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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…
From the Skull Cave
Black & White Drawing – Class 8
Alan was a new student in the school; he had not come through the nurturing of a Steiner kindergarten, or the enlightening of the primary. By 14 years, Alan had been through hell and back. So, it was with a surly curl to the well-formed mouth that this ‘delinquent’ listened to Art Teacher’s introduction to Black & White Drawing in Class 8.
“As you know, we draw all the time at this school, such as in our main lesson books, illustrating every subject from anatomy to archeology. But these drawings always assume the secondary role to the subject being illustrated. In this 3-week afternoon block lesson, Drawing is primary; this high art is not compromised to suit the subject, rather the subject to the art.
If we didn’t have this particular unit, one would vaguely get the idea that, in the great Order of the 12 Subjects, drawing is always the bridesmaid, never the bride!” Anna swooned slightly at this nuptial reference; as a romantic teenager, she saw her idealized life ahead through the mist of a white veil!
“So, we’ll start with charcoal drawing, and move into other black & white media as the days unfold. These drawings, in the spirit of a high school art education, are not the sorts of things one knocks out in an afternoon – they take a long time to conceive, construct, and render. Here’s a large sheet, A3 should do at this stage, of quality, textured drawing paper – we never skimp on materials around here!
You even have choices of paper; here are a few different kinds, from a finely-toothed litho, up to this deep-grained, heavier watercolor paper. You also have two kinds of charcoal; the stick, which give a wonderful, dense black (but makes your hands dirty), and the charcoal pencil – this gives beautiful, fine strokes. So, the power of black in the stick, subtlety in the pencil yes? Stick charcoal is for most of the blanking-in of large surfaces; the pencil is for detailing.
Right, now to the subject matter; charcoal, above all other media, has the capacity to represent the eternal battle between light and dark. So whatever else your drawing expresses, the power of darkness has to be seen as overwhelming – conquering even … no? Okay, the light, from some singular source, will be outweighed by the lack in quantity, but not quality!
A single candle can illumine the darkest room; it is this triumph of the light over the apparent power of the limitless gloom that the drawings will convey. Oddly enough, the more implacable the darkness, the stronger the power of light! This is a picture for so many aspects of life, from the emergence from the umbra of materialism of the great teachers of mankind, to the triumph of individuals over the untruth or oppression which threaten to engulf their – Your – lives.
See around the walls; although many of these pictures of great chiaroscuro (light & shade) art are not rendered in charcoal, they still depict this light-of-virtue in the gloom-of-ignorance theme. There’s Vermeer for instance; what a master he is, with those figures of simple people sitting in even simpler Dutch kitchens. Look has he’s bathed them in the light coming from the left – no-one quite knows why, but it was always from the left.
You have the freedom to place your light source anywhere in the picture. It might be an overhead streetlamp; a lantern illuminating the figure from below; or a ray of sunlight piercing a thunderous sky. And look at those Rembrandt drawings; it’s funny how the Low Country artists had such a feeling for this light/dark struggle.
Moving down into the sunnier climes of Italy and so on, the light seems to have triumphed indeed. But you’ll eventually learn all about that in your 5-year Art History course. So, to give a focus, I want you to create a figure – a single human figure – old, young, large, small, male, female – beautiful or ugly even.
In fact, you won’t know who is living in spirit on that sheet of white paper until s/he emerges from the numberless strokes you will make. The only thing you decide at this initial stage, is the light source – not necessarily what that light source is even – sun, candle, fire, crib – whatever, even the moon.
A frowning Alan shifted uneasily in his seat at the mention of ‘spirit’, or even great art for that matter. He had spent much of his young life rejecting sententiousness and sentimentality and had no intention of retiring from a promising career in rebellion just yet! But something about this entering – consciously – the realm of darkness, held his peace, for the time being at least.
Oh, the single-figure idea interested him too. Alan didn’t know, consciously at least, that these black and white drawings in general, and the oh-so-black charcoal in particular, were a metaphor of the light and dark in individual, and especially the psychological reality unfolding in the 14-year-old – the young human being in the gloomy atrium of adolescence. He looked up as Art Teacher spoke.
“Having decided on your light source, you begin stroking – or shading to use the more apt term. This is done in a single direction; 45° top-right to bottom-left (unless you’re left-handed of course, then it’s the opposite). The temptation will be to stroke upwards, this you never do as it brings in …” Art Teacher didn’t quite know how to continue, especially as she caught the intensity of Alan’s gaze. She wanted to say that the Spirit, or divine inspiration, entered the picture on the down-stroke, from heaven to earth. But opposite and opposing forces were present in the up-stroke.
“Brings in the Devil” said Alan, completing his teacher’s sentence. Was that boy reading her mind or what!?
“Er, yes, in a sense; I’d prefer to call it the, um, dark forces of the earth. You see that picture of St. Luke, by Mabuse – right, another low Countries artist – he was incidentally connected to the Guild of St. Luke in Antwerp – St. Luke being the patron Saint of Painters. Anyway, on this picture, we see an inspiring Gabriel (the Archangel of Artists!) above and behind the kneeling Saint as he works away on his Madonna and Child. (This amazing picture is reproduced in the author’s book, Choirs of Colors).
You too can call on such an invisible, inspirational ally, but one which can only enter charcoal – or any shading drawing for that matter – from above down, as in the picture. The light, that which strives to manifest in the darkness, can also enter only on its own laws. Light travels (for our purposes at least) in straight lines. So, the strokes, without being restrictive, should not only be straight, but all roughly running in the same 45°direction.
Of course, you don’t need to measure this; the ever-cleaver hand, once it has practiced a bit (committed it to the either body), will find its comfortable slope, keeping the shading straight, consistent, and crisp. Drawings where these shading angles go higgledy-piggledy, can look awful; failing to express light in its pure nature. We’ll do cross-hatch drawings later in the course, to express textures, those which reflect off surfaces, rather than the light source itself. So start.”
A good art teacher will retreat at this stage, and not say any more. This is so that the kernel of inspiration can sprout unhindered by the intellect. This ‘spring’ can only occur in silence, in the mood created by focused industry. Art Teacher sat quietly by a window, mildly rebuking the odd gasbag who was still insensitive to his sacred mood. She looked like a figure in a Dutch painting, the light of the warm, afternoon sun illumining the left side of her fair hair, sculpting her fine cheekbones – etching her delicate hands, which lay supinely in her lap.
These lovely images were not missed by Steen, a sensitive boy with an alert, pictorial eye. Although he didn’t draw his teacher directly, the power of the living tableau entered into his newly-emancipating ‘sentient (astral) body’. This would-re-emerge a day later as an indirect portrait. The stillness gave birth to other images in Art Teacher’s soul; she observed how these block lessons stimulated and informed the Will; initially at least.
She could intuit by the level of self-consciousness being artistically expressed that afternoon, how the Visual Arts, one of the 4 block lesson streams, awakens the Ego itself. Finally, of the 3 visual arts strands of Painting, Sculpture, and Drawing, she reflected on Drawing as a liberation of Body (the other two being Spirit and Soul respectively). How the body forces, qualified of course by the ego of visual arts, in the embrace of the will in these afternoon lessons, express through drawing. With few exceptions, drawing is an expression of something – of ‘body’, whether a human body, or the earth body of nature – a car body even!
Consciousness for the miracle that is the manifest world – its body – is heightened by drawing, as by no other subject. One has to not only look at, but see, the ‘body’ one is actually trying to portray – to see with enhanced artistic perception; only then can the body be elevated into the rarified realms of Art.
Art Teacher glanced across at the taciturn Alan, who had, after staring at his untouched white paper for some minutes, began to slowly shade, using strong, deliberate strokes. Oh, how this boy was a living image of the Saturnian principle – alas one of darkness – which was the basis of the 14-year=-old planetary development.
A 1-year-old child is also a Saturn Being, but one sleeping in the cradle of the Physical Body. After the cycle of the 7 astrological planets unfold through infancy, the 7-year-olds again express Saturn in their unconscious make-up. Again, through the 7 years of planetary/etheric unfolding, we arrive before the grim portcullis of adolescence, of astrality. This new soul force is again informed by Saturn, for the first year at least. The saturnian, sclerotic, penumbrae, contemplative power can, if allowed to sink into self-indulgent soul-searching, become a burden many teenagers find hard to bear.
How this lead weight – led is the metal of Saturn – is lifted from the soul by allowing it to be explored through art – how Alan was experiencing this bridge from gloomy, subjective introspection, to objective artistic expression right now. He looked up and caught her looking at him – Saturn and Sun met as they smiled at each other.
“I’m not sure” said Alan hesitantly “but I think I can see a figure emerging from the shading – I certainly didn’t intend it? But there it is, see, a woman I think, with her arms outspread. She seems to be running, no, dancing. How did she get there? I couldn’t draw something as good – as free – as that if I tried, and I didn’t try!”
A figure had indeed appeared; the invisible ‘spirit’ was manifest in the creative union of light and dark – this ‘offspring of world’, in one form or another, began to see the light – in one drawing after another! Art Teacher strolled around, advising the students how to gently bring the new and unexpected ‘figures’ to life, to completion with a stronger edge here, a flowing garment there.
Steen, an accomplished illustrator already, imposed an intellectual constrict on his picture, by wanting a certain figure in a certain place. He started on the head; the freedom of his earlier shading giving way to a tight, finely rendered but inartistic ball. It looked and felt alien in the picture. “What can I do?” he complained.
“Just shade through it – pretend it doesn’t exist. That part of the picture will have to be a dark area, the side of a hill perhaps? Let the figure emerge in freedom, don’t impose on the Being, which is trying to incarnate, through your art, into the material world.”
All too soon the lesson had ended; but there was plenty of time to finish the drawings in the days ahead. In fact, some students would work on 3 or 4 pieces at one time; moving from their charcoal figure-in-light-and shadow picture, to a moonlit scene with white chalk on back paper – to a still-life …
“See this picture of Durer’s ‘Melancholia’ (another ‘Northern’ artist); it is an example of any and every element of light and shade you are likely to encounter. Melancholia means ‘black bile’, words which in themselves suggest the seeming invincibility of darkness.” – ‘Oh, how Durer’s figure is a picture of old Saturn himself – and, inwardly at least, of the 14-year-old!’ thought Art Teacher, looking at the classic black & white art in another light. ‘This country is particularly strong in saturnian forces, streaming up from the south as they do. I wonder if that’s why Australia has such a wonderful tradition of black & white art, beginning with those masters in the old ‘Bulletin’ days – like Stan Cross and Norman Lindsay. Gosh, Alan’s work has a Lindsayesque feel!’
“Oh Steen, don’t work right to the edge of the paper with charcoal, you have to leave about 2 cm ‘grip’ right around, so that you can handle the picture. Just the slightest touch and it’s smudged you know. And use a paper under your hand so that you don’t smear.”
“In fact, your hand, or wrist at least, shouldn’t touch the drawing at all” lectured Art Teacher to her luckily-tolerant Class 8 “Oh, and I’ve got a can of fixative to spray (no C.F.C.s don’t worry!) on the work when it’s finished; to give it long life with no smudging. At some point I want you to draw single geometric objects as well; like a sphere and a cube; to understand the play of light and reflection on various surfaces. This is best done with normal graphite pencils, from 6B to 2H.
“I want to do a picture of that whale!” said Anna as she rested from the interminable stroke – stroke – stroke! “See how the filtered light of the water surface above rays down onto the animal’s back, making marbled patterns.”
Art Teacher’s light grey – ‘marbled’ – eyes misted momentarily as she mused on this need to represent the world the students are actually interested in – or obsessed with! There is plenty more rich-in-content subject where this whale once came from.
“I’ve made a mistake!” muttered Alan bitterly “here, see that blob, it was meant to be a bush, but it looks more like a … head, or something?” Art Teacher looked over the boy’s shoulder at the offending ‘blob’, her eyes widened with surprise “In charcoal, we can always turn a mistake to advantage, by shading the problem, in the spirit of invention, to something else. It is a head – no, not quite, a skull!”
“Wow! I’ve drawn a skull, just like the one in Durer’s picture. I never thought I could do that – it looks great!” Alan worked away feverishly to wrest his skull from the chaos of the background stoke. Art Teacher smiled as the thought.
“The skull is the astrological region of Saturn.”