Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Ways to a New Style in Architecture
GA 286

IV. True Aesthetic Laws of Form

5 July 1914, Dornach

In the last lecture we spoke of the Spirit which should pervade the forms in our building. From all that has been said you will have gathered that these forms are no more the result of imitation of the external physical world than of mere speculation. Your feeling will have been that the forms have been derived from the spiritual world of which man is an integral part and of which he may hope to become conscious in the development of his knowledge of Spiritual Science. I want to remind you once again of an important fact, of which mention has already been made, namely, that human life runs its course in periods of approximately seven years each, and—as I tried last time to explain to you from spiritual-scientific cosmology—when we observe the whole course of these periods of seven years, we may say that after each period a certain support is added to man's being. When he has passed through seven such periods, therefore, he has reached approximately his fiftieth year, he possesses seven pairs of these ‘life-supports.’

If we were now to imagine ourselves entering the building from the West, in the first two pillars we have the expression of the supports which man has raised in his own being after the first period of seven years has run its course; the second pair of pillars are an expression of the supports he has added after the second period of seven years; and so it goes on, only it must be remembered that in man these supports are intermingled, whereas in the building they have had to be placed one behind the other in space. We may then be permeated with the feeling that when we pass through the building from the West towards the East, all that works upon us from left and right is a revelation of processes in human life itself. This shows us that there are firmly established cosmic laws of which man is a part but which are infinitely deeper than the so-called ‘natural laws’ of the outer physical world, and furthermore that the forms in our building have been evolved from these deep cosmic laws.

To study every detail from this point of view would lead us very far, although it could be done. In the present materialistic epoch, where there is no knowledge of Spiritual Science, there will be little understanding for these deeper laws of ‘being and becoming.’ We may therefore find ourselves faced with the question—and it is a wholly understandable one from the point of view of external knowledge—‘Why are the columns made of different kinds of wood?’ There is no allegorical or symbolical meaning in this, and anyone who raises such a question merely proves that life has afforded him no opportunity for the contemplation of deeper cosmic laws. The only rejoinder we can make is this: ‘Why, then, do you consider it necessary for a violin not to have only A strings?’ A man who wanted to use only A strings on a violin would be in exactly the same position as one who—perhaps quite unconsciously and naïvely—were to ask as the result of superficial knowledge, why our pillars are made of different woods.

We can develop these matters slowly, for we shall often meet together here. We can allow subjects that may prove fruitful to enter gradually into our feelings. To-day, therefore, I only want to speak of one matter that will help to stimulate our perception of what underlies the laws of true aesthetic form, on the one hand in the cosmos, and on the other in the microcosm, in the constitution of man. Before very long, the so-called science of to-day will undergo an overwhelming expansion, and only then will there be understanding of the true and deeper laws of aesthetic form.

In order to evoke a concrete perception of what I have here mentioned in mere abstract words, let us consider the following. I am going to place before you something that corresponds to a cosmological fact, a mighty cosmic fact. Sun, Earth and Moon The drawing can of course only be diagrammatical. Let us suppose that this diagram represents, here the Sun, here the Earth and here the Moon. The sketch is only diagrammatical, for naturally I cannot express the dimensional proportions and distances of the heavenly bodies. That, however is not the point at issue. When the clairvoyant consciousness of the occult seer enters into a certain relationship with these three heavenly bodies, that is to say, with what they represent spiritually, the whole universe seems to be pervaded through and through with the interplay of the spiritual content of these various heavenly bodies. Beings have their home on all the heavenly bodies, as you have often heard; not only so, but they send forth their workings. Higher beings inhabit the heavenly bodies for long ages; subordinate beings are sent from one heavenly body to another and are the cause of currents being set in motion in the cosmos. These currents are often nothing less than the beings who are sent forth by certain elementary or higher beings from one cosmic body to the other. In the first place, therefore, clairvoyant consciousness perceives how magnetic or electric currents in the cosmos flow from one heavenly body to another; in more exact observation this resolves itself into a host, a stream, a swarm of spiritual beings passing from one heavenly body to another.

Now these three heavenly bodies (see diagram) stand in a certain mutual relationship to each other; they reveal their activities to each other and I want to speak of one particular aspect of these activities. To this end I will first divide the Sun diagrammatically as it actually appears to the occult seer when he directs his attention to these things. The Sun is seen divided into a kind of cross, into four chambers. The remarkable thing is that in the first moments of vision we see a kind of streaming current, but closer scrutiny reveals the fact that here we have to do with hosts of beings passing to and fro. We can see such a stream of spiritual beings passing from a certain “chamber” of the Sun to the Earth, penetrating the Earth and vitalising the Earth with solar essence, that is to say, with the spiritual force of the Sun, and thence streaming to their own chamber in the Sun.

This is cosmic reality but one sees still more—one sees migrations of hosts of spiritual beings who are flowing around and through the Moon (see diagram). They proceed from another chamber of the Sun: but they also flow in the other direction and pour through the Moon. Up to this point we are perceiving the activities of the inhabitants of three chambers in the Sun. Another migration or stream arises from the fact that these beings always return to the Sun after having passed through the Moon; thus a double stream has arisen. On the one hand the beings return into the fourth chamber in the Sun after having poured through the Moon, but another stream is formed because certain beings do not take part in the migration to the Moon; before reaching the Moon they turn back again to the Sun. This configuration reveals to us a kind of mirror-image in the cosmos, but we will leave this image out of consideration for the moment. It would be formed by a symmetrical expansion of the figure that is engraved there in the cosmos. This means, in effect, that there is revealed to clairvoyant consciousness a marvellous combination of forms, a figure engraved in the cosmos representing the interplay between the forces of Sun, Moon and Earth.

Now I will draw the diagram rather differently, with the Sun rather turned (Diagram II). The cross must also be turned. Diagram II The line connecting with the Moon Moon must now be drawn differently. I am representing the same streams as in the first diagram only the Sun is turned a little. The lines are somewhat different but they arise within and flow into the same heavenly bodies.

Now I will draw the diagram again differently (Diagram III). Here I have assumed hypothetically that Ahriman and Lucifer have entered, bringing disorder in their train. I will draw the Sun, Moon and Earth more irregularly and again trace the connections between them. What have I now drawn? Exactly the same thing as in the other diagrams, only somewhat distorted as a result of the intervention of Ahriman and Lucifer. I have now drawn a sketch of the blood circulation in man, a sketch of how the blood flows from the left ventricle of the heart through the body, on the one hand through the brain on the other through the rest of the body, returning as venous blood; you also see the course of the small circulatory stream through the right ventricle and lungs back again to the so-called left auricle.

Thus we can read from the cosmos what man is as a microcosmos, only it must be remembered that Ahriman and Lucifer have approached him. Diagram III Man is bound up with the cosmos; he is an actual expression of all the great cosmic connections. Now you need only think of the heart in man as the microcosm of the Sun, the lungs as the microcosm of the Earth (of this particular hierarchy of forces) and the brain as the microcosm of the Moon, and you have something both highly suggestive and significant.

If a figure were made of this diagram—that is to say, a figure copied from the cosmos and expressed in some motif—we should have before us a profound cosmic mystery merely in the combination of form. When a certain combination of lines underlies a figure of this kind—where perhaps only a few of these lines are expressed and the others drawn in quite another way—those who have real feeling and not merely intellectual understanding, will perceive a cosmic mystery in the very form itself. They will say to themselves: ‘What is it that this form expresses? I do not actually know, but I feel that it expresses a mystery.’ It is this that inspires our souls and makes our hearts glow when we look at certain forms. We cannot always be conscious of what lies behind them, but our astral body, our subconscious being, contains the mysteries of the cosmos and senses them in the depths just as it contains the secrets of mathematics, as I told you in the previous lecture. When a man says, ‘I feel beauty here, but I cannot explain to myself what it really is,’ something is taking place in his astral body. This he may express by saying that he senses the existence of deep and mysterious secrets of the cosmos which do not take the form of ideas and thoughts but are expressed in a feeling, ‘Ah, how beautiful this form is.’ The reason why he feels this as warmth pouring through his heart and soul is that if he were as conscious in his astral body as he is in his ego he would have a deep knowledge of the cosmos.

These things must teach us to understand how art has gradually developed in human evolution and to realise that true works of art in the Goethean sense are ‘a manifestation of higher laws of nature than the ordinary intellect of man can divine.’ We find an inkling of the truth of these things more especially when we go back to what modern opinion holds to be the “primitive art” of earlier periods of human evolution. This is because in those olden times a certain primitive, atavistic clairvoyance was a common attribute of humanity and because man then created forms from out of this clairvoyance. Many of the forms to be found in primitive art can only be understood when we realise that they were the outcome of this primordial clairvoyant consciousness. Men experienced the content of their astral bodies as living movement, tried to express it in a kind of noble dance, and then converted it from the Dionysian dance into Apollonian design and painting. Such is the origin of certain forms of early art which often seem to us merely primitive, but which in truth have sprung from a deeper understanding of the spiritual world imparted by the clairvoyance of those times.

This, I think, will show you that in the sense of true, genuine art, the easy phrase ‘there can be no disputing about taste’ is wholly incorrect in its ordinary sense. Fundamentally speaking, of course, one can dispute about everything, even about mathematical principles. When one man applies a mathematical principle and gets a different result from another who also applies it, disputes can naturally arise and even become acute, but one of the two has made an error. The error, of course, is not so easy to discover in the case of beauty or art. Nevertheless man can attain to a point of view which convinces him that the forms and laws of true art are firmly established and based upon the deeper laws of cosmic being. Perhaps it may be admitted that the principle ' there is no disputing about taste' only penetrates into life by dint of effort, that it is a conception only to be evolved very gradually. But in the course of his life a man can be convinced of the truth of it when he realises that art is a manifestation of higher laws of nature which without art would never be revealed. Here again I am using Goethe's words. Man can indeed be convinced that art is this manifestation of higher laws of nature about which there can fundamentally be no disputing.

In the light of what now should be living within us, not so much as thought, but as feeling, we must gradually be able to work our way to another perception. What is really happening to us when we delight in forms that are truly artistic? We are passing out of ourselves, penetrating with the soul into something that is real, outside ourselves. Therefore it is not at all unnatural that in a building which belongs to the present and future we should set out in full consciousness to create forms which will help man to conquer the consciousness of merely physical and material actuality and feel himself expanded out into the cosmos through the architecture, sculpture and all that this work of art may contain. Much will have to be done, however, before this feeling will be able to penetrate into every sphere of art and be admitted by modern science. Darwinism, and all that it brought in its train in the nineteenth century, rendered great service to the progress of human knowledge and culture, but it gave rise to many one-sided conceptions, for instance, in the law of so-called “selection” which has been laid down as a universal law, although it only holds good in one connection. The knowledge of this law is very important, but to lay it down as a universal law is the result of distorted, one-sided conceptions. People have been led to think somewhat as follows. They ask, ‘Why is it that the structure of living beings is contrived in accordance with expediency? What is the origin of this?’ The monistic materialist of the present day answers: ‘We are no longer as stupid as our ancestors. We have great intelligence and do not therefore believe that some spiritual being or other has endowed living organisms with this “expedient” structure. It is part of nature that the expedient and the inexpedient (the fit and the unfit) should originally have arisen, concomitantly. These two elements then entered into the struggle for existence where the fit conquered and the unfit was exterminated. The fit passes down through heredity, so that after a certain time it alone remains.’ The ‘fitness’ of the organic structure was thus explained by the law of causality.

This conception is then applied in a special instance. Some creature lives in a certain environment and has this remarkable characteristic, that its colouring is the same as that of its environment. Certain creatures live, let us say, in sand of a particular colour. In such cases observation shows that the creatures take on the colour of the sand. Those who adhere to the theory of selection and expediency say: ‘It is expedient for these creatures to have the colour of their environment, for their enemies do not see them and hence cannot pursue them. They are not destroyed. They have this advantage over other creatures whose colour differs from that of the sand. Once upon a time there were creatures who colours resembled the sand, while others were of every possible hue. But these latter were seen by their foes and destroyed; they were at a disadvantage in the struggle for existence.’ The others, however, who were, by chance of the same colour as the sand, remained, and this quality was transmitted to the following generations. The creatures who were differently coloured died out and those like the sand maintained themselves in the struggle for existence.' This is a highly plausible train of thought and it has dominated the minds of men for decades. In sandy places hosts of these tiny creatures of exactly the same colour as the sand are to be found. According to materialistic, monistic Darwinism they are supposed to have originated as I have described. But actual facts upset the conclusion, for, in spite of it all, as soon as these creatures show themselves they are destroyed by their foes. The whole conception is based upon a chain of argument that does not reckon with the actual facts. All these materialistic speculations and fantasies will one day be replaced by true insight which may indeed seem grotesque and paradoxical to many people but which will explain, for instance, why the polar bear is white and not black or brown. The insight will arise that there is an astral nature, that every animal has an astral body and that soul processes have their seat in this astral body. The greyish coloured creatures in the sand have of course no ego, but they have an astral body, primitive though it may be. An interplay arises between this astral body and the colour of the environment, and the effects produced by this interplay between the greyness, let us say, of the environment, and the astral body, pass into the dimmer consciousness of the astral body and permeate the whole being. It is just as if you were to look around here and say, ‘This is wood, I know that it is wood.’ The creature lives in the sand, its astral body is permeated with the colour of the sand and the consciousness of the colour of the sand' flows through its whole being. It takes on the colour, saturates itself with the colour of the environment which has been consciously absorbed. The colour is of course modified by every struggle arising between the immediate colour of the environment and the direct light of the sun. The influence of the direct light of the sun on the astral body, however, is such that, by way of the soul nature, something that in turn streams out and permeates the the whole being enters into the astral body. In the very colours of birds' feathers and skins of animals man will recognise the deeper effects of the consciousness, which is the result of the interplay between the astral body and the environment. The living being lives and moves in the flowing ocean of colour and identifies itself with this flowing colour essence. The human being also does this below the threshold of his ego, but in a higher sense. Our life, therefore, is bound up with the life of the flowing sea of colour. As human beings we have the advantage of the animals in one thing only. I can now do no more than hint at it. Think, by way of comparison, of certain animals which always swim under water and never come to the surface. They have water in their environment. They adapt themselves to what they take into themselves from the water. Others have to come to the surface and they too adapt themselves to what is above the surface of the water. Instead of the water, think now of a flowing sea of colour and light. All animals live, as it were, under the surface of the sea of colour and light, hence they adjust their outer covering primarily in accordance with this flowing colour and light. Man with his ego consciousness stretches out beyond the sea of colour and light and the very fact that he can do this gives him his ego consciousness. When man's colouring is influenced, as in the different races, the influence is not, in his case, the outcome of colour and light, but of the conditions of warmth and climate. The reason why humming birds in certain regions are decked with such a variety of colours is very different from the reason which causes human beings in the same region to be of a negroid black. The birds have been worked upon by colour conditions, and man by the warmth condition, because, in effect, the human being with his ego rises above the sea of colour and this only works in his astral body. Otherwise—to use a radical and therefore paradoxical expression—if the agricultural labourer who is perpetually surrounded by green had no ego whereby he reaches beyond the sea of colour, he would go about with a greenish skin; and the skin of the city man, living perpetually among grey houses and seldom leaving them, would have a horrible greyish tint—that is to say if primordial forces were at work., Our astral body none the less is immersed in the flowing sea of colour, but all that the astral body absorbs from this sea of colour has taken on a different activity. Our hair is not coloured, nor if we had feathers would they be coloured by what the astral body absorbs; instead of this, we have perceptions and feelings in connection with colour without diffusing the colours through our being. If we were simply to absorb the green or blue or red into our astral body and diffuse them through our being, thus giving ourselves the colouring of the outer world, we should have quite a different relationship to the world of colour than is actually the case. We do not, however, do this. We absorb the colours into our being in a spiritual sense, so that blue, for instance, becomes the expression of rest; red the expression of all that is passionate, fiery. Colour is changed into flowing perception or feeling in man, because he reaches out with his ego beyond the flowing sea of colour. Here is a proof that we float in the colour essence of the cosmos and that even when we are merely contemplating the colours of nature we must try to perceive in the aesthetic sense, to establish standards of beauty. This however implies that we must learn to grow into colours, to live in them as within our own element. One seldom finds this feeling for colour, even among people who think a great deal about art. Take, for instance, Hildebrand, who is an exceedingly good artist and who has written an ingenious book on the subject of artistic forms. We read there that colour alone cannot suffice for the real portrayal of things; there must first be the design, the drawing. This, however, is not correct. Hildebrand thinks that when he has a coloured wall in front of him, he is simply looking at colour, possibly blue or red, whereas if he draws contours or designs upon it he has an expression of something. If a surface is covered with blue or red it does not express anything definite—at least according to Hildebrand. Nor this is not the case. A surface covered with blue produces an impression which may be expressed in the following way. Instead of the area that appears blue, the feeling arises that blue takes one into greater and greater depths, to distances ever more remote, to the Infinite, as it were. The blue colour takes one along with it—on and on. Red seems to fight with one, to approach.

This of course is somewhat radically expressed, but the whole colour scale thus reveals itself as living being. Just as forms with clear contours express something definite, so does colour place before us something quite definite, differentiated. To fathom these things, however, will be the task of future Art—and in what sense? To understand this we will consider the real nature of the spirit of human evolution.

Human evolution proceeded from conditions of primitive, atavistic clairvoyant consciousness. Man gradually worked his way upwards through the different civilisations until, during the Graeco-Latin age, his ego came to birth in the intellectual or mind-soul. We are now living in an age when the ego rises into the consciousness soul (spiritual soul) and has then gradually to rise to Spirit-Self or Manas. In the ages preceding the birth of the ego, of the ego consciousness, art proceeded from direct inspiration which flowed into man from the spiritual world, and all the different forms in art were an expression of this. Suppose a man went out into the on-coming night and looked at the moon. The atavistic clairvoyant consciousness he still possessed gave him the knowledge that here was a revelation of the connection between his brain and the moon, that his lungs breathed in all that the earth's being was communicating to him. The sun had set, but he knew that in the pulsating beat of his heart he bore the sun workings within him. Then man felt—or rather he ‘saw’ it in the atavistic clairvoyance of those ancient times—he felt: ‘Yes indeed there is a connection between earth, sun and moon. Spiritual Beings are hovering up and down between the sun and moon!’

“Like heavenly forces rising and descending,
Their golden urns reciprocally lending.”

(From Goethe's Faust. Scene I.)

... Then came the age in human evolution when this old clairvoyance gradually passed away; man entered into a condition where he could only perceive the external world of sense. Nothing flowed into him from the spiritual world and it became necessary to resort to a different realm. Every artistic impulse lived originally in the moving being of man himself. He tried to imitate or copy what he perceived in the cosmos by expressing through his hands and with his hands the form that he felt to be living in his hands like a cosmic force. At that time he had to translate into form what he expressed in gestures. It did not occur to him to copy or imitate an object in the external sense. All that lived and pulsated within him, flowing and breathing into him from the cosmos, developed into art without any mere imitation, because the inner life surging within him used him as an instrument. He was the instrument guided by the cosmos itself.

This was no longer the case after the old clairvoyant consciousness, which linked man to the cosmos, ceased. Imitative art came into being, for man no longer possessed within himself the power which guided the lines and other factors of art; he no longer felt, I will draw near to the Godhead. ‘There is the Godhead and I will approach.’ When a man felt himself rising to the Godhead he was conscious of the perception of blue, and if he wanted to give expression to this feeling he used the colour blue. But if he was conscious of the approach of an enemy, an alien being bearing down upon him, then he used red. He experienced the flowing sea of colour within himself and there was no need to imitate or copy. This was no longer the case when atavistic connection with the cosmos ceased. Imitative art came into being and attained its summit, so far as sculpture was concerned, in the Graeco-Latin epoch, and so far as painting was concerned, in the age which marked the transition to the fifth Post-Atlantean period. To those who have eyes to see, external history would also be able to prove the truth of these things. Try to think why it is that peoples from Northern and Central Europe who came into contact with Graeco-Latin culture remained so long in a state of barbarism and could not find their way to art. The reason is that these Celtic, Germanic, Slavonic peoples had remained at an earlier stage of evolution than the Graeco-Latin peoples. They had not reached the stage of the full birth of the ego and understood nothing of true imitative art. They came along afterwards with a reinforcing impulse. Hence when we study the art of the Middle Ages we find that the significant elements there are not those of imitative art. The characteristic qualities of mediaeval art are to be found in architecture where man does not imitate but creates out of his inner being. It is only gradually that the imitative element in art entered into the northern peoples.

Nowadays, however, we are living in an epoch when man must again find his way into the spiritual world, when he must pass over from imitative art to a new form of artistic creation, when there must be a true renewal of art. The imitative arts reached their prime in the sculpture of antiquity, in Raphael, Michelangelo and others. Something different hovers before us now—a consciousness that penetrates into the spiritual world and at the same time brings down all that exists in forms and colours in the cosmic ocean flowing spiritually around us. A beginning must be made. Something that is not achieved by imitation and which is all around us must be brought down from the spiritual world. I have already spoken of the extent to which this conception has flowed into certain forms in our building and on another occasion we will speak of the new conception of the art of painting. To-day I only wanted to try to deepen the feelings and perceptions which must be ours if we are really to understand the transition which must come about before the old forms of art can pass over to the new.

I hope that those friends whose unselfish and devoted labours are revealed each day that passes, will work in such a way towards a mastery of the forms which are necessary to our building, that although it be only a primitive beginning, there will none the less be a real beginning of a spiritualised art. I hope that they will find more and enthusiasm, greater and greater joy, in the consciousness that the World-Spirit demands us to help in the task of establishing in human evolution those things which must be established in our own fifth epoch and during the transition into the sixth. If we understand this, we link ourselves with the World-Spirit working in human evolution, of Whom we try to gain knowledge through true Spiritual Science. All the impulses of this Spiritual Science can pass over into artistic feeling, artistic activity and experience of the cosmos. True enthusiasm and devotion are necessary, but they will grow in us if we lovingly rise to the Spirit Who has guided mankind from the beginning of evolution. That Spirit will not forsake us if we dedicate ourselves to Him with upright hearts and in the real sense—if our labours are not a sentimental prayer, but a true one arising from the power flowing into our inner being from the World-Spirit Who is leading us, and if we are filled with the inspiration of the knowledge that we allow the work of our hands and souls to be guided by the power of the Spirit within us.

In this sense, then, let us continue our work.

Interior of the Roof. Section of the architrave motif and frescoes in the small Cupola
Motif from the Paintings in the small Cupola.
(Centaur and Slavonic Man)