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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Eurythmy as Visible Speech
GA 279

A3. Veils, Dresses and Colours

4 August 1922, Dornach

To-day I should like to give you some indications about our art of eurythmy.

We must realise that every art is limited in its sphere of work by the means of artistic expression which stand at its disposal. And an art only gains a true life of its own when, in its struggle towards achievement, it makes use simply and solely of those means of artistic expression which lie within its own sphere.

Let us take as an example the art of sculpture. The plastic art, the art of sculpture uses as its means of expression form, surface; and it must, when for instance it represents an animal form or a human form, take as its basis the fact that everything which is bound up with the human being or the animal has to, be expressed by means of the modelled surface, and must consequently be carried out by the specialized technique of the same.

Let us suppose, then, that we wish to represent a smooth-coated animal. In such a case we should have to handle the marble, the bronze or the wood, in a manner quite different from that which we should have to employ if we wished to represent a rough-coated animal. We are always compelled, through these artistic means, to bring something to expression which does not actually lie within their sphere. Thus, for example, in the art of sculpture, we are obliged to use the way in which we treat the surface of our material as our means of representing that which is present in the human being himself as colour, as the natural flesh-colour. For this reason it would be wrong if, instead of modelling a statue, one tried in some way to represent the human being by means of a plaster cast. This might indeed, as far as the form is concerned, be in complete accordance with the human being, but it would only be reproducing the naturalistic human form. Such a reproduction could never give the impression of the actual human being. For in the case of the actual human being the effect is produced in the first place by means of the colour of his flesh, by his colour, — it is produced by many other things as well, for instance by his expression. All this cannot be brought into the art of sculpture. We must, therefore, give to the surface a moulding and shaping which is different from the naturalistic human form if we wish to produce an impression of the human being as a whole.

In the art of painting, for example, we again have to do with a working upon a surface. And here, in the figures we are representing, we must express by means of the treatment of colour all that is expressed in actual reality by means of form. In recent times this artistic insight has been in a measure lost, and, because people really have not understood how to confine their work in any particular art to the limits of its means of expression, the naturalistic element has crept into art to an ever greater degree. And this naturalistic principle, because it is confined in any art to a limited means of expression, brings in its train something which is inartistic and lifeless.

When, for instance, we are considering the stage, we must realize that a scene taking place on the stage and representing some aspect of life must necessarily be something quite different from the same scene taking place in ordinary naturalistic circumstances. The stage may be said to throw life up into relief, and, in arranging everything to do with the stage, we must always reckon with this fact. We must, for example, know what is signified when an actor moves from the back of the stage towards the front. On the stage this has a significance which is indeed quite different from what it would have if anyone moved in a room from the back towards the front. We must take the whole milieu into account; we must reckon with the auditorium. For a dramatic work of art unfolds itself in an interplay between that which is taking place on the stage and in the auditorium.

Suppose, for instance, that in a drama one of the actors has to speak a passage which, according to its content, is intended to produce the effect of something specially intimate. This effect of intimacy could never be produced by the actor moving backwards, but the effect of intimacy is conveyed when the actor moves forward towards the front of the stage. Generally speaking, everything on the stage has a significance other than in daily life. When an actor moves from the right side of the stage (as seen from the auditorium) towards the centre, this means something entirely different from what it would be if he moved towards the centre from the left side.

We must master the means at our disposal in the sphere of dramatic art. We must reckon with the movement of the actor in this or that direction of the stage. It is not without importance when we say to ourselves: What should be done by someone wishing to express a feeling of intimacy? In naturalistic art people as a rule would merely be of the opinion that the actor should be made to catch his breath. But this, in certain cases would not produce such an effect upon the naive onlooker as would the simple method of making the actor take three, four or five steps forwards.

Let us take another art, — one which in our present age is least of any rightly understood; let us take the art of recitation and declamation. When people’s attitude towards recitation and declamation is such that they believe that everything should be spoken in as naturalistic a way as possible, that all emphasis should be as naturalistic as possible, then the result is indeed inartistic. The art of declamation and recitation depends upon something quite different; here the whole point is that one knows how to study, asking: What is the character of the vowels, what the character of the consonants, what the special mood which lies in the vowel e or the vowel a? How is the pure a-mood affected by m? How is the pure a-mood affected by l? And further one must understand how such moods as lie in the vowels or consonants may spread their colour over a whole line; one might perhaps extend such a mood over a whole monologue, speaking of one monologue as being recited in the e-mood, of another in the a-mood, — that is to say, one can develop the whole atmosphere and mood of some special sound, of a or e, of m or l.

Thus it is absolutely possible to develop from out of the special means at our disposal in any situation an artistic method of treatment, which does indeed define the art in question. Apart from this the point is in recitation and declamation to realise the essential difference between the epic, the lyric and the dramatic mood. And further, just in this art, quite special attention must be paid to the naive impressions of the onlooker, — besides doing everything possible to develop the artistic feeling of whoever has to recite or declaim. This could never be achieved by naturalistic methods; it can only be achieved when one understands how to give shape and form, — the right shape and form, — not only to single sounds, but also to sentences, and even to whole passages. This is why I have repeatedly said that in the accompaniment of eurythmy by recitation and declamation the important thing is always to bring out the musical and imaginative element lying in the poet’s treatment of the language. That which in ordinary naturalistic life is attained by means of emphasis must here be attained by means of the whole forming and shaping of the speech itself.

Now when we look at eurythmy from this standpoint, — in so far as it is the aim of eurythmy to be a true art, — we must ask ourselves: What are its artistic means? — You have certainly all attended performances of eurythmy, and consequently you will know that here, in the first place, we have to do with a movement of the human limbs, of the hands and arms more especially, — but also, at least in indication, with a movement of the whole human body. This is the means of expression for eurythmy as an art.

Thus it is the movement itself which we have to consider in the first place. And the onlooker first gains a really satisfying impression of eurythmy when he is able to perceive something in the movement as such, in the movement, for example, which belongs to a vowel or a consonant, that is to say, in the plastic form which appears as a consequence of the movement. This is of the first importance. But also we should not forget that eurythmy really is an actual visible speech, and as such it is an expression of the soul, just as is the speech which manifests in sound. So that everything which is to be represented in eurythmy must depend solely upon such means as can produce upon the eye just such an effect as the language of sound produces on and through the ear.

Thus it would be quite wrong if anyone were to think that ordinary mime or play of feature can have any significance in eurythmy. This play of feature, this use of facial expression is quite without significance; only that has significance which really belongs within the sphere of movement. The onlooker must, then, be able absolutely to forget, in the essence of the movement, anything which depends upon mime or any other use of the face, or upon the face itself. Speaking in an ideal sense either beauty or lack of beauty in the face of the eurythmist is quite without importance. The attention must be absolutely concentrated upon the movement itself.

But in its movement eurythmy is itself a language; it is the expression of the human soul. And no one,—let us speak for example of a sculptor or an actor, — would be able to give form to a sound or a combination of sounds, or be able to give shape to a surface, if he did not possess feeling, the feeling for the curved surface or for the structure and formation of sounds. It is not so much a question of the performer, just at the moment of performance, having a feeling for what ought to be called up in the audience or for how it should be called up (for this would only lead him into error) but the point is actually to feel the structure of the sounds the shape and form of the sounds. The sculptor too must have a feeling for his surface. The sculptor has a different feeling according to whether he feels a round or a flat surface. This is not a feeling that one wishes to display; it is the artistic feeling which is developed by the artist within the sphere of his means of artistic expression.

The eurythmist also can develop such a feeling. And, in a performance of eurythmy, it is only when the right feeling, the right inner attitude towards the movements is present, that a real effect upon the soul of the onlooker is achieved.

Let us realize for once what this can mean. Let us take some movement,—any sound, which would make the eurythmist move the hand and arm in this way, and then hold it for a moment (demonstrating the movement); — here we have the movement or the plastic posture into which the movement has led us over.

Now the effect of this movement will only be ensouled when the eurythmist, apart from making the movement, actually feels in the movement itself the sensation, here in this upward direction, of something of the nature of tangible air. The sensation must be somewhat different from that of ordinary air; it is as if we had to do with air which is perceptible, tangible; it is as if something were twined around the arm, something we had to carry. We may think of this as the feeling; the arm is moved in such and such a way and the feeling ensues; the eurythmist feels something touching the arm quite lightly, a slight pressure, even a slight tension. If we represent this in somewhat expressionistic form, we may say that here, as it were, we fashion a veil. And the onlooker sees, when the eurythmist really uses the veil with skill, all this expressed in the veil. The veil is arranged so that the eurythmist feels a slight pressure here, a slight tension there; and then the onlooker sees what the eurythmist feels. It is possible in the movements of eurythmy to pour one’s whole feeling into the forms taken by the veil.

This is, of course, speaking of the matter from a very idealistic point of view, for such things cannot be achieved all at once; they should, however, at least form a goal towards which the eurythmist must gradually strive. This is why the addition of veils to our performances of eurythmy was completely justified. For the veil is, in its very nature, of real assistance to the onlooker, helping him to see in the external plastic movement what the fluidic feeling inherent in the movements of eurythmy is. And again, when we have such a working together of movement and feeling as I have described, then already we have represented some part of the soul life. For in the place of thought we have movement, and we contact the feeling quite directly. Further, something of very real assistance to the onlookers would be brought about if the colour of the veil were to have some special relationship to the colour of the dress; for it is in the dress that the movement is really brought to expression, while feeling is made visible by the veil.

Thus we are able to present, in beautiful expressionistic form this interplay between movement and feeling. And one may say that if, for instance, the dress is of a colour which corresponds in some measure to the e-sound, — when the dress is of some special colour, — then the veil must be of another colour. These two colours must, however, stand in a relationship towards each other corresponding to the relationship between movement and feeling.

Of course, in an actual performance of eurythmy, this cannot be carried out exactly, for it is obviously impossible to change dress and veil for each separate sound. I have already pointed out, however, that we may, if we penetrate with artistic feeling right into the essence of the whole matter, speak of certain moods; we may speak of an e-mood or an u-mood, and it is possible to carry this over, not merely into lines and verses, but into a whole poem. And when we have a feeling for the fact: This poem is written in the mood of i, and that poem in the mood of e; — or when, let us say, we are able to feel: In this poem when, having two eurythmists, we arrange that one expresses the character of the e-mood by means of dress and veil and the other the character of the i;—then once again we are able to bring to a somewhat more complicated expression, in the interplay of these two moods, the actual mood of the poem.

Such experiments in the harmonizing of dress and veil have, of course, already been attempted in poems as a whole; for it is these things which must form the basis of our work. But they cannot be said to rest upon mere nebulous fantasy; they must be experienced with inner artistic feeling, they must be studied artistically. Only then can they be represented with such reality and truth that the onlooker, even if completely ignorant of the whole matter, will nevertheless have, albeit in quite a naive way, the corresponding impression.

Now, however, in a performance of eurythmy we must consider yet a third element. This is the element of will, the character. If you take some sound and picture how it should be represented in eurythmy, you will say to yourselves: In the movement, in the first place, we have represented something which is similar to the whole treatment and formation of speech in recitation. The whole way in which speech is treated, whether pictorial or musical, is expressed in eurythmy by means of the movement.

The feeling which the reciter also brings into his recitation, the feeling, this is made really visible in what the eurythmist himself must experience in his own fantasy. It is as if there were here a slight feeling of pressure, there of tension, and this has a great effect upon the movements; quite naturally, quite instinctively, the movements themselves become different with the differing feelings of the eurythmist. This is what permeates the whole thing with life and soul. And it is good when the eurythmist is not merely master of the external movement as such, but when this feeling also is present. In the forming of an e, for instance, one does, quite definitely, have a slight sensation in some place or another; and it is good when one is able, in imagination, to give oneself up to these slight sensations. Then the movement itself gains a soul-quality quite different from that which it has when carried out mechanically.

But the reciter also introduces into his recitation an element of will. He speaks quietly, let us say, in one place; he gains strength; often he speaks out quite loudly. This is the will-element. And this will-element, — which I should like in the realm of art to name ‘character’, — can also be carried over into a performance of eurythmy. Now suppose that in some sound or other you have to hold the arm in this way, — and the hand here, — (demonstrating the movement). Quite involuntarily, out of your own instinctive artistic feeling, you will create something different when you hold the hand relaxed, yielding it up to its own weight, or when you stretch it out. And just as the reciter by exerting more or less strength and power in his speech, brings character into language, so too you can bring character into eurythmy.

You will, for instance, give a different character from what you are showing by means of your arm, when, as a eurythmist you do not merely give yourself up to your fantasy, but actually bring this fantasy into outward expression. Let us say that in the case of certain letters, or in some passage which you wish to express, the forehead takes on a slight tension, or you feel in some movement that you exert a certain strength of the muscles of the upper arm, or you have the feeling, that at some point you must put down the foot quite consciously with a certain pressure on the floor; — all this forms the third element which must be brought into eurythmy, the character. Thus we really have the possibility of expressing the whole soul life in a performance of eurythmy.

Now you see, my dear friends, the remarkable thing is this: If one really puts into practice the thoughts which I have just set before you, then, simply by expressing eurythmy in a certain way, one creates the impulses which underlie what is being sought after to-day as a special form of art, — expressionism in art. For eurythmy is, from a certain point of view, absolutely expressionistic. Only it does not make use of the many absurd means which are made to serve so-called Expressionism; it makes use of those means whereby one can create forms of expression really artistically. It makes use of movements of the physical body, and by this means feeling is poured into the limbs, character is poured into the limbs, as I have just described.

Now in our performances, which are still, of course, only at the very beginning of their development, we have always endeavoured to carry out just these things of which I have been speaking, to carry them out in such a way that the sounds have been treated at least according to these principles. We have endeavoured to find for each sound a justifiable means of expression, justifiable, because in the choice of one colour the movement is definitely represented, in a second colour the feeling (this is shown in the veil and is consequently only to be seen at a performance), and in a third colour the character is brought to expression. So that in eurythmy you are able to represent each sound by means of colour, according to movement, feeling and character.

In this way one may perhaps achieve a two-fold result. In the first place one may see in how far eurythmy can attain to what is artistic by its own means. For everything which is to be achieved artistically in the realm of eurythmy, limited as this is to the stage where everything has to take place, — all this may be summed up in Movement, Feeling and Character, as I have explained them here. The sculptor must achieve everything by means of his treatment of the surface, the reciter by his forming and shaping of the sounds the musician by his forming and shaping of the tones; and so also must the eurythmist achieve all that is possible to achieve by means of movement, feeling and character. What lies outside this must not be considered. This is the sphere of expression for the art of eurythmy, and by these means everything has to be achieved.