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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…
A VOYAGE ON THE OCEAN OF WILL
Art History – Class 9
Rome to Renaissance
True art never lies, true art never dies. But what is true art? Well by the above definition, or the latter half at least, any art, particularly painting, sculpture, and drawing, that still elicits admiration, gasps of awe – tear perhaps – hundred or even thousands of years after its execution must be true art – and it generally is.
It is important for art history students to discriminate also between art and artist. Much of Michelangelo’s work as – is – timelessly awe-inspiring, but not all. Even the Master of Formative Forces himself had his off days – or in his monumental scale – off years!
Even in a modern sense, someone like Brett Whiteley could produce both highly inspired and trashy work. Not that his Master of Imagination was not artistic – in every fiber of his being – because he was. The question is was he inspired, at the highest level, when he created? Is it a masterpiece? Or just, well, a piece?
Even with contemporary work one can still make preliminary judgements about whether it is true art or not – by heightening one’s visual sensitivity and becoming better informed about the laws and elements which govern great art. True art never lies; if the soul can detect, with a feeling of discomfort, agitation, ennui, etc. an untruth, then this art may indeed relegate itself to the compost heap of mediocrity.
It doesn’t take a Robert Hughes or Kenneth Clarke to know that a lump of bleeding meat nailed to a canvas is not monumental, timeless, awe-inspiring – or art! Much that is foisted on the gullible public today as ‘modern art’ will sink into the obscurity that it deserves; and the sooner the better!
And much art that was foisted on the gullible public of yesteryear, from the Class 9 period of study, Rome to Renaissance, was mediocre to bad. Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s good! European galleries are full of the prodigious productivity of the past, much of it raising little or no interest, but the high points – now that’s different!
This ‘true art’ is the kind we expose our young people to in an Art History course from Class 8 to 12. Actually ‘art’ is a lovely word; ask your eurythmy teacher to express it in movement. First we have the outstretched – beseeching – arms of ‘ah’, the Venus sound.
We implore higher worlds to pour love, the Venus ‘Cosmic Emotion’, that which enriches the whole 7 years of adolescence, into our souls. The ‘t’, the Leo consonant, sweeps up over and down to tip the head with the fingertips. This sound is nominated by Rudolf Steiner as the ‘in-streaming of light’ – with these two sounds we experience the human invocation, and the divine response. The word art is a rare and beautiful cooperation of sound-manifest Self Will and Divine Will.
In fact, this will aspect is central to an understanding of ‘true art’. In the ‘cultural’ middle lesson stream, in which Art History dwells in the ever-wise Steiner curriculum, Art History occupies the ‘will’ strand – the other two ‘cultures’ being ‘performing arts’ (feeling) and ‘literary arts’ (thinking). Rudolf Steiner emphasizes that an art education ‘strengthens the will’. But what will? Well, both Self and divine Will actually – and the artist is free to express wither, or both!
As this is an exposition including Renaissance art, we might take one of Leonardo’s drawings to illustrate this self/divine will dichotomy in the human being. In a drawing of his profile depiction of Judas, we see two equal circles, one on the chin, the other at the extreme end of the mandible under the ear.
In occult physiognomy, these areas are respectively self and divine will; the whole face below the mouth of course if a general will zone, the mid-face is feeling, and the skull thinking. Now the eye is round, and first seeks out its own form when viewing the world in general, and art in particular.
So, it will alight on a circle first, then proceed to purview the rest of the scape, nature or human-made. Leonardo has presented the viewer’s eye with a dilemma; two equal circles, both in the will zone! Which to look at first?! A nameless indecision is set up in the soul of the voyeur of the hapless Judas drawing – a conflict of will! This is the very same as experienced by the ambivalent disciple as he struggled with the towering problem – My will or thine be done?!!
This is genius on a monumental scale, and on many layers – the drawing is superb; as is the understanding of anatomy; theology; psychology; and even – especially! – physiognomy. This sublime combination relegates this work of Judas to the holy gallery of ‘true art’ forever! The Self and Divine Will principle – both have their place – can be seen also in a much wider context.
Generally, the more naturalistic or representational an art style, the more Self – worldly – the Will; the more stylized or abstract, the more Divine Will. Here one is attempting to create the invisible, or to see a higher reality than the mere photographic.
This seems to work through the ages in a pendulum motion; just take our Rome to Renaissance period. Etruscan art, that which preceded the Empire, is highly stylized, and expresses, to my sensibilities at least, divine will. Rome itself was unashamedly self-will, with its wonderfully life-like portrayals of personalities and landscapes.
Then we have the mysterious and God-seeking world of early Christianity, Islam, and Early Gothic. Here worldly considerations were sacrificed to the glory of God – divine will. Late Gothic initiated a new self-will age, especially under the Master, Giotto, the first to discover that the sky, from a painterly aspect at least, was actually blue and not gold! Self will indeed. Unlike the earlier icon painters, whose majestic if wooden Madonnas and saints were a holy offering to divine will.
Then the Renaissance; this was an even more heavy descent to earth – to self-will; none the less justified, none the less dignified none the less deified! – a celebration of human rather than divine spirit.
Deified? Oddly enough, the subject matter doesn’t really make that much difference to this polaric principle; self-will can be easily expressed through religious content as well as secular – and vice versa; it is the nature of the artistic statement which determines the inspiration as coming from within – or above! The students might be encouraged to try to determine – after judging if a work is ‘true art’ or not – whether it is an expression of self or divine will, whether the art expresses truth of self, or of higher worlds.
The period of study for Class 9 embraces the years between about 100 B.C. to the mid-16th Century. Most of this period enjoyed the benison of the Aries/Ares northern hemisphere vernal rising, centered around – as Rudolf Steiner says – the Quality of Event. The greatest ‘event’ in the history of the world took place in this period, the Event of Golgotha – and a lot of the latter subject matter deals with this.
In accordance with higher – in this case zodiacal – inspiration, much of the subject matter of art in this Event Age (up to 1413) is event-focused. This changes palpably when the sun, for the latter period of our study, the Renaissance, ‘preceded’ from Aries to Pisces, with its Quality of Destiny. Much of the content of 15th and 16th Century Renaissance art is people, or ‘destiny’, obsessed. There is a consuming interest in biography, vocation, and character It is the modern genesis of the portrait – of the cult of Individuality, of the ultimate in self-will.
How synchronistic this is with the development of our 15-year-olds, reliving their Renaissance consciousness as they are in this year. Synchronistic too is their Educational Zodiac year. Beginning with Cancer – Quality of Initiative – in Class 1, the 9th sign is Pisces – destiny again! These young people are, above all, standing before the gateway to their destiny in this year; especially as it relates to resolving past issues. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, a Renaissance play about destiny-wrenched teenagers, demonstrates this in a most profound, artistic way. Look for the Romeos and Juliets in Renaissance art – and in the classroom!
These are the kinds of things that can inspire the Art History teacher, ideas based on occult knowledge, which of course pervades all ‘true art’. However, one doesn’t propagandize the class; Rudolf Steiner was adamant that we do not teach Anthroposophy to our captive young; rather it dwells, shadow like, behind the content we bring to them.
We might start this course with a journey through the art of early Rome; then up to the glorious Empire; then into the veiled world of the Celts and early Nordic artistic outpourings.
How the terror-striking dragon heads on the Viking long boats contrast with their Irish contemporary’s arts, the serene beauty of, say, The Book of Kells. Christianity’s gift to Europe is no-where better expressed than in this transformation of barbarity to beatification. This is seen so beautifully in much Early Christian art, with its peace, love, and devotion themes, and its beseeching of higher worlds. Fear rather than adoration inspired the power-obsessed artists of the Norse Mysteries to depict their glowering gods and demonic deities.
From Carolingian to Gothic sees an expansion of this Christian impulse, and its meeting in the north-south contact zones of Spain, Turkey and even Jerusalem, with its fiery counterpart, Islam. Moorish art works within the shackles of doctrinal proscription; so their aesthetic yearnings are governed by a ban on representing most things pictorially, especially Mohammed and – God forbid! – Allah. Rather they pour their artistic frustrations out on decorative embellishments and intricate designs in mosaic and fretwork.
Even Persian miniature painting has this patterned, 2-dimensional quality; and there’s virtually no sculpture at all – Thou shalt worship no graven image. This denies the ether body its rightful artistic expression, sculpture being the ‘art of the etheric body’ as Rudolf Steiner tells us. No wonder these image-deprived folks so often have such rampant astrality! Without architecture and craft, not dealt with in our art history course, Islam offers few rich lodes for artistic exploration.
This 3-week unit really takes off with the unveiling of European Medieval or Gothic art. As we focus on the 3 visual arts of painting, sculpture and drawing in this unit, we sadly can only trip lightly over the settings for these wonders, the mighty cathedrals. These are studied later in the architecture main lesson. This does not prevent enhancing the students’ admiration of the sculpture, triptychs, rose windows, etc. which adorn these wonderful structures – or of recognizing the sublime ‘divine will’ in their creation.
One can even free the 15-year-olds minds with revelations that the Medieval builders – or their inspirers, the various religious Orders – embraced more spiritual knowledge than many Fundamentalist – or other – Christians do today. Check out the Vezelay Cathedral to see the 12 signs of the Zodiac arrayed in a great arc over Christ in Majesty at the main entrance. Or the 4 Gospels – cardinal points of the Zodiac – represented by the Winged Man – Eagle – Winged Lion – and Winged Bull timeless tetramorph at Chartres.
From the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, this conveniently and practically divides into two, the Northern and Southern Renaissance. The North is characterized by a coolness, a love of form, a scientific interest in the outer world. No more accurate squirrels have ever been drawn – right down to the tiny claws – than by Durer. Altodorfer was more entranced by the sweeping cloudscapes I his ‘Alexander’s Victory’ than by the massed action below – as was Van Eyck in the furniture, and the mirror’s reflective laws in this well-known ‘Marriage’ painting.
This scientific advance allowed a greater freedom of expression due to technological advances, mainly oils. If form and cool dispassion characterized Northern Renaissance art, then flair, warmth, rich emotion – and people – is the stuff of the South.
Only the most hopeless incompetent could fail to interest 15-year-olds in the wonders created by the cabal of genii which so miraculously incarnated together, often related as student and teacher, in 15th and 16thCentury Italy. There is so much to show and see, that a degree of discrimination should prevent the big works and the big names form being obscured by the mediocre or the mundane.
But don’t exclude the lesser-known painting of specific interest, like Carlo Crivelli’s ‘Annunciation’, where Mary is gesturing with a perfect eurythmy venerative ‘Ay’ – or Batticelli’s ‘Three Miracles of Zenobius’, where little black demons are being exorcised out of the mouths of the hapless possessed. Self Will? Divine Will? It doesn’t matter what the conclusion, the quest is the vital thing on this artistic journey across the Ocean of Will – so Bon Voyage.
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