation singeing her!
“You use blue pencil for drafting, not ‘lead’; any residual construction lines diminish if drawn in blue, somehow blending with the picture. In lead they can stand out horribly; and if under the paint, can’t be rubbed out at all. Also, blue doesn’t show up under a copy camera if your masterpiece is going to be reproduced!
Who knows, one or more pictures might be selected to grace a prospectus or something? So, a sharp blue pencil it is. If you’re serious, you might get yourself an artist-quality blue clutch pencil for these lessons, one which will last right through the 5 years. Otherwise, an ordinary blue colored pencil will do; preferably the harder type for finer detailing The paper must be stiff, as you see; a light card would even be good. Though we apply the paint thickly, it is still a water medium, and will crinkle thin paper.”
Having each arrived at the particular Medieval personage they wanted to paint, Art Teacher silently watched her students for a time, musing on the spiritual background behind the topic.
14-year-olds are proceeding through their ‘Medieval’ developmental phase. In European terms, this was the triumph of Christianity as a world religion; but naturally many cultures had a ‘middle ages’ tradition, including Islam and Japan. There are countries even today, like many in South-east Asia, who still express an archaic medieval consciousness. The subject matter could be taken from any of these.
More important than any particular culture, is the essence of Medievalism; it represents the timid emergence of the Individual – of man stepping out of the protective stockade of the Folk Soul, to stand in an unknown and soul-threatening world – to stand alone.
Rudolf Steiner described a fitting painting image of this emerging-self process – a single figure standing in the rain. 14-year-olds are also emerging from a protective embrace, that of childhood, to stand alone – relatively at least, as far as the soul is concerned – as adolescents. This is why they cling together in intimate relationships – ‘gangs’ and the like. Even when thus enfolded, they are still inwardly in isolation; a soul-solitude a primary child, under normal conditions, cannot know.
So a painting theme which externalizes this singularity of spirit is very bracing for these teenagers. St. Francis of course is a perennial subject; but even more colorful figures, like Richard the Lionheart, are popular – or his minstrel, Blondel – or Joan of Arc. The Maid from Orleans, being born in 1412, is one of the last representatives of the Greco/Roman/Aries/Mars 2160-year dispensation. The brave, new Anglo/Teutonic civilization began in 1413, as the (Northern Hemisphere) sun entered Pisces. Joan was one of the last great Medievalists, assuring that this mighty period in world history did not end in a whimper!
Even the opaque painting medium reflects this ‘epoch’, the wholly religious subjects of the Middle Ages were done in one or other ‘solid’ media; whether plaster-based fresco, or egg-white tempera. The poster color paintings, when finished, can be varnished to give an icon-like patina. As teenagers can work at a more extended pace then their primary counterparts, instead of the usual one painting a day, they might manage only 3 in the 3 weeks – but what paintings they’ll be!
“I’ve sketched mine out” said Steen, a sensitive boy with thick, dark curly hair “But I don’t think the birds are quite right. How does the pigeon’s tail look when it’s going to land – on Francis’ praying hands?”
Art Teacher wandered over to see. “At this stage, we only sketch the broad composition – none of the detail at all. As this is an over-painting method, the fiddly bits come later. Just draw in the broad strokes – that’s enough.”
Sometime later, Art Teacher went over to check on Steen’s progress “Ah, that’s fine – sky, mountains, tree – no individual leaves mind, just the overall shape. And of course, the figure; yes, he’s well positioned in the composition. You’ll need another element to balance those rocks. When you’ve done that, you ‘blank’ in the large color areas in a kind of flat undercoat, just to cover the white paper really; after that, you overpaint the details, like the drapery in Francis’ cassock. Even then in this genre, there is a minimum of fine work. Medieval painters weren’t concerned with naturalistic detail, they were symbolists, their work being highly stylized. They didn’t bother with trivial matters like perspective, foreshortening, modelling, and texture. Their paintings were simplified expressions of higher realities: for instance, before Giotto (see his St. Francis on the wall over there) the sky was always gold – real gold! – not blue. These ancient artisans didn’t care what the sky looked like, rather what it was, or is! The heavens above are a Sun Realm, one of divine light – gold!
“Why can’t we use gold?” asked a tall, pretty gild; though appearing somewhat owl-like as she peered over her spectacles Kathy has a stark white face and long, wavy black hair. “Well, we just might see about that!” said Art Teacher mysteriously. Then she produced from behind her back a small, precious bottle of gold paint.
“Wallah! Now this is very expensive, but if the Byzantine icon painters could afford it, so can we. But it is to be used only sparingly, and at the very end of the painting.”
“I can make his halo gold!” exclaimed Steen excitedly. “Wow, that’ll look great on the designs of my Balinese dancers’ costumes” added Anna; yes, Bali is a living anachronism, a medieval culture in a ‘modern’ world. “Any my picture of Mahomet on his black stallion can have the sky gold, as it was in the story we heard” concluded Kathy, happy to have the last word on her idea. Her sallow faced brightened at the prospect of artistically expressing this microcosmic Sun Realm.
“Ah, so it does work” thought Art Teacher as she saw the enthusiasm – the auric soul-glow – that the gold paint was creating. She knew that with puberty, teenagers are descending into the very anatomical counterpart of their astral bodies, right down into their viscera – into the genitalia indeed! An art education tends to wrest this dangerous descent, en-nobling it; rather than allowing it to indulge in typical teenage perversions of one kind or another.
If one gives artistic license to these young ‘Blondels’ (a Medieval symbol of adolescence; he was Richard’s musician), many will actually paint a kind of abstracted version of their own abdominal dispositions.
The students’ paintings will writhe with intestinal ‘dragon’ forms; oft in garish colors; but more commonly, black and red. The gold, this elevating element of the sun – the heart – lifts this tendency out of the gloom. The students both love it and love the teacher for providing it! But so does the discipline in content and medium uplift the young artist. It’s hard to paint one’s turgid innards if the subject is St. Francis taming the Wolf of Gubbio!
Art Teacher, while on these anatomical considerations, thought of the blood of her quietly-working students. Main lessons turn on lights of consciousness in the head, lights determined by Position, through the movement laws of the rhythmic system, the chest. Finally, the afternoon block lessons are about Product, that created by the limbs.
This ‘product’ expresses through the substance of the learning material itself – the block is not primarily of the spirit, as is the main lesson; mor is it of soul, like the ‘middles’; but one of Body. The 4 body elements, especially as they are incarnated into the metabolic/limb system, are nourished by the afternoon block lessons.
These 4-body ‘systems’ relate to the four streams of block lesson teaching: the skeletal system finds its most satisfying expression in the Practical stream, that of agriculture, domestic science etc.; the muscular system, the 2nd of the 4 body elements, is realized on a higher level in the Technics stream (the ‘trades’); thirdly, the metabolic organs are stimulated to health by the Craft stream. And the blood itself, that wonderful body-health litmus, has an intense relationship with the Visual Arts, the 4th afternoon block lesson stream. Painting is one of 3 Visual Arts stands. Painting is, in the highest imaginable sense, expressing the blood of, not just the student, but of the world.
“I always find that I feel sort of … well, fitter, after painting” young Dennis observed curiously as he laid on his first ‘blank’, a royal blue on the robe of his icon of the Heavenly Mother. Dark-haired Dennis was not naturally artistic, being rather of a sporting nature – very well-built indeed according to some of the girls! He however enjoyed the art lessons, even though they weren’t his favorite.
“Yes, a lot of people love painting, not just for the empowerment that comes with its inherent creativeness, but for the ‘cleansing’ feeling, one of renewal, they experience after it” said Art Teacher, who knew that if the artist’s – and the sensitive viewer’s – blook would experience this metaphysical purging. A regime which does not encourage a freely expressed paining culture, cauterizes its people.
Both in painting and in viewing, this blood renewal process can occur. Rudolf Steiner recommends that students paint where they’re at – in this case, Middle Ages consciousness; but look at where they are headed. That’s why he suggested paintings by the great Renaissance artists to decorate a Class 8 room. 15-year-olds are young ‘Leonardos’ – whereas these 14-year-olds are more, yes, more ‘Richards’! Art appreciation, in the formal sense, only begins at puberty; primary children being engrossed more in lifeappreciation…
Art Teacher snapped back to the moment “A good idea with this gouache painting is a decorative border; something that makes a statement about the picture itself, like the human being as an expression of separation – of a singular entity separate from the world.
The border should contain colors that are actually in the picture, but of course it should be highly stylized. Maybe you could just do a pattern of simple leaves and tendrils Steen?”
“Hey, I’m going to use gold on my border!” cried Anna in delight.
“Me too, I love that gold!!” echoed the rest of the class.