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The Arts and Their Mission
GA 276

Lecture IV

3 June 1923, Dornach

The last two lectures concentrated on artistic feeling and creation. I wished to call attention to the fact that anthroposophical contemplation leads to a particular manner of beholding the world, which must lead, in turn, to an inner vitalization of the arts, present and future. At the end of yesterday's lecture I stressed the fact that, by gaining a direct relation to the spiritual, a person can acquire the forces necessary for the creation, out of his innermost core, of true art. It has always been so. For true art stands beside real knowledge on the one hand, and on the other, genuine religious life. Through knowledge and religion man draws closer to the spiritual element in thought, feeling and will. Indeed, it is his inward experience of knowledge and religion, during an earth life, that brings about a sense of the validity of all that I discussed during the last two lectures. Looking at the physical surroundings akin to his physical body, he comes to realize that physicality is not the whole of his humanness. In all artistic and religious ages he has recognized this truth, saying to himself: Though I stand within earth existence, it contradicts that part of my human nature which was imaged forth from worlds quite different from the one in which I live between birth and death.

Let us consider this feeling I have just described in respect to cognition. Through thinking man strives to solve the riddles of existence. Modern man is very proud of the naturalistic knowledge which, for three or four centuries, now, while marvelous relationships in nature were traced out, has been accumulating. But, precisely in regard to these relationships, present-day natural science must say to itself on reflection, with all intensity: What can be learned through the physical senses leads to a door which locks out world mysteries and cosmic riddles. And we know from anthroposophical contemplation that, to pass this door, to enter the realms where we may perceive what lies behind the outer world, we must overcome certain inner dangers. If a human being is to tread the path leading through this door, he must first attain, in his thoughts, feelings and will, a certain inner steadiness. That is why entering this door is called passing the Guardian of the Threshold. If real knowledge of the spiritual-divine foundation of the world is to be acquired, attention must be called not only to the dangers mentioned, but also to the fact that no person penetrates this door in the state of consciousness brought about between birth and death by merely natural conditions.

Here we should consider the tremendous seriousness of cognition. Also the abyss lying between the purely naturalistic world and the world we must seek if we would enter our true home and discover what bears a relationship to our inmost being. For in the merely naturalistic world we feel ourselves strangers in regard to this inmost being. On entering physical existence at birth, inevitably we carry with us our eternal-divine being; but if its source is to be recognized, we must first become aware of the abyss lying between earth life and the regions of cognition which we must enter in order to know our own being.

An understanding of cognition highlights, on the one hand, the gravity of the search for a true relationship with the spiritual world; on the other, it helps us to recognize that, if earthly existence were immediately satisfactory, if what modern naturalism dreams to be the case were so, namely, that man is merely the highest pinnacle of natural phenomena, there would exist no religious human beings. For in such circumstances man would have to be satisfied with earthly existence.

Religion aims at something entirely different. It presents a reality which reconciles man to earthly existence, or consoles him beyond earthly existence, or perhaps awakens him to the full meaning of earthly existence by making him aware that he is more than anything which earthly existence implies.

Thus the anthroposophical world-conception is capable of giving a strong impetus to cognition as well as to religious experience. In the case of cognition it stresses the fact that one must travel a road of purification before passing the gate to the spiritual world. On the other hand, it stresses the truth that religious life leads far beyond the facts observable by a person with only ordinary earthly consciousness. For Anthroposophy recognizes that the Mystery of Golgotha, the earth-life of Christ Jesus, though placed among historical events comprehensible to the senses, can be comprehended in its fulness only supersensibly.

Fortunately the abyss on the edge of which man lives, the abyss opening out before him in religion and cognition, can be bridged. But not by contemporary religion, nor yet by a cognition, a science, derived wholly from the earth.

It is here that art enters. It forms a bridge across the abyss. That is why art must realize that its task is to carry the spiritual-divine life into the earthly; to fashion the latter in such a way that its forms, colors, words, tones, act as a revelation of the world beyond. Whether art takes on an idealistic or realistic coloring is of no importance. What it needs is a relationship to the truly, not merely thought-out, spiritual. No artist could create in his medium if there were not alive in him impulses springing from the spiritual world. This fact points to the seriousness of art, standing alongside the seriousness of cognition and religious experience. It cannot be denied that our materialistically oriented civilization diverts us, in many ways, from the gravity of art. But any devoted study of true artistic creation reveals it as an earnest of man's struggle to harmonize the spiritual-divine with the physical-earthly.

This became evident at that moment of world-evolution when human beings were faced in all seriousness with the great question of art; became evident in the grand style during the time of Goethe and Schiller. A glance at their struggles will corroborate this statement. Much that is pertinent, here, has already been quoted in past years, in other connections. Today—to provide a basis for discussion—I shall cite only a few instances.

During the eighteenth century there emerged a guiding idea which Goethe and Schiller themselves accepted: namely, the differentiation between romantic and classical art. Espousing classicism, Goethe tried to become its nurturer by familiarizing himself with the secrets of great Greek art. His Italian journey was fulfilment of his longing. In Germany, that northern land, he felt no possibility of reconciling, artistically, the divine-spiritual hovering, before his soul and the physical-sensory standing before his senses. Greek art, so abundant in Italy, and now deeply perceived, taught him the harmonization he lacked when he left Weimar for Italy. The impression he makes in describing his experience is—I must coin a paradoxical expression—at once heroic and touching.

In art Goethe was a classicist in the sense (if we use words which satisfactorily express his own idea) that he directed his gaze primarily toward the external, the sensory-real. But he was too profound a spirit not to feel a discrepancy between the sensory and that which derives from other realms, home of his soul. Sense-evidence should be purified, elevated through shaping, through an appropriate treatment. Thus Goethe the artist distilled from natural forms and human actions an element which, although presented imperfectly in the sensory-physical, could be brought to clarity without infidelity to the physical. In other words, he let the divine-spiritual shine through purified sensory forms. Always it was his earnest endeavor not to take up the spiritual lightly in his writings, not to express the divine-spiritual offhandedly. For he was convinced that romanticism can make only a facile, all-too-easy introduction of the spiritual into the physical; not deal with it comprehensively and effectively.

Never was it his intention to say: The gods live; I resort to symbolism to prove my conviction that the gods live. He did not feel thus. On the contrary, he felt somewhat as follows: I see the stones, I behold the plants, I observe the animals, I perceive the actions of human beings. To me all these creations have fallen away from the divine-spiritual. Nevertheless, though their earthly forms and colors show a desertion from the divine-spiritual, I must, by my treatment, lift them to a level where they can reflect, out of their own natures, that same divine-spiritual. I need not become unfaithful to nature—this Goethe felt—just purify seceded nature by artistic fashioning; then it will express the divine-spiritual. This was Goethe's conception of classicism; of the main impulse of Greek art, of all true art.

Schiller was unable to go along with this viewpoint. Because his gaze was directed idealistically into the spiritual world, he used physical things as indicators only. Thus he was the dayspring of post-Goethean romantic poetry. It is extraordinarily interesting to watch the reversal of method. For romantic poetry, as opposite pole to the classicism striven for by Goethe, despaired, as it were, of elevating the earthly-sensory to the divine; being satisfied to use it only as a more or less successful way of pointing to the divine-spiritual.

Let us look at the classicism of Goethe, composer of these beautiful lines:

Who possesses science and art
Possesses religion as well:
Who possesses the first two not,
O grant him religion.
(“Wer Wissenschaft and Kunst besitzt,
Hat auch Religion;
Wer jene beiden nicht besitzt,
Der habe Religion.”)

Goethe, permeated by a conviction that every artist harbors the religious impulse, Goethe, to whom the trivially religious was repulsive because there lived in him a deep religious impulse, took the greatest pains to purify artistically the sensory-physical-earthly form to a point where it became an image of the divine-spiritual. Let us look at his careful way of working. He took up what was robustly earthly without feeling any necessity of changing it greatly to give it artistic form.

Consider, in this respect, his Goetz von Berlichingen. He treated the biography of this man objectively and with respect while dramatizing it, as demonstrated by the title of the first version: Geschichte Gott friedens von Berlichingen mit der eisernen Hand, dramatisiert (History of Gottfried of Berlichingen of the Iron Hand, Dramatized). In other words, by changing only slightly the purely physical, he led it over into the dramatic; wishing, as artist, to part with the earth as little as possible; presenting it as a manifestation of the spiritual-divine world order.

Take another instance. Let us see how he approached his Iphigenie, his Tasso. He conceived these dramas, shaped their subject matter, poetically. But what happened then? He did not dare to give them their final form. In the situation in which he found himself, he, Goethe, who was born in Frankfurt and studied in Leipzig and Strassburg before going to Weimar, he, the Weimar-Frankfurt Goethe, did riot dare to finish these dramas. He had to go to Italy and walk in the light of Greek art to elevate the sensory-physical-earthly to a level where it could image forth the spiritual. Imagine the battle Goethe went through in order to bridge the abyss between the sensory-physical-earthly and divine-spiritual. It was like an illness when he left Weimar under cover of night, saying nothing to anybody, to flee to an environment in which he could master and elevate and spiritualize, as never in the north, the forms he worked with. His psychology is deeply moving. As I said before, it has about it something that might be called heroic-touching.

Let us go further. It is characteristic of Goethe—the paradox may strike you as peculiar—that he never finished anything. He began Faust in one great fling, but only the philistine Eckermann could induce him, in his old age, to bring this drama to a conclusion, and then it was only just barely possible for the author. For Goethe to bring his Faust to artistic form was a tremendous struggle which required the help of somebody else. Then take Wilhelm Meister. After its inception, he did not wish to finish. It was Schiller who persuaded him to do so. And if we scrutinize the matter, we might say: if only Schiller had not done so. For what Goethe then produced was not on the same level as his first sketch which would have remained a fragment. Take the second part: episodes are assembled. The writing is not all of a piece; it is not a uniform work of art. Now observe how—as in Pandora—Goethe strove to rise to the pinnacle of artistic creation by drawing his figures from the Greek world which he loved so much. Pandora remained a fragment, he could not complete it; the project was too vast for him to round it out. The serious, difficult task of the artist weighed upon his soul, and when he tried to idealize human life, to present it in the glory of the divine-spiritual, he could complete only the first part of the trilogy, the first drama: Die Natuerliche Tochter.

Thus in every possible way Goethe shows his predilection for the classical; always endeavoring, in his works, to purify the earthly physical to the point where it could spread abroad the radiance of the divine-spiritual. He struggled and strove, but the task was such that, apprehended deeply enough, it surpassed human forces, even Goethe's. We must say, therefore, that precisely in such a personality the arts with their grave world-mission appear in their full grandeur and power. What appeared, later, in romanticism is all the more characteristic when considered in the light of Goethe.

Last Thursday was the hundred-and-fiftieth birthday of Ludwig Tieck, who was born on May 31, 1773, and died on April 28, 1853. Tieck—unfortunately little known today—was in a certain respect a loyal pupil of Goethe. He grew out of romanticism, out of what at the University of Jena during the nineties of the eighteenth century was regarded as as the modern Goethe problem. In his youth he had experienced the publication of Werther and of the first part of Faust. At Jena, together with Novalis, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, he struggled to solve the riddles of the world. In his immediate environment Ludwig Tieck felt the breath of Goethe's striving toward the classical, and in him we can see how spiritual life was still active at the end of the eighteenth, and during the first half of the nineteenth, century. With Schlegel, Tieck introduced Shakespeare into Germany; and as a personality he illustrates how Goethe's tremendous efforts were reflected in certain of his prominent contemporaries. Tieck felt the grandeur and dignity of art as a mighty cultural ideal. He looked about; he did not gather his life experiences in a narrowly circumscribed spot. After sitting at the feet of Fichte, Schelling and Hegel at the University of Jena, he journeyed through Italy and France. Then, after becoming acquainted with the world and philosophy, he strove, in a true Goethean manner, artistically to bridge the abyss between earthly and heavenly existence.

Of course he could not compete with Goethe's power and impetus. But let us look at one of Tieck's works: Franz Sternbald's Wanderungen (Franz Sternbald's Journeys), written in the form of Wilhelm Meister. What are these Sternbald journeys? They are journeys of the human soul into the realm of art. The question pressing heavily upon Sternbald is this: How can I raise sense-reality to the radiance of the spiritual? At the same time Tieck—whose hundred-and-fiftieth birthday we ought to be celebrating—felt the seriousness which streams down upon art from the region of cognition and that of religious life. Great is the light which falls, from there, upon Ludwig Tieck's artistic creations. A novel which he wrote comparatively early in life bears the title William Lovell; and this character is under Tieck's own impression (received while sitting at the feet of Schelling and Fichte in Jena) of the extreme seriousness of the search for knowledge. Imagine the effect of such teachings upon a spirit as receptive as Tieck's. (Differently, though not less magnificently, they influenced Novalis.) In his younger years Tieck had passed through the rationalistic “free spirit” training of Berlin's supreme philistine Nikolai. It was therefore an experience of the very greatest importance when he saw how in Fichte and Schelling the human soul relinquished, as it were, all connection with outer physical reality and, solely through its own power, endeavored to find a path through the door to the spiritual world. In William Lovell Tieck depicts a human being who, entirely out of the forces of his own soul, subjectively, seeks access to the spirit. Unable to find in the physical-sensory the divine for which Goethe constantly strove through his classical art, William Lovell seeks it nevertheless, relying entirely on his own forces, and thereby becoming confused, perplexed in regard to the world and his own personality. Thus William Lovell loses his hold on life through something sublime, that is, through the philosophy of Fichte and Schelling. In a peculiar way the book points out the dangers of cognition, through which, of necessity, men must pass. Tieck shows us how the cognitionally-serious can infuse the artistically-serious.

In his later years Ludwig Tieck created the poetic work: Der Aufruhr in den Cevennen (The Uprising in the Cevennes). What is his subject matter? Demonic powers which approach man, nature spirits which lay hold of him, possess him, drive him into religious fanaticism, and cause him to lose his way through the world. Oh, this Ludwig Tieck certainly felt what it means, on the one hand, to be dependent solely upon one's own personality and, on the other, to fall prey to elementals, gods of the elements. Hence overtones of gripping power in Tieck's works; for example in his Dichterleben (Life of the Poet) in which he describes how Shakespeare, as a thoroughly poetic nature, enters the world, how the world puts obstacles in his path, and how he stumbles into pitfalls. In Dichterleben Tieck discusses a poet's birth and all that earthly life gives him on a purely naturalistic basis. In Tod des Dichters (Death of the Poet) which deals with the last days of the Portuguese poet Camoens, he describes a poet's departure from life, his path to the gate of death. It is deeply moving how Tieck describes, out of the seriousness of the Goethe age, the beginning and end of an artist's life. What was great in Tieck was not his own personality, but rather his reflection of Goethe's spirit. Most characteristic, therefore, is his treatment of those “really practical people” who want to stand solidly on the earth without spiritual impulse in artistic presentation. Oh, there exists no more striking satire on novels about knights and robber barons than Tieck's Blaubart (Bluebeard). And, again, no more striking satire on the mawkishly emotional trying to be artistic than Tieck's Der gestiefelte Kater (Puss-in-Boots). The woeful excess of sentiment which mutters of the divine-spiritual (a sentimentality illustrated by the affected Ifliand and babbling Kotzebue) he sends packing.

Ludwig Tieck reveals how the Goetheanism of the first half of the nineteenth century was mirrored in a receptive personality; how something like a memory of the great ancient periods played into the modern age; periods in which mankind, looking up to the divine-spiritual, strove to create, in the arts, memorials of the divine-spiritual. Such a personality represents the transition from an age still spiritually vital, at least in memory, to an age blinded by a brilliant natural-scientific world-conception and less brilliant life-practice; an age which will never find the spirit without the impetus which comes from direct spiritual perception, which is to say, from imagination, inspiration and intuition, as striven for by Anthroposophy.

Look, from this point of view, at the tremendous seriousness ensouling these writers. Not only Goethe but many others despaired of finding their way into the spiritual world through contemporary cultural life. Goethe did not rest until, in Italy, he had acquired an understanding of the way the Greeks penetrated the secrets of existence through their works of art. I have often quoted Goethe's statement: “It seems to me that, in creating their works of art, the Greeks proceeded according to nature's own laws, which I am now tracing.” Clearly, he believed that in their art the Greeks received from the gods something which enabled them to create higher works of nature, images of divine-spiritual existence. The followers of Goethe, still under his direct influence, felt compelled to return to ancient times, at least to ancient Greece, to attain to the spirit.

Herman Grimm, who in many ways still felt Goethe's living breath (I mentioned this in my last article in Das Goetheanum), said repeatedly that the ancient Romans resembled modern human beings; though they wore the toga, walked like moderns; whereas the ancient Greeks all seemed to have had the blood of the gods flowing through their veins. A beautiful, artistically felt statement! Indeed, it was only after the fifteenth century (I have often mentioned this) that man entered into materialism. It was necessary. We must not berate what the modern age brought. Had things stayed as they were, man would have remained deterministically dependent upon the divine spiritual world. If he was ever to become free, his passage into a purely material civilization was an historical necessity. In the book The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity I have described modern man's attitude in this respect. But the evening glow of the ancient spiritual life was still lighting up the sky in Goethe's time, indeed, right up to the middle of the nineteenth century. Therefore his longing for Italy, his hope of finding there, through an echo from ancient Greece, something unattainable in his own civilization: the spirit. Goethe could not live without having seen Rome and a culture which, however antiquated, still enshrined the spiritual in the sensory-physical.

He was preceded in this mood by Johann Joachim Winckelmann, a kind of personification of that evening-glow of ancient spiritual life. Goethe's appreciation of Winckelmann comes out in his marvelously beautiful book on this man and his century: a glorious presentation of the strivings of a personality longing for the spirit. Through this book one senses what Goethe felt vividly: that Winckelmann went to the south, to Rome, to find in ancient spirituality the spirit he missed in the present and restore it. Winckelmann was intoxicated by his search for spirituality: Goethe could feel that. And his book is superb precisely because he was permeated with that same longing. In Rome both men sensed, at last, something of the breath of ancient spirituality. There Winckelmann traced the mysteries of art to remnants of Greek artistic impulses and absorbed them into his soul; there Goethe repeated the experience. Thus it was in Rome that Goethe rewrote Iphigenie. He had fled with his northern Iphigenie to Rome in order to rewrite it and give it the only form he could consider classical. Here he succeeded. Which cannot be said of the works written after he returned home.

In all this we see Goethe the artist's profoundly serious struggle for spirituality. Only after he had discovered in Raphael's colors and Michelangelo's forms the results of what he considered genuine artistic experience could his own search come to fruition. Thus he represents the evening glow of a spirituality lost and no longer valid for modern man.

Permit me, now, to make a personal remark. There was a certain moment when I felt deeply what Winckelmann said when he traveled south to discover the secrets of art, and how Goethe followed in his footsteps. At the same moment I could not but feel strongly that the time of our surrender to the evening glow had passed; we must now search with all our might for a new unfolding of spiritual life, must give up seeking for what is past. All this I experienced at the destiny-allotted moment when, years ago, I had to deliver some anthroposophical lectures about the evolution of world and man in the very rooms where Winckelmann lived during his Roman sojourn; the very rooms where he conceived his thoughts about Italian and Greek art, and enunciated the comprehensive ideas which filled Goethe with the enthusiasm expressed in his book on Winckelmann. Here in Winckelmann's quarters the conviction permeated me that something new must be stated on the path to spiritual life. A strange connection of destiny.

With this personal remark I conclude today's observations.