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…
Landscape Painting – Class 9
The school looked fantastic for the Artist’s Holiday Weekend. A large group of parents and friends, either interested in art or artists themselves, worked hard on this annual event. It certainly put the school on the city’s art calendar, with people coming long distances to buy paintings, sculpture, craft, etc. – or to attend the exciting Art Auction, the climax of this rich cultural event. Art Teacher also looked fantastic; her blond hair was piled high, and she wore a black evening gown, with matching turquoise earrings and necklace These were purchased earlier from ‘Aladdin’s Cave’ (Class 10 room re-born!), the jewelry gallery next door.
At last, she had a few moments to reflect on the events leading up to this glittering day, as there were only a few people browsing round her Class 9 Painting Gallery. The parent organizer of this most ambitious and aesthetic fund-raiser had approached her, as the specialist art teacher at the high school, to ask if she wanted a room to display some of her student’s work. As she was in the middle of the Painting 3-week block lesson with Class 9, she decided to focus on them. What an incentive to effort – beyond the call of duty – it was for her eager students!
“Now we’re being hung beside professional artists, so there will be no poor standards The paintings we decide to include in this exhibition have not only to be excellent, but they also have to be beautifully presented. No unmounted pictures just stuck on the wall with tape, that kind of thing. All works will not only be carefully mounted on tastefully colored card, but properly framed as well. Oh, don’t look so pained, there are short-cuts to this:
- Look around your house, your relative’s house, the garage, attic – whatever – to see if there are any old, framed pictures which have outlived their visual life. These valuable frames can be cleaned up, painted even, to serve a new masterpiece.
- In the same spirit of re-cycling, have a snoop around the second-hand shops. It’s amazing what $5 can buy; a dusty old frame, which might cost $80 new, when you resurrect it might be better than new!
- Cheap, mass-produced frames can be had from the chain stores.
- Make a frame yourself; it’s not that hard if you’re handy and have some good workshop facilities – use the school’s!”
Frames appeared from everywhere by the end of the 3 weeks, many of them surprisingly good – a couple salubrious even! They certainly made some of the – well, to be charitable – not so perfect pictures (the young artists were still only 15) very presentable indeed. So much so that quite a few had been sold already – not only to duty-bound parents! And the Art Auction was still to come.
“Tell me how you get this high standard of work from the students’, and you say they’re only 15? Goodness, I’m impressed. But I can’t imagine anyone paying good money for student work. It’s very hard to sell paintings these days, even for talented professionals.” Said an informed Art Reviewer archly – he who had been dispatched from the local newspaper to cover this ‘Ho Hum’ event. Art Teacher appeared to hang on the great man’s every utterance; humbly she replied.
“For a start, we work in the patently sensible ‘block’ or unit method of teaching; we paint every afternoon for 3 weeks (sans Friday which is Sport). This way we don’t have to clean up the art room for another – ‘period’ – class to use, just tidy up a bit and leave our paintings on the easels. All subjects in our school are taught this way.
We also do not have to continually re-create the, in this case ‘painterly’, atmosphere – the mood – of this exciting unit, as one has to do, if one can, when leaving the work to lie fallow for a week. We have one of these 3-week painting units every year. In Class 9 it just happens to be Landscape Painting, although these content areas, or themes, are fairly flexible.
The medium in which all these Class 9 paintings are rendered, Acrylics, is a natural extension to the Poster Color experienced last year in Class 8 – and a precursor to the oils they will meet in senior high school. So acrylic paints, with their workability and shine, create an oil-like finish, especially if they are troweled on fairly heavily – and glazed on completion. When delicately applied, they are semi-transparent, being conveniently water-based. The color range available in the good brands – would we use any other!? – is good. We tend to employ the full artist’s palette in this year, rather than the simplistic spectrum. The students love the range and freedom such colors are burnt umber, viridian, vermillion, cerulean, and so forth provide.
This exhibition hangs well together, because all the paintings conform to a loose theme, to whit, Landscape. Even though there are small groups of figures in many of the works, these are not intended to be anatomically correct; just foils to the powerful nature elements around them. Figurative work comes in later in the high school. A premature, hence inept, experience can dim their love of art for life.
The figures in the Class 9 landscape paintings are to be thought of more in the spirit of Breughel’s Winter scenes: where simple groups counterpoint mountain, tree, and sky, creating a vital scale reference in many. Again, this grouping is a natural next step to the ‘single figure in environment’ we explored in Class 8.
15-year-olds are recapitulating, not a Medieval as in the year before, but a Renaissance consciousness – subliminally at least. So, their particular artistic awakening is concerned with observing nature. This is not in the one-dimensional or symbolic way of the earlier era, but as it really is. The idea is not merely the rendition of decorative blocks of color, but a true modeling, using light source and subtle toning, to strive for this new reality in garment and foliage.
I know modern commentators scoff at naturalism in art, but for the Renaissance painters in general, the Class 9 in particular, it is a necessary developmental step. Of course, we had scads of 15th and 16th Century pictures displayed around the Art Room during the unit; these assisted me in describing the essential north/south dichotomy – the polarity even – of the amazing phenomenon that is Renaissance art.
The two express the form and passion respectively, of nature and people respectively, in the North and South of Europe – respectively! Ha, ha. Some students were fascinated by the obsessive detail in tree and stone of artists like Durer and Cranach from the North; while the warmer, less clinical souls in the class were more taken by the movement and expressive power – of figures especially – in the South; found in masterpieces by Titian, El Greco and Michelangelo for instance. These pictures were all sublime references in the student’s struggle to capture the real world, I even found…”
“I see” interjected Art Reviewer, realizing that one must be careful what questions one puts to his, herself ‘obsessive’, art teacher “Um, I notice a few have the same subject, a grove of yellow trees in the foreground framing – yes, I recognize it, that’s Mount Warning in the background. This doesn’t sound like an encouragement of individualism to me. You had a photo for them to copy in this exercise I suppose?”
“Wrong – on both counts,” replied Art Teacher carefully “we don’t do ‘exercises’ in high school; all pictures are a genuine attempt at serious art. An exercise is a demeaning concept for these, oft highly talented, teenagers. (Some of them are better painters then me!) Secondly no, there was no photo; these pictures were pointed al fresco – up to the finishing stage at least. That tranquil scene is actually at the back of the school. Off we would go every afternoon, loaded down with mounted boards, easels, paints, etc., for one and a half glorious hours of painting.
We, through a loving observation and color expression, elevated these trees and mountains into another, higher, dimension. But that was one work only of this exciting unit, and it took the first week to complete it. Though often students will slave away on their pictures in the lunch hour, or at home – talk about keen! The second assignment was these paintings over here.”
“They all look a bit forbidding,” proffered Art Reviewer unsurely “Yet at the same time comforting?” he scratched his ear, wondering how to verbalize this strange duality of emotions in some of the works.
“Ah, this particular theme was based on what we call a ‘nature event’. We use the living world, in one or other of its unique manifestations, to inspire this painting theme. It just so happened that it was the Winter Solstice when we were doing this; so, each student could choose to portray this cosmic chronicle in any one of the 12 ‘scapes’. It must have worked, because the nature of the Midwinter Solstice is the intimidating power of darkness threatening to snuff the still, small light of the human spirit.
These ‘lights’ are variously pictures; here is a cottage in a snow scene (this one wasn’t al fresco – ha, ha.), with a golden glow of warm hearth shining from the window. And there’s a crib depiction, the symbolic event itself, in Christian terms at least. Even the small scale of the figures emphasizes the power of the darkness in the omni-umbrate surrounds. The light is coming from the babe itself, as can be seen in many Renaissance pictures. IN this one over here, the light is the Midnight Sun itself, struggling to penetrate the heavy cloudscape. So many variations of a simple, profound idea.”
“Cloudscape? You mentioned 12 ‘scapes’, what are those?”
“Within a theme, it is good to provide as wide a range of options as possible for these hyper-creative young people. After all, art is to be considered as a path to freedom – freedom of expression especially; one of our most precious ‘freedoms’. This choice services the varied soul needs – some have an arid-type psyche, one which requires soul-healthy externalization through the portrayal of a desert-scape.
Another one may have a serene kind of inner life, reminiscent of the blue depths of the sea; so a coral-scape is apt. Then there’s ocean-scape; mountain-scape; snowscape; rock-scape; lake-scape; treescape; beachscape – popular with my surfers!; cityscape; and garden-scape … “
“Thank you, that’s all very interesting; but I’d better take some notes for my article – it’s been a pleasure talking to you.” Art Reviewer wandered over to the other side of the room, notebook and pen poised as he peered at a scene of an old colonial-type hut in a yellow wheatfield.
Art Reviewer scratched down a few memory joggers about Renaissance art only occurring in Europe; the focus on photographic naturalism never really gripping the souls of their Oriental counterparts.
Even nature scenes from China and Japan are stylized – or highly idealized at least. Many are beautifully drawn but lack the depth and density of the European pictures, whether North or South Europe.
So, Art Teacher was alone again, musing on the spiritual background of this most edifying of Class 9 lesson units. The Renaissance was under the cultural aegis of the Archangel Gabriel – he of beauty. His stewardship of a groping humanity took place between 1500 and 1879.
During this time, the ceaseless striving was for the ‘beautiful’. How open her 15-year-olds had been to this; even though they were citizens of a Michaelian Age – time enough for that particular expression in senior high! She thought of her talented charges’ 15th year developmental unfolding of the Life (Timely) Aspect of the Astral Body; of how this expressed inpainting as ‘light-in-color’; etheric-in-astral!
“Don’t paint the object,” she had repeated on countless occasions “point the colored light, that which reflects from the object; or in the case of shadow, absorbs it.” This wise counsel (repeated as many times or more by Rudolf Steiner) gave the pictures a lightness – a liberation from the gravity of matter – it gave them Spirit.
Just as the Medieval painters had to represent the all-embracing Heavens with gold, the palette genii of the Renaissance managed to do it with a command of the element of Light itself – and so did Class 9. Indeed, this painting unit had been a Light Epiphany for many of the students, an effulgent apotheosis …
“Excuse me” it was a newly-deferential Art Reviewer “Sorry to disturb: you were certainly in dreamland weren’t you, ha, ha?! It’s just that I have to go, and I was … cough … um, wondering about that superb painting over there – the one in the silver frame by some student named Steen; the one with the skyscape – and crescent moon and sun juxtaposed in an eternal cosmic duality. Er, how much is it?”
Leave a Reply