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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…
Tale of the Tiger
Wood Sculpture – Class 9
“So, Michelangelo, one of the greatest Masters of the Formative Forces (as sculptors are called) of all time went to Carrara to realize his vision. He saw the young biblical David in his higher eye, not as a stripling boy confronting the giant Philistine, Goliath, but as a giant himself. Actually, he perceived what we know as the Life Body of David – this is one of the reasons he depicted him nude.
If this future King of Israel had a diminutive physical body, as the Old Testament attests, his life body was of colossal scale. Conversely, Goliath was gigantic physically, but a withered midget on the etheric plane. So the great Michelangelo arrived at Carrara, the quarry containing the finest white marble on earth, to select his piece of stone., Piece indeed – the block had to be some 20 good long, and in the divine proportions of the Ark of Noah; the correct height, depth and width described in Genesis – the Measure of Man.
If these onerous conditions weren’t enough, this initiate of the Art of the Etheric Body (Sculpture) had to actually recognize the figure imprisoned within the stone! He had to supersensibly perceive the etheric being of David in the marble – having done so, he was the only one who could liberate it!
In time this he did, single-mindedly assaulting the resisting stone with mallet and chisel, having no thought, as the milk-white chips flew, of putting anything into the living mineral. Not – ‘Look what I have created’; but a concern only of releasing something that already exists within it. The result was – is! – one of the greatest sculptural masterpieces since Ancient Greece.
You see, Michelangelo saw David as an archetype of Man; not merely a brave boy with a sling, confronting a well-armed bully. David was us – was me – you! He was Individuality itself.”
The foregoing was part of the introduction by Art Teacher to her Class 9 Sculpture class. This was conducted a 3-week block lesson every afternoon (Friday sport excepted); and comprised 12 lessons of 1 ½ hours each. Sculpture is the 2nd strand of the Visual Arts stream; this stream, of the 4 block lessons, expresses ego-in-will. Sculpture is the feeling/soul, strand of 3; the other being painting/will-body, and drawing/thinking-spirit.
Art Teacher was trying to encourage her 15-year-olds to look within the material to find the image; the living reality which only they could release. The material in this case was to be wood, the subject, Wood Carving. She actually gave them the choice between carving a select piece of timber, part of a consignment the school had bought from a specialized timber merchant – or finding their own.
Surprisingly, most of the students chose the harder path; to search bush, beach, river, farm, and roadside for a piece of timber which suggested, by its form, texture, color, etc., sculptural properties. They were warned to be careful of the type of timber they selected, making sure to test it with a knife before dragging it home.
The timber had to be agreeable to carving, as no power tools were allowed in the actual creative process. (One girl did need a chain saw to cut her block off a huge log washed up on the beach!) Eucalypt, Wattle, and other Australian hardwoods are very difficult to carve, and unless there’s a good reason for tackling a piece, these should be avoided.
The best carving timbers are Australian rainforest species; like Rosewood, Silky Oak, Red Cedar – and legion other. Then there are exotic woods such as Apple, Camphor Laurel, and Jacaranda. The tree-lopping section of the local tip can be an excellent source for unusual and beautiful carving timbers. Advance planning is necessary, as the wood has to be seasoned before being carved.
“I found my piece in the creek at home!” piped Anna, proudly holding up a dark, heavy section. It was shaped like a small mountain. “I had to get in the water with a handsaw and cut it off the submerged log. I thought it would be rotten, but according to my Dad, the water actually preserved the timber. He said it may have been under the water for decades. We’re not sure what kind it is, but the color is a lovely dark plum when you cut into it. The grain is dense but soft – a rainforest species for sure – and very even. What do I carve?”
The following became an object lesson on subject-matter for the whole class, as they strolled around the work bench, eyeing Anna’s brooding piece from one direction then another. “don’t take things on face value,” began Art Teacher “the cut of the wood, mountain-like as Anna described, suggests one direction only… I can see a gnomic-type figure in it when it stands like that. But lie it down – now its horizontality evokes an animal form – perhaps a fish? What about a back view? No, nothing there. Or upside down even…?”
“I can see the head of a bearded man, as clear as anything. Funny, I never noticed him before?!” Anna took up her precious wood and stroked it lovingly. ‘Ah, the mood of the true sculptor’ thought Art Teacher.
This ‘find-the-figure’ quest encourages artistic mobility; the students were using the eyes, and their figurative, aesthetic perception, to explore something most people would just gloss over. Sculpture is indeed the Art of the Life Body – that which must be awakened, must be active, in this Imaginative Cognition, as Rudolf Steiner calls it.
The process continued with all the strange and twisted pieces the students brought in from driftwood; to discarded lengths from old building or furniture; to odd-shaped branches cut off dead trees. One boy even found the bole of an old Grass Tree: a ‘timber’ requiring a special carving technique indeed!
“Note that the carving chisels are all on this shadow board;” Art Teacher lectured sternly “at the end of each day of the 3 weeks, they are replaced in their correct position – yes!? These are the finest quality chisels, and very sharp. We don’t leave them lying around! It is so important to maintain good workshop practice – and I want aprons worn in the lesson; and proper footwear; hair tied back – and so on. And it’s your job to keep the tools sharp – the oil stones are over there near the grinding wheel. Great art is not created with defective equipment!”
So the students began; the large scale of the pieces meant that most of them would complete only one work in the 3 weeks. It is a requirement of high school art to be more ambitious in size and subject that its primary counterpart. It’s fine to give a, say, 10-year-old a small piece of wood to carve – or whittle! – but a 15-year-old needs challenge. The broad scope of the work itself demanding respect.
Indeed, a further confirmation of this respect for materials, tools, and content, was heightened by a visit to a professional sculpture studio. This belonged to a parent, a nationally-renowned artist. He gave the class many insights into this little-known world; describing ‘the agony and the ecstasy’ of trying to wrest a vision from often trenchant and unyielding material. This large, frowning man also spoke of public indifference to the sculptor’s art; he even explained aspects of marketing.
Perhaps most importantly, the sculptor told the intensely interested teenagers about workshop practice – at which point they became less ‘intensely interested! “Not again – groan!” muttered Dennis to a smiling (smirking?) companion. A laser glare from Art Teacher arrested this momentary lack of enthusiasm!
Sculpture is a particular benison for 15-year-olds, as they are unfolding the ‘Timely Aspect of the Astral Body’ in this year – according to Rudolf Steiner’s grand vision of a 40-fold Man. This ‘timely’ is an epithet for ‘etheric’; the art of the etheric body, sculpture, expresses this particular stretch of the path of self-knowledge better than most.
Art Teacher made sure through the 3 weeks that she explored the many elements of this ‘timely’ art to the limit with her Class 9. From time to time, she spoke about one or other of the 12 Elements of Sculpture, usually when some student was wrestling with that particular problem. The 12 Elements are:
- FORM – this is the bed-rock, the very foundation, of this 3-dimensional art. Just as there is intrinsic beauty in the form of, say, a duck – one of the divine’s own sculptural masterpieces – so must the artist strive to embody beautiful form into every aspect of the work.
- MOVEMENT – is the complementary pillar to form; even stasis is a statement of movement – or lack of it! The kinetic suggestion of an immobile piece of wood is part of the magic that is Sculpture. A picture of the Winged Victory of Samothrace was shown to the students as an example of this ‘movement in stillness’.
- LIGHT – and its dark partner, shadow, create ever-changing relationships, determined by many elements; including the nature of surfaces and light source. The working sculptor should continually be exposing her/his evolving masterwork to differing light conditions; noting the dynamics of shade and high-light.
- COLOR – is a factor of every sculptural material. The wood selected might have warm, red tones; another a light-filled gold – yet a third, a timber in somber black. Each creates a different visual impression, influencing content and sculptural impact.
- SCALE – Michelangelo’s David is a conscious use of scale; because of its great size, the figure becomes far more impressive. Scale determines not just aesthetic considerations, but those of siting as well. A carving of a tiger 3 inches long is cute and can stand on the mantelpiece. One 8 feet high might keep the visitors away!
- MATERIAL – this was dealt with earlier, in the selection of the timber, and its role in suggesting subject matter. Material is relevant in decisions on almost all other ‘elements, like scale and position.
- FUNCTION – some sculpture is created specifically for a particular use. It might before the figure-head of a ship; or to grace the keystone of a building. In this case the aphorism is true; form does indeed follow function – an essentially architectural concept.
- CONTENT – what to sculpt is perhaps the most important decision of all. A mistake here could even be life-threatening – try sculpting Allah in Iran! In this Class 9 unit, a loose stylization was the goal; the rigorous demands of detailed naturalism being somewhat beyond most of these seminal artists. The ‘what’ can create dilemmas, such as one twisted kid who wanted to sculpt a satanic emblem. What to do?!
Well, freedom of expression in a school situation is not as important as wholesome expression; so, Satan was banned – ‘got thee behind’ so to speak. The best subjects for this unit are animals, heads, and figures.
- TEXTURE – turning to Michelangelo again (most apt, as 15-year-olds are passing through their ‘Renaissance’ consciousness), we find that he explored a whole world of textures in his beloved marble; from the highly-polished Pieta to the rough-hewn Slaves – struggling to free themselves from the crude stone.
- SITING – it really does matter to a piece of sculpture where it is placed – and which aspect/s faces the viewer. Ideally 3-dimensional works should be able to be walked around; to be seen from every side (from the top as well). This relates to the Aboriginal (and Esoteric) principle of the 7 Cardinal Directions – these are: left, right, front, bac, above, below – and within! How do we see inside a sculpture? Well, one which has internal spaces, concavities, and such, reveals its inner life; but more, the sensitive viewer can perceive the etheric form living within even a single-surface sculpture.
Each perspective is another insight into the truth – the higher reality – of the masterpiece (and only true masterpieces express this lofty vision). Judging a piece of sculpture from one direction only is like trying to understand a person from a single deed. Some works look best in a garden or reflected in water – yet others in a modern setting.
- MASS – sculptors, like Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, spent their creative lives trying to plumb the widths, depths, and breadths – the Material Mystery – of the relationship of mass and space. Does the content, say a Grizzly Bear, require a massive treatment; one where the ‘holes’ – spaces – are subordinate in this Yin Yang of the world of formative forces? How about a sculpture of a Stick Insect?!
- COMPOSITION – this is the last and most obscure of the 12 Sculptural Elements; essentially one must have more than one piece of work to be concerned with composition. Rodin’s Burghers of Calaise has multiple figures; and Manfred Welzel’s (Manfred who?!) Flotenspierlerinnen (Three Girls Playing Flute, the original in the Mutterschule in Stuttgart) sets its own relationship demands. Remember, the composition has to look right from all seven directions.
Actually, the whole class was involved in decisions of composition, as they arranged their finished pieces in a small exhibition for parents, teacher, and students at the conclusion of the unit. They chose the school’s Herb Garden as the site; this being a natural but nevertheless formal space as it was – one which complemented most of the ‘garden’ sculpture created.
There was also a small pagoda, which formed a centerpiece of the garden; here the more delicate works were displayed, those in need of protection and shelving.
“Your Driftwood Serpent (all pieces should be named) looks fine crawling around the Lily Pond.” Said Steen with enthusiasm as the class applied the finishing touches to the display.
“Thanks, and doesn’t Alan’s Neanderthal Head seem so right nestled among the Rosemary … but…”
“But what?! Snapped Anna defensively, her brow dewed with the sweat of exertion.
“But I don’t really think your 8-foot-high Bengal Tiger looks so good towering over Kathy’s Garden Gnome!”
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