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Eurythmy as Visible Speech
GA 279

A1. How Does Eurythmy Stand With Regard to the Artistic Development of the Present Day?

Introductory words to the Eurythmy performance given in Dornach, 26th December, 1923, on the occasion of the Foundation Meeting of the General Anthroposophical Society.

The nature of eurythmy has certainly been repeatedly discussed before the most varied groups of our friends, lately also it was presented in the most varied way in the Goetheanum,1See Rudolf Steiner, foreword to a eurythmy performance in ‘Das Goetheanum’ Year 3, No. 7. 23rd Sept., 1925. and it is indeed unnecessary to speak at this performance, which is to be given exclusively to our friends about the essential nature of eurythmy, about the basic principles, which are known to all. Yet I should like to characterize again and again from a certain standpoint both the way in which eurythmy stands in the artistic development of the present and what its position among the arts in general is. To-day I will speak a few words about how eurythmy must in fact, as it were from its very nature, be drawn out from the being of man by a spiritual world-conception, which, in accordance with the signs of the times, is making itself felt in our present age.

We look at another art which portrays the human being—the plastic art, which portrays him in his quiescent form. Whoever approaches plastic art with a certain feeling for form, whoever experiences the human being, human characteristics, through a plastic work of art does so in the best way when he has the feeling: here the human being is silent, speaking through his quiescent form.

Now we know that in the eighteenth century Lessing wrote a paper on the limits of plastic art,—it was not called that, but that was its content,—in which he said that sculpture should in its very nature be a manifestation of that which is at rest, of that which is silent in man,—in man as a being placed into the cosmos. So that sculpture can only express that which manifests itself as silence, as stillness, in the human being. Hence any attempt to represent the human being in movement through the medium of sculpture will undoubtedly prove to be an artistic error.

In times gone by, indeed up to the time of the Renaissance, it was a matter of course that plastic art could only represent the human being in a state of rest. For it may be said: This age, which began with ancient Greece and ended with the Renaissance, was mainly concerned with the development in the human being of the intellectual soul. With regard to the inner configuration of man’s being, the sentient soul, the mind soul and the consciousness soul,—it is the mind soul, embracing as it does all that is connected with the human mind, that holds the middle place; and the mind is in fact permeated with that quiescent feeling which also comes to expression in the quiescent human form.

We live to-day in an age in which we must advance from the feeling element in man to the will element; for fundamentally speaking it is the descent into the will element which, if consciously achieved, would enable us to-day to attain to spiritual insight.

This brings us to the point where we may turn our spiritual gaze to the human being in movement; not to the human being who, as the expression of the Cosmic Word, remained silent in order to rest in form, but to the human being as he stands in the living weaving of the Cosmic Word, bringing his organism into activity in accordance with his cosmic environment.

It is this clement in man which must find expression in eurythmy. And if one is able to observe things from the point of view of the spiritual science which is suited to the humanity of to-day, one will always have the feeling that form must become fluidic. Let us look at a human hand. Its silence finds expression in its quiescent form. What then is the meaning of this quiescent form when the human being as a whole is taken into consideration? Its meaning is apparent when the quiescent element of feeling is allowed to hold sway as it did hold sway from the age of the ancient Greeks to the time of the Renaissance. There is certainly great significance in such a gesture as this, in which I indicate something with my hand, then allowing it to remain in a state of rest. But it does not enable us to understand what must be realized to-day with regard to man, it does not enable us to understand the human being in his totality.

It is indeed impossible to understand the human form, when observing the human being as a whole, unless one is conscious of the fact that every motionless form in man has meaning only because it is able to pass over into definite movement. What would be the significance of the human hand if it were compelled to remain motionless. Even in its motionless state the form of the hand is such as to demand movement.

When one studies the human being with that inner mobility which is essential to the Spiritual Science of to-day, then from out of the quiescent form, movement reveals itself on all sides. It is not too much to say that anyone who visits a museum containing sculpture belonging to the best periods of plastic art, and who looks at the figures with the inner vision arising out of the spiritual knowledge of our time, will see these figures descend from their stands, move about the room and meet each other, becoming on all sides enfilled with movement.

And eurythmy,—now eurythmy arises naturally out of sculpture. And to learn to understand this is our task also. To-day people gifted with a certain spiritual mobility feel disturbed if obliged to look for a long time at a motionless Greek statue. They have to force themselves to do it. This can, and indeed must be done in order not to spoil the Greek statue in one’s own personal fantasy. But at the same time the urge remains to bring movement into this motionless form. As a consequence there arises that moving sculpture to which we give the name of Eurythmy. Here the Cosmic Word is itself, movement. In eurythmy man is no longer silent but through his movement communicates innumerable cosmic secrets.

It is indeed always the case that man communicates through his own being numberless secrets of the universe. One can, however, have yet another cosmic feeling. Anyone who has a living understanding for such descriptions of cosmic evolution as are to be found in my Outline of Occult Science will realize from the outset that, in the case of the human form of to-day, it is as though one had allowed an inner mobility to become dried up, to become rigid. One need only to look back to the time of the Old Moon. The human being was then in a continual state of metamorphosis. Such a definitely formed nose, such definitely formed ears as man has to-day, these did not exist at that time. The once mobile forms had to become frozen. He who with his vision can transport himself into the time of the Old Moon, to him people to-day often appear as frozen, immobile beings, incapable of metamorphosis. And what we achieve by means of eurythmy, when we make it into a visible speech, is no less than this: The bringing of movement, of fluidity, into the frozen human form.

This demands a study which must in its very nature be artistic. In this sphere everything intellectualistic is positively harmful. Eurythmy is and must remain an art.

Just consider for a moment that some such eurythmy form as you have sometimes seen here in connection with poems which really have in their experience and structure the profundity, for instance, of the poems of Steffen, just consider that such a form would best be found when, let us say—one imagines ten or twelve people of the present day. You are certainly all individually different with regard to your external form; but one can say of every person, no matter whether he has a round or long head, a pointed or blunt nose,—one can say of every person how, in the case of a poem, he would move his etheric body. And it would certainly be interesting for one to take those sitting in a certain row and show how, in the case of a poem, each one of those sitting here would move in accordance with his own form, if this came about entirely from the individual characteristics of the person in question. Here are sitting, for instance, eight people in this row. In such a case quite different eurythmy forms would arise from the human form. This would be very interesting. One would have to look at many people in order to say how the human being would move for “Und es wallet und woget und brauset und zischt”.

And then one gets the idea of how the forms are necessary. Thus eurythmy is born wholly out of the moving human form, but one must be able to take up such a standpoint that, when asked why the form for a poem is such and such, one must say: Yes, that is how it is! If anyone demands an intellectual explanation in justification of such a form, then one will feel annoyed to give it, because that is really inartistic. Eurythmy is created entirely out of feeling and can also only be understood through feeling.

Of course one must learn certain things, the letters must be learned, and so on. But after all, when you write a letter, here also you do not think about how an i or a b is written, but you write because you are able to do so. The point, then, is not how the eurythmist must learn a, b, c but to enjoy what comes out of it in the end.

What must develop out of eurythmy is a newly created, moving sculpture. And for this living sculpture one must of course make use of the human being himself; here one cannot use clay or marble. This leads into a realm of art which, in the profoundest sense, touches reality just where sculpture departs from it. Sculpture portrays that which is dead in the human being, or at least that which is death-like in its rigidity. Eurythmy portrays all that in the human being which is of the nature of life itself. For this reason eurythmy can call forth the feeling of how the universal cosmic life laid hold of man and placed him into earthly evolution, giving him his earthly task. There is perhaps no other art through which one can experience man’s relationship to the cosmos so vividly as one is able to do through the art of eurythmy. Therefore this art of eurythmy, based as it is on the etheric forces in man, had to appear just at that time a modern Spiritual Science was being sought. For it was out of this modern Spiritual Science that eurythmy had to be born.