1. The Creative World of Colour
26 July 1914, Dornach
Herman Grimm, the cultured Art-Critic of the nineteenth century, has pronounced what one might call a profound utterance about Goethe. He has aid that mankind would not realize the full importance of Goethe till the year 2000. A goodish time, you will agree. And when one looks at our epoch, one is hardly inclined to contradict such a statement. For what does Herman Grimm consider as the most important fact about Goethe? Not that he was a poet, nor that he produced this or that particular work of art, but that he created all he did out of the complete man, that the impulses of his full manhood underlay every detail of his creations. One may say that our epoch is very far from comprehending this full manhood that lived in Goethe. In saying this I do not want in any way to refer to the oft-denounced specialized method of observation of Science. This method is to a certain extent a necessity. There is, however, something much more striking than the specialization of Science, and that is the specialization of our life! For it leads to the situation that the soul which is confined to this or that specialized circle of ideas or sensations can understand less and less the other soul which is specialized in another direction. And to a certain extent all men are now specialists. This aspect of the specialist and soul particularly strikes us when we consider the Art-development of mankind. And precisely for this reason is it necessary — if only in primitive beginnings — that a kind of pulling together of spiritual life will result in artistic form. We need not take a very comprehensive view to prove what I have said. AS we shall probably understand each other best if we proceed from something close at hand, I should like to refer to one of the many instances of those misunderstanding and often ridiculous attacks on our spiritual movement which are at present so conspicuous.
In quarters where they are anxious to blacken us before the world, it is considered cheap and common-place in us to make our rooms as we please. We are reproached for decorating our meeting places with coloured walls and are ridiculed for what is called the freakishness of the (first) Goetheanum at Dornach, which is said to be quite unnecessary for a real Theosophy, as the expression goes. Well, in certain circles, one considers as a “true Theosophy” a physic hotch-potch, interspersed with all sorts of dark feelings, and which revels in the fact that the soul can unfold in itself a higher ego, though all the time having no other than egoistic ideas in view. And from the point of view of this psychic hotch-potch, this cloudy dreaming, it is found unnecessary for a spiritual movement to express itself in an outward form, even if this outward form has to be admittedly a tentative and primitive one. In these circles it is imagined that one could chatter wherever one happened to be about this hotch-potch and this misty dreaming about the divine ego in man. Why is it necessary, therefore, that all sorts and kinds of expression in such peculiar forms should be attempted?
Well, my dear friends, it is of course not to be expected that such people who turn this sort of thing into a reproach are also capable of thinking: such a demand can only be made of a very few. But we must get clear on many points, so that we can answer the questions raised at least in our own souls rightly.
I want to draw your spiritual attention to an artist of the eighteenth century, who was greatly gifted as draughtsman and painter, Carstens. I do not want to discuss the value of his art, to unroll the tale of his activity or give you his life-story, but I want you to note that in Carstens lay a great gift for drawing, if not for painting. If we look into his soul, and at an artistic longing there, we can in a way see what was wrong. He wants to set pencil to paper, he wants to draw ideas and embody them in paint, only he is not in the position in which — let me say — Raphael or Leonardo still were, or to take an example from poetry, in which Dante was. Raphael, Leonardo and Dante lived in a full, rich culture, one which was really alive in men's souls, and surrounded them. When Raphael painted Madonnas, there lived in human hearts and souls the understanding for a Madonna, and — be it said in the noblest sense — out of the people's soul there streamed something towards the creations of these artists. When Dante led the human soul into spiritual realms, he needed only to take his matter and material from something that in a way echoed in every human soul. One might say these artists had some substance in their own souls which was present in the general culture. If one picks up some even obscure work of science of the time, one will find there is everywhere some kind of connection between it and what was alive in all souls, even in the lowest circles. The educated people of those circles of culture from which Raphael created his Madonnas recognized fully the idea of the Madonna, and in such a way that this idea of Madonnas lived in them. Thus the creations of art appear as an expression of the universal and unified spiritual life. This is what arose again in a single man, in Goethe, as he was at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. And it is this which is so little understood in our time, namely, that Herman Grimm was inclined to wait for the year 2000 for such an understanding to become possible for the world again.
On the other hand let us look at Carstens. He takes Homer's Iliad and imprints its events he reads into the forms his pencil creates. Just think how different was the attitude of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries to the Homeric figures from Raphael to the figures of the Madonnas or the other motives of the time! One might say the content of art was inevitable in the great periods because it flowed from things that touched the very inmost hearts of men. In the nineteenth century the time began when the artist had to look for the content of what he purposed to create. It was not long before the artist became a kind of cultural hermit who was really dependent only on himself, of whom one might ask: What is his own relation to his world of forms? One could unroll the history of human art in the nineteenth century to see how Art stands in this respect.
And so it has come about that not only that cool, but cold relationship of mankind to Art began which exists at present. One may imagine a man today going through a picture gallery or exhibition in a modern city. Well, my dear friends, he is not faced with something that moves his soul, something that echoes inwardly, but he is faced with a number of riddles which he can solve only when he has deeply studied the special attitude of this or that artist to Nature or to something else. We are confronted with a lot of individual problems or tasks. And — this is the significant thing — while one thinks one is solving artistic problems, one is solving really for the most part problems that are not artistic ones but psychological. The way in which this or that artist regards Nature today is an exercise in philosophy or something of the sort, which simply does not come into account at all when one steeps oneself in the great Art-periods. On the contrary there enter these real artistic questions, for the onlooker also, because the “How” is something which makes the artist creative, whereas the substance is merely something that surrounds him, in which he is steeped. We may say that our artists are not artists at all any more, they are world observers from a particular point of view, and they put into form what they see and what strikes them. But these are psychological tasks, tasks of historical interpretation and so on; the essential thing about the artistic view of “How” has disappeared almost completely from our time. The heart is often lacking for such artistic considerations as “How.”
A great deal of the blame for all this to which I have briefly drawn your attention must be ascribed to our thoroughly theoretic world-philosophy. Men have become as theoretic in their thought as they have become practical in their industry and technique and commercial relations. To build a bridge between, for example, the pursuits of modern science and the artist's conception of the world is not only difficult, but also few people feel the need to do it. And a saying like Goethe's: “The beautiful is a manifestation of the secret laws of Nature, which, without this revelation, would for ever have remained hid.” Is completely unintelligible to our time, even if here and there somebody believes he understands it. For our time clings to the most superficial, most abstract laws of Nature, to those which approach, one might say, the most abstract Mathematics, and will allow no importance to any research into reality which transcends the abstract-mathematical, or anything that is similar to the abstract-mathematical. And so it is not surprising if our time has lost that living element in the soul which finds that substantiality in world relationships which must spring from them actively if Art is to arise at all.
Art can never be evolved from scientific concepts, or abstract-theosophical concepts, at the most it would be an allegory of straw or a stiff symbolism. The representations that the present time makes of the world is in itself inartistic, and makes an effort to be inartistic. Colours — what have they become in our scientific view? Vibrations of the most abstract kind in the material of the ether, vibrations of the ether-waves so and so much in length, etc. Imagine how far removed the waves of vibrating ether, which are science seeks today, are from the direct and living colour. How is it possible to do anything but forget completely to pay any attention to this living element in colour? We have already pointed out how this element in colour is fundamentally a flowing, living one, in which we with our sols are also living. And a time will come (I have pointed this out)_ in which the living connection of the flowing colour-world with coloured beings and objects will again be realized.
It is difficult for man, my dear friends, because man, on account of having to perfect his ego in the course of earth's evolution, has risen from this flowing sea of colour to a pure Ego perception. Man raises himself from this sea of colour with his ego; the animal-world is still deep in it, and the fact that an animal has feathers or hair of this or that colour, is connected with the animal's soul-relation with this flowing sea of colour. An animal regards objects with its astral body (as we do with the ego) and there flows into this astral body whatever forces there are in the group-souls of animals. It is nonsense to believe that even the higher animals see the world as man sees it. But the truth of this point is quite unintelligible to modern man. He believes that if he is standing beside a horse, it sees him exactly as he sees it. What is more natural? And yet, it is complete nonsense. For just as little as a man sees an angel without clairvoyance, does a horse see a man without clairvoyance, for the man is not a physical being to the horse, but a spiritual being, and only because the horse is endowed with a certain clairvoyance does he perceive man as a kind of angel. What the horse sees in man is quite different from what we see in the horse. As we humans wander about, we are very ghostly beings to the higher animals. If they could talk a real language of their own, man would soon see that it does not occur to animals at all to regard man as a similar being to themselves, but as a higher, ghostly being. If they regard their own body as consisting of flesh and blood, they certainly would not regard man as consisting of flesh and blood. If one expresses this today, it sounds to modern minds the purest rubbish — so far is the present age removed from truth.
The susceptibility for the living, creative element of colour flows into animals because of their peculiar connection between astral body and group-soul. And just as we look at an object which rouses our desire and seize it with a movement of the hand, so in the case of animals, the whole of their organization is such that the directly creative element of colour makes an impression, and it flows into the feathers or wool and colours the animal. I have already expressed my opinion that our time cannot even realize why the polar bear is white; the whiteness is the product of his environment and that the polar bear makes himself white has approximately the same significance, on another plane, as when, through desire, a man stretches out his hand to pick a rose. The living productive element in his environment works on the polar-bear in such a way that it releases in him an impulse and he completely “whitens” himself.
Now this living weaving and existence in colour is suppressed in man, for he would never have been able to perfect his ego if he had stayed in the colour-sea, and he would never, for example, have developed the urge regarding a certain red colour, let us say the red of dawn, to impress it on certain parts of his skin. Such was still the case during the old Moon-Period. Then the effect of contemplating such a drama of nature as the red of dawn was such that it impressed the man of that time and the reflection of the impression was at the same time thrown back into his own colouring, it permeated his being and then expressed itself again outwardly in certain parts of his body. Man had to lose this immersion of his body in this flowing colour-sea during his earth-period, so that he could develop in his ego his own world-outlook. And man had to be come in his form neutral towards the flowing colour-sea. The colour man's skin in the temperate zones is in essentials the expression of the ego, the expression of absolute neutrality towards the colour-waves streaming without, and it denotes the rising above the flowing colour-sea. But, my dear friends, if we take even primitive scientific knowledge, we shall remember that it is man's task to find the way back again. Physical, etheric and astral body were formed during the epochs of Saturn, Sun and Moon respectively, the ego during the earth-period. Man must find the means to spiritualize the astral body again, to permeate it with what the ego gains for itself by working upon it. And in spiritualizing the astral body and thus finding the way back again, man must once more find the flowing and ebbing colour-waves, from which he arose in order to develop the ego, just as when he rises out of the ocean, he sees only what is outside. And we really do live at a time when a beginning must be made — unless man's living in accordance with the universe is to cease altogether — with this diving down into the spiritual waters of Nature's forces, what is, the spiritual forces that lie behind Nature. We must make it again possible not merely to look at colours and to apply them outwardly, but to “live” with the colour, to share its inner power of life. We cannot do it if we study the effect of this or that colour from a painter's point of view, as we stare at it; we can do it only if we experience with our souls the manner in which red, for example, or blue flows; if this flowing of colour becomes directly alive for us. We can only do it, my dear friends, if we are able so to instill life into the colour, that we do not produce mere symbolism in colour — that would of course be the worse way — but that we really discover what actually lies in the colour itself, as the power to laugh lies in a laughing man.
If a man in feeling the sensation of red or blue has no other reaction to it than in feeling — here is red, and here is blue, he can never proceed onwards to a living experience of the real nature of colour. Still less can he do so if he clothes the colour-content with intelligence and finds one symbol behind the red, and another behind the blue; that would lead still less to experiencing the element of colour. The point is we must know how to surrender our whole soul to the message of colour. Then, in approaching red, we shall feel something aggressive towards ourselves, something that attacks us. Red seems to “come for” us. If all ladies went about the streets in red, anyone with a fine feeling for the colour might inwardly believe that they might all fall upon him, on account of their red clothes. Blue, on the contrary, has something in it which goes away from us, which leaves us looking after I with a certain sadness, perhaps even with a kind of longing.
How far the present day is from such a living understanding of colour can be seen from something I have already pointed out: in the case of the excellent artist Hildebrandt it was expressly emphasized that the colour is on the surface, and there is nothing else but surface-colour, thus differing from form, which gives us, for example, distance. But colour gives us more than distance, and that an artist like Hildebrandt does not feel this must be taken as a deep symbol of the whole modern manner. It is impossible to steep oneself in the living nature of colour, if one cannot have a direct transition from immobility to movement, if one is not directly made aware that the red disk is coming nearer and the blue retreating; they move in opposite directions. In steeping oneself in this living element of colour, one gets to a stage of realizing that if we had two coloured balls, for instance, of this kind, one is quite unable to conceive the possibility of their standing still; it is inconceivable. If it were conceived it would mean the death of living feeling, which gives the direct idea that the red and the blue balls are revolving, one towards the spectator, the other away from him. And the red on a figure, in opposition to the blue, results in giving to a figure composition life and movement through colour. And what is portrayed, my dear friends, is made part of the living world, because it shines in colour. If you have
The form before you, it is restful, it remains stationary; but the moment the form receives colour, the inner movement of the colour stands out from the form, and the whirl of the world, the whirl of spirituality, permeates it. If you colour a figure you vivify it directly with soul, with the world-soul, because the colour does not belong only to the form, the colour which you apportion to the single figure places the latter in its full relationships with its environment, yes, in its full relationship with the world. One might say that when one colours a form one must have the feeling: “Now you are going to approach the form so that you endow it with soul.” You breathe soul into the dead form, when you animate it with colour.
You need only get a little closer to this inner weaving of colour to feel as if you are not approaching it directly, but are standing slightly above or below it; one feels how living the colour itself inwardly becomes. For a lover of the abstract, who stares at the colour without that living inner sympathy, a red ball can revolve round a blue one and he has no desire to alter the movement in any way. He may be the greatest mathematician or the greatest metaphysician, but he does not understand how to live with colour, because for him it moves from one place to another like a dead substance. In reality, if one lives with it, colour does not do this. It radiates, it changes in itself, and a colour such as the red colour drives in its advance something before it like an orange or yellow or green aura. And the blue in its movement drives something different before it.
So you have here a kind of colour-game. You experience something, when you enter into the life of colours, which makes the red appear to be attacking and the blue retreating — which makes you feel that you must flee from the red and follow the blue with longing. And when you can feel all this, you would also actually feel yourself in harmony with the living, moving flow of colour. You would feel in your soul also the onslaughts and longings superimposed on each other as in a vortex, the fleeing and the prayer of devotion, which follow each other and pass by. And if you were to transform this into a detail on a figure, of course as an artist would do, you would tear away the figure from its natural repose. The moment you paint, let us say, a figure in repose, you would have a living weaving movement, which belongs not merely to the form, but also to the forces and weaving elements round the figure: this is what you would have. You take away the mere immobility of the figure, its mere form, by means of soul. One would like to say that something of this sort must some day be painted into this world, something depicting the elementary powers of this world; for all that man is able to receive through the power of longing could be expressed in the blue colour. Man would have to represent this plastically in his head, and everything that is expressed in red, man would have to have in such a form that it flows out of his organism up to the brain: outside him the world, the object of his longing, which is ever permeated by that which rises upwards from his own body. By day the blue half flows stronger than the red, or the yellow half. At night it is the reverse in the human organism. An accurate reproduction of this is what we usually call the two-leaved lotus flower, (See Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and its Attainment by Rudolf Steiner) in which the beholder sees both such movement and such colouring. And no one will ever be able to investigate what lives in the world of form as the productive element, as the upper part of the human head, unless he is in a position to follow this flow of colour which is hidden in man.
Art, my dear friends, must make an effort again to get down to the bottom of elemental life; it has studied Nature long enough, and tried long enough to solve all kinds of enigmas in Nature, and to reproduce in works of art in another form what can be seen by penetration into Nature. But that which lives in the elements, that is still dead for modern Art: air and water and light, as they are painted today are dead; form, as exemplified in modern sculpture, is dead. A new Art will arise when the human soul learns to steep itself in the living elemental world. One can argue against this, one can be of the opinion that one should not do this. But it is only human indolence arguing against it; for either man will come to live with his whole manhood in the elemental world and its forces, will acknowledge the spirit and soul or outer things, or else Art will become more and more the hermit-like work of the individual soul., whereby perhaps extremely interesting things may appear for the psychology of this or that soul, but never will those things be attained with Art alone can attain. One speaks of a very distant future, my dear friends, in speaking thus, but we have to approach this future with an eye strengthened by spiritual science, otherwise we look out only upon what is dead and decaying in the future of mankind.
Therefore it is that an inner connection must be sought between all that in form and colour is created in our domain, and that which stirs our soul in its deepest depths as spiritual knowledge, as something that lives in our spirit, just as the Madonnas lived in Raphael, so that he could thus become the painter of Madonnas, because they lived in him as they did in the scholar, the peasant and the artisan of his time. This is what made him the true painter of Madonnas. Only if we succeed in bringing into form livingly, artistically, without symbolism or allegory, what in our whole world outlook lives in us, not as abstract thoughts, not as lifeless knowledge, nor as science, but as the living substance of the soul, can we get an idea of what is meant by this future to which I have just alluded.
For this there must be a unity, as there was, one might say, with Goethe through a special Karma, between outward creation and what permeates the deepest recesses of the soul. Bridges must be thrown between what or many is still today abstract idea in the content of spiritual science, and the produce of our hand, our chisel, and our paint-brush. The obstacle to building this bridge today is the superficial, abstract culture, which does not allow what is being done to become living. Only so is it comprehensible that the completely unfounded belief has grown up that spiritual knowledge can kill Art. It has certainly killed much in many people; all the dead allegorizing and symbolizing, all the inquiry — what is the meaning of this, or of that? I have already pointed out that one should not always be asking: What does this or that mean? We do not have to ask what the larynx “means,” we know it is the living organ of human speech, and in the same way we must look upon what lives in form and in colour as the living organ of the spiritual world. As long as we have not accustomed ourselves to stop asking about symbols and allegories, as long as we represent myths and sagas allegorically and symbolically, instead of feeling the living breath of the spirit surging through the whole Cosmos, and realizing how the cosmic content enters livingly into the figures of the myths and legends, we shall never attain a true spiritual knowledge.
But a beginning must be made! It will be imperfect. No one must think that we regard the beginning as perfect: but the objection is as silly as many other objections which the present age makes against our spiritual movement, namely that what we have tried to do in our building has nothing to do with this spiritual stream. What these people think they can prove, we know already ourselves. That all the silly nonsense about the “higher Ego,” all the sentimental talking about the “spiritualization of the human soul,” that all this can of course be babbled about in the present-day outward forms, we know ourselves also. And we know of course as well that spiritual science can be pursued in its ideal and conceptual character anywhere. But we feel that a living spiritual science demands an environment which is different from that supplied by a dying culture, if it is to be pursued beyond theory. And there is really no need for that platitude to be announced to us by the outer world, that one can carry on spiritual science in the ideal sense in other rooms than those enlivened by our forms. But the ideal of our spiritual science, my dear friends, must be poured into our souls seriously and ever more seriously. And we still require much in order to instill this seriousness, this inner psychic energy completely into ourselves. It is easy to talk of this spiritual science and its practice in the outer world in such a way as to miss its nature and its nerve. When one often sees nowadays how the strongest attacks against our movement are formed, and how they are only directed at us, one has a remarkable sensation. One reads this or that onslaught, and if one is of sound mind, one must say to oneself: what is really being described here? All sorts of fantastic things are described which have not the remotest connection with us! And then these are attacked. There is so little capacity in the world to accept a new spiritual element, that it sketches a completely unlike caricature, discusses this and marches into battle against it. There are even some who think that we should refute these matters. We might reply, though we cannot refute every sort of thing which a person may imagine for himself and which has no resemblance whatever to that which he wishes to describe. But whatever sense of truth and sincerity lies at the bottom of such matters, this, my dear friends, we must carefully and earnestly consider. For thereby we may become strong in that which ought to arise in us through Spiritual Science — in that which out of spiritual Science, I would say, should with living force come to realization externally in material existence. That the world has not grown more tolerant in understanding is shown precisely in the attitude it takes up towards this spiritual science.
Perhaps we can celebrate the more intimate union of our souls with spiritual science in no greater way than in steeping ourselves in such problems as the problem of colour. For by experiencing the living element in the flow of colour we come, one might say, out of our own form, and share the cosmic life. Colour is the soul of nature and of the whole Cosmos, and by experiencing the life of colour, we participate in this soul.
I wanted to allude to these things today, in order to investigate next time further into the nature of colour and of painting.
My dear friends, I had to introduce into these remarks some allusions to the attacks which are now pouring in upon us from all sides. They originate in a world which cannot have any idea of what is the object of our movement. One can only wish, my dear friends, that through a deepening in all directions those who are in the movement will find the possibility of being clear about a fact which is indeed symptomatic of our time: the intrusion of unreality and untruthfulness in the comprehension of what is trying to find its place in the spiritual world. We shall certainly not be the cause of shutting out our spiritual movement from the world; it can have as much of it as it wishes. But what it will have to accept, if it wishes to understand our direction, is the unifying principle in the whole nature of man, whereby every detail of human accomplishment arises from the whole of man's nature.
What I have been saying is not an attack on the present age, but I have said it with a certain sadness because one sees that the wider our movement spreads, the more spiteful the forces of opposition become — perhaps not consciously, but more or less unconsciously and because the way one should judge such things is not sufficiently known, even in our ranks, for one should earnestly take up the standpoint that something new, that a new beginning is at least intended in our movement. One can only wish, my dear friends, that through a deepening in all directions those who are in the movement will find the possibility of being clear about a fact which is indeed symptomatic of our time: the intrusion of unreality and untruthfulness in the comprehension of what is trying to find its place in the spiritual world. We shall certainly not be the cause of shutting out our spiritual movement from the world; it can have as much of it as it wishes. But what it will have to accept, if it wishes to understand our direction, is the unifying principle in the whole nature of man, whereby every detail of human accomplishment arises from the whole of man's nature.
What I have been saying is not an attack on the present age, but I have said it with a certain sadness because one sees that the wider our movement spreads, the more spiteful the forces of opposition become — perhaps not consciously, but more or less unconsciously and because the way one should judge such things is not sufficiently known, even in our ranks, for one should earnestly take up the standpoint that something new, that a new beginning is at least intended in our movement. What the “intention” will lead to will no doubt appear. And also our “building” is surely only expressive of an “intention.” People will come who can do more than “intend” — if perhaps only at the date Herman Grimm assumes that Goethe will be fully understood. A certain modestly is requisite to understand such a saying and this is rare in the intellectual life of today. Spiritual science is well adapted to bring this modesty, as well as the earnestness of the situation, near to our souls.
These attacks from all sides on our spiritual movement make a saddening impression, since the world is beginning to see something of it; as long as it was only spiritually there, the world could see nothing; now, when it can see something it cannot understand, it begins to blow its cacophonous sounds from all nooks and corners; and this will become ever stronger and stronger. If we are able to see this, we shall at first be filled with a certain sadness; but the strength to stand for what we accept, not merely as a conviction but as life itself, will increase in us. Etheric life will also permeate the human soul, and what will live in it will be more than theoretic conviction, of which the people of today are still so proud. The man who imbues his soul with such earnestness, will find also the assurance that the foundations of our world, the foundations of our human existence can support us if they are sought in the spiritual world — and one needs this assurance, my dear friends, at one time more, at another time less.
And if one can speak of regrets, in considering the relation of our spiritual movement to the echo it finds in the world, if this is regret, then from this mood of melancholy must proceed the feeling of strength which rises from the knowledge that the sources of human life are in the spirit, and that the spirit will lead man out of everything concerning which, like disharmony, he can feel only regret. From this mood of strength one will also receive strength.
One would have to speak today, my dear friends, of spiritual affairs with a still greater regret than is caused by the discrepancy between the intentions in our spiritual movement and the echo which they arouse in the world. The disharmony in the world would disappear in another way if mankind once realized what our spiritual science means by the spiritual light which can illuminate in the human heart. And if we look at the fate of Europe today, the anxiety concerning our movement is but relatively small. Filled and shaken by this anxiety, I have spoken these words to you, but at the same time I am filled with the living conviction that with whatever painful experiences Europe is faced in the near or distant future, we can be reassured by the living knowledge that the spirit will lead man victoriously through all perplexities. Truly in days of anxiety, in hours so fraught with seriousness as these, we not only may, we must speak of the sacred concerns of our spiritual science, for we may believe that however small its sun appears today, it will grow and grow and become brighter and brighter — a sun of peace, a sun of love and harmony over all men.
These are earnest words, my dear friends, but they are such as justify us in thinking of the narrower affairs of spiritual science with all our souls and hearts, just because such terribly serious times are looking in at our windows.