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Practical Course for Teachers
GA 294

III. On the Plastically Formative Arts, Music, and Poetry

23 August 1919, Stuttgart

In the last lecture1Allgemeine Menschenkunde als Grundlage der Pädagogik, third lecture (the accompanying course. See Preface). I drew your attention to the necessity, as a point of departure in teaching, for a certain artistic shaping, to engage the whole being, above all, the “will-life.” From the discussions which we have pursued you will see at once why it is important, and you will see, further, that teaching must be managed so as always to take into account that man contains a dead, a dying element, which must be transmuted into something living. When we approach nature and other realms of the world in a merely contemplative attitude, by mental pictures, we are in the line of death; but when we approach nature and other world-beings with our will, we take part in a process of vivification. As educators, then, we shall have the task of continually vivifying dead substance, to protect from total expiration that quality in man which gravitates towards death; even, in a sense, to fertilize it with what vivifying element the will can give rise to. For this reason we must not be afraid of beginning our work with the child with a certain artistic form of teaching.

Now everything which approaches man artistically falls into two streams—the stream of the plastically formative and the stream of the musically poetical. These two domains of art, that of the plastically formative and the musically poetical, are really poles apart, although precisely through their polar antithesis they are well able to be reconciled in a higher synthesis, in a higher unity. You will be familiar, of course, with the fact that this duality of the artistic element comes to light even in racial terms during the course of the evolution of the universe. You need but remember certain writings by Heinrich Heine for this duality to be evident—he showed that what proceeded from the Greek people, or was related to them, that is what grew racially from their inner nature, is pre-eminently disposed towards the plastically formative shaping of the world, whereas all that sprang from the Jewish element is especially disposed to the really musical element in the world. You find, then, these two streams racially distributed, and anyone who is sensitive to these things will very easily be able to trace them in the history of art. Naturally there are continually arising aspirations, justified aspirations, to unite the musical with the plastically formative. But they can only really be completely united in a perfectly developed Eurhythmy, where the musical and the visible can become one—naturally not yet, for we are only at the beginning, but in the aims and ultimate achievement of Eurhythmy. It must, therefore, be remembered that the whole harmonious nature of man contains a plastically formative element towards which the will-impulse in man inclines. How, then, can we properly describe this human talent for becoming plastically creative?

Were we to be purely intellectual beings, were we only to observe the world through conceptions, we should gradually become walking corpses. We should, in actual fact, make the impression here on earth of dying beings. Only through the urge we feel within us to animate plastically-creatively with the imagination what is dying in concepts, do we save ourselves from this dying. You must beware of wanting to reduce everything to unity in an abstract way, if you wish to be true educators. Now you must not say: “We are not to cultivate the death-giving element in man, we are to avoid cultivating the conceptual, the thought-world in the human being.” In the psychic spiritual realm that would result in the same error as if doctors, turning into great pedagogues, were to contemplate the course of civilization and to say: “The bones represent the side of death in man; let us, then, protect man from this dying element, let us try to keep his bones alive, soft.” The opinion of such doctors would end in giving everyone rickets. It always implies a false principle to proceed to say, as many theosophists and anthroposophists like to do, if there is any talk of Ahriman and Lucifer2R. Steiner, Outlines of Occult Science, Philosophical-Anthroposophical Press of the Goetheanum, Dornach, also the Four Mystery Plays. and their influences on human evolution; they say these things harm human nature, therefore we must beware of them. But that would be equivalent to excluding man from all the elements which should form his constitution. In the same way, we cannot prevent the cultivation of the conceptual element; we must cultivate it, but at the same time we must not neglect to approach human nature with the plastically formative. In this way there results the desired unity. It does not result from the extinction of the one element, but from the cultivation of both, side by side. In this respect people to-day cannot think in terms of unity. For this reason, too, they do not understand the Threefold State.3R. Steiner, The Threefold State. In social life the only right solution is for the spiritual life, economic life, and the life of rights, to stand side by side and for their union to take place of itself, creatively, and not through human abstract organization. Only imagine what it would mean if people were to say: “As the head is a unity, and the rest of the body, too, the human body is really an anomaly; we ought to evolve the head from the rest of the body and allow it to move freely in the world!” We only act in accordance with nature when we allow the whole to grow out of one-sided aspects.

The question, then, is to develop the one isolated aspect, conceptual education. Then the other isolated aspect, the plastically formative, animates what is developed in the mere concept. The question here is to elevate these things into consciousness without losing our naivety, for this age always annihilates consciousness. There is no need to sacrifice our naivety if we fashion things concretely, not abstractedly. For instance, it would be a very good thing from all points of view to start as early as possible with the plastically formative, by letting the child live in the world of colour, by saturating oneself as a teacher with the instructions given by Goethe in the didactic part of his “Theory of Colour” (Farbenlehre). What is the basis of the didactic part of Goethe's Farbenlehre?4See the Introduction to Goethe's works on Natural Science, edited by Rudolf Steiner. The secret is that Goethe always imbues each separate colour with a feeling-shade. He emphasizes, for instance, the rousing quality of red, he emphasizes not only what the eye sees, but what the soul experiences in red. In the same way he lays stress upon the tranquillity, the self-absorption, experienced by the soul in blue. It is possible, without jarring on the child's naivety, to introduce him into the world of colour so that the feeling-shades of the world of colour issue forth in living experiences. (If, incidentally, the child gets itself at first thoroughly grubby it will be a good step in his education if he is trained to get himself less grubby.)

Begin as early as possible to bring the child in touch with colours, and in so doing it is a good idea to apply different colours to a coloured background from those you apply to a white surface; and try to awaken such experiences in the child as can only arise from a spiritual scientific understanding of the world of colour.5R. Steiner's Theory of Colour. If you work as I have done with a few friends at the smaller cupola of the Dornach building,6Wege zu einem neuen Baustil (“Ways to a New Style in Architecture”) five lectures by Rudolf Steiner, with 104 illustrations. The Philosophical-Anthroposophical Press of the Goetheanum, Dornach, Switzerland. you acquire a living relation to colour. You then discover if, for instance, you are painting with blue, that the blue colour itself possesses the power to portray inwardness. We can say, then, that in painting an angel impelled by his own inwardness you will feel the spontaneous urge to keep to blue, because the shading of blue, the light and dark of blue, produces in the soul the feeling of movement pertaining to the nature of the soul. A yellow-reddish colour produces in the soul the experience of lustre, giving a manifestation towards the external. If, then, the impression is aggressive, if we are encountered by a warning apparition, if the angel has something to say to us, if he desires to speak to us from his background, we express this by shades of yellow and red. In an elementary fashion we can invite children to understand this living inwardness of colours.

Then we ourselves must be very profoundly convinced that mere drawing is something untrue. The truest thing is the experience of colour; less true is the experience of light and shade, and the least true is drawing. Drawing as such already approaches that abstract element present in nature as a process of dying. We ought really only to draw with the consciousness that we are essentially drawing dead substance. With colours we should paint with the consciousness that we are evoking the living element from what is dead. What, after all, is the horizontal line? When we simply take a pencil and draw a horizontal line, we do an abstract, a dead thing, something untrue to nature, which always has two streams: the dead and the living. We extract the one trend and affirm that it is nature. But if I say: “I see green and I see blue, which are different from each other,” the horizontal line emerges from the contiguity of the colours and I express a truth. In this way you will gradually realize that the form of nature really arises from colour, that therefore the function of drawing is abstraction. We ought to produce already in the growing child a proper feeling for these things, because they vivify his whole soul's being and bring it into a right relation with the outside world. Our civilization is notoriously sick for lack of a right relation to the outside world. There is absolutely no need, I wish to remind you, to return to one-sided-ness again in teaching. For instance, it will be quite wise gradually to pass from the purely abstract art which people produce in their delight in beauty, to concrete art, to the arts and crafts, for humanity to-day sorely needs truly artistic productions in the general conditions of civilization. We have in actual fact reduced ourselves in the course of the nineteenth century to making furniture to please the eye, for example to making a chair for the eye, whereas its inherent character should be to be felt when it is sat on. To that end it should be fashioned; we should feel the chair; it must not only be beautiful; its nature must be to be sat on. The whole fusion of the sense of feeling with the chair, and even the cultivated sense of feeling—with the way in which the arms are formed on the chair, etc.—should be expressed in the chair, in our desire to find support in the chair. If, therefore, we were to introduce into school-life teaching in handiwork and manual skill with a decided technical-industrial bias, we should render the school a great service. For just imagine what a great cultural problem the individual who means well to humanity is faced with to-day, when he sees how, for instance, abstractions are on the point of inundating modern civilization: there will no longer be even a residue of beauty in civilization; this will be exclusively utilitarian! And even if people dream of beauty, they will have no sense of the compulsion we are under to emphasize more emphatically than ever the necessity for beauty, because of the socializing of life towards which we gravitate. This has to be realized.

There must, therefore, be no reservations with the plastically formative in teaching. But just as little must there be reservations in the true experience of that dynamic element which is expressed in architecture. It is very easy here to fall into the error of introducing the child too early to this experience. But, in a sense, even this must happen; I had addressed a few words to the children of Münich who were on holiday at Dornach, eighty of them, and who had had twelve lessons in Eurhythmy from Frau Kisseleff,7Eurhythmy teacher at the Goetheanum, 1913–27. and who were able to demonstrate what they had learnt to a group of their staff and Dornach anthroposophists. The children had their hearts in their work, and at the end of the complete Eurhythmy performance, which also included demonstrations by our Dornach Eurhythmists, the children came up and said: “Did you like our performance too?” They had the real urge to perform as well. It was a beautiful thing. Now at the request of the people who had arranged the whole entertainment, I had to say a few words to the children. It was the evening before the children were to be taken back again to Münich and district. I expressly said: “I am saying something to you now which you do not understand yet. You will only understand it later. But notice if you hear the word ‘Soul’ in future, for you cannot understand it yet!” This drawing of the child's attention to something which he does not yet understand, which must first mature, is extraordinarily important. And the principle is false which is so much to the fore in these days: We are only to impart to the child what he can at the moment understand—this principle makes education a dead thing and takes away its living element. For education is only living when what has been assimilated is cherished for a time deep in the soul, and then, after a while, is recalled to the surface. This is very important in education from seven to fifteen years of age; in these years a great deal can be introduced tenderly into the child's soul which can only be understood later. I beg you to feel no scruple at teaching beyond the child's age and appealing to something which he can only understand later. The contrary principle has introduced a deadening element into our pedagogy. But the child must know that he has to wait. It is one of the feelings we can promote within the child that he must be ready to wait for a perfect understanding until much later. For this reason it was not at all a bad idea in olden times to make the children simply learn 1 × 1 = 1, 2 × 2 = 4, 3 × 3 = 9, etc., instead of their learning it, as they do to-day, from the calculating machine. This principle of forcing back the child's comprehension must be overthrown. It can naturally only be done with tact, for we must not depart too far from what the child can love, but he can absorb a great deal of material, purely on the teacher's authority, for which understanding only dawns later.

If you introduce the plastically formative element to the child in this way you will see that you can vivify much of what is sapping away life.

The musical element, which lives in the human being from birth onwards, and which—as I have already said—expresses itself particularly in the child's third and fourth years in a gift for dancing, is essentially an element of will, potent with life. But, extraordinary as it may sound, it is true that it contains as it plays its part in the child, an excessive life, a benumbing life, a life directed against consciousness. The child's development is very easily brought by a profoundly musical experience into a certain degree of reduced consciousness. One must say, therefore: “The educational value of music must consist in a constant inter-harmonizing of the Dionysian element springing up in the human being, with the Apollonian. While the death-giving element must be vivified by the plastically formative element, a supremely living power in music must be partially subdued and toned down so that it does not affect the human being too profoundly.” This is the feeling with which we should introduce music to children.

Now this is the position: Karma develops human nature with a bias towards one side or the other. This is particularly noticeable in music. But I want to point out that here it is over-emphasized. We should not insist too much: This is a musical child; this one is not musical. Certainly the fact is there, but to draw from it the conclusion that the unmusical child must be kept apart from all music and only the musical children must be given a musical education, is thoroughly false; even the most unmusical children should be included in any musical activity. It is right without a doubt, from the point of view of producing music more and more, only to encourage the really musical children to appear in public. But even the unmusical children should be there, developing sensitiveness, for you will notice that even in the unmusical child there is a trace of the musical disposition which is only very deep down and which loving assistance brings to the surface. That should never be neglected, for it is far truer than we imagine that, in Shakespeare's words

The man that hath no music in himself
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils; ...
Let no such man be trusted.

The Merchant of Venice, Act V, Scene I.

That is a very fundamental truth. Nothing should therefore be left undone to bring in touch with music the children considered at first to be unmusical.

But of the greatest importance, particularly socially, will be the cultivation of music in an elementary way, so that, without any paralysing theory, the children are taught from the elementary facts of music. The children should get a clear idea of the elements of music, of harmonies and melodies, etc., from the application of the most elementary facts, from aural analysis of melodies and harmonies, so that in music we proceed to build up the structure of the artistic element as a whole in just the same elementary way as we do with the plastically formative element, where we begin with the isolated detail. This will help to mitigate the persistent intrusion into music of dilettantism; although it, must not for a moment be denied that even musical dilettantism has a certain utility in the social life of the community. Without it we should not with ease be able to get very far, but it should confine itself to the listeners. Precisely if this were done it would be possible to give due prominence within our social life to those who can really produce music. For it should not be forgotten that all plastically formative art tends to individualize people: all the art of music and poetry, on the other hand, furthers social intercourse. People come together and unite in music and poetry; but they become more individual through plastic and formative art. The individuality is better preserved by the plastically formative; social life is better maintained in common enjoyment and experience of music and poetry. Poetry is created in the solitude of the soul—there alone; but it is understood through its general reception. With no intention of inventing an abstraction we can say that man discloses his innermost soul in the creation of poetry, and that his inner soul finds response again in the innermost soul of other people who absorb his creation. That is why pleasure, above all things, in, and yearning for, music and poetry, should be cultivated in the growing child. In poetry the child should early become familiar with real poetry. The individual to-day grows up into a social order in which he is tyrannized over by the prose of language. There are to-day innumerable reciters who tyrannize over people with prose, and place in the foreground of the poem nothing but the prose-content. And when the poem is so recited that the emphasis is laid on the thought content, we consider it nowadays the perfect recitation. But a really perfect recitation is one which particularly emphasizes the musical element. In the few words with which I sometimes introduce our Eurhythmy demonstrations, I have often drawn attention to the way in which in a poet like Schiller a poem arises from the depth of his soul. In many of his poems he first feels the lilt of an undefined melody, and only later into this undefined melody does he sink, as it were, the content, the words. The undefined melody is the element in which the content is suspended, and the poetical activity lives in the fashioning of the language, not in the content, but in the measure, in the rhythm, in the preservation of the rhyme, that is in the music which underlies poetry. I said that the present mode of recitation is to tyrannize over people, because it is always tyranny to attach the greatest value to the prose, to the content of a poem, to its abstract treatment. Spiritual-scientifically we can only escape the tyranny by presenting a subject, as I always try to do, from the most different angles, so that comprehension of it is kept fluid and artistic. I felt particular pleasure when one of our artistically gifted friends said that certain cycles of my lectures, purely in virtue of their inner structure, could be transformed into a symphony. Something of this kind actually does underlie the structure of certain cycles. Take, for instance, the cycle given in Vienna8Inneres Wesen des deuschen und Leben zwischen Tod und neuer Gebrut, 1914. on the life between death and a new birth, and you will see that you could make a symphony out of it. That is possible because an anthroposophical lecture should not make a tyrannical impression, but should arouse people's will. When, however, people come to a subject like the “Threefold State,” they say that they cannot understand it. In reality it is not difficult to understand; only they are not used to the mode of expression.

It is consequently of extreme importance to draw the child's attention in every poem to the music underlying it. For this reason the division of teaching should be arranged so that the lessons of recitation should come as near as possible to those of music. The teacher of music should be in close contact with the teacher of recitation, so that when the one lesson follows the other a living connection between the two is achieved. It would be especially useful if the teacher of music were still present during the recitation lesson and vice versa, so that each could continually indicate the connections with the other lesson. This would completely exclude what is at present so very prominent in our school-life, and what is really horrible—the abstract explanation of poems. This detailed explanation of poems, verging perilously on grammar, is the death of all that should influence the child. This “interpretation” of poems is a quite appalling thing.

Now you will object: But the interpreting is necessary to understand the poem! The answer to that must be: Teaching must be arranged to form a whole. This must be discussed in the weekly Staff-meeting. This and that poem come up for recitation. Then there must flow in from the rest of the teaching what is necessary for the understanding of the poem. Care must be taken that the child brings ready with him to the recitation lesson what he needs to understand the poem. You can quite well—for instance, take Schiller's Spaziergang—explain the cultural-historical aspect, the psychological aspect of the poem, not taking one line after the other with the poem in your hand, but so as to familiarize the child with the substance. In the recitation lesson stress must be laid solely on the artistic communication of art.

If we were to guide the artistic element like this, in its two streams, to harmonize human nature through and through, we should have very important results. We must simply consider that when a human being sings it is an infinitely valuable achievement of companionship with the world. Singing, you see, is itself an echo of the world. When the human being sings he expresses the meaningful wisdom from which the world is built. But we must not forget that when he sings he combines the cosmic melody with the human word. That is why something unnatural enters into song. This can easily be felt in the incompatibility of the sound of a poem with its content. It would mean a certain progress if one were to pursue the attempt already begun, to maintain sheer recitative in the lines, and only to animate the rhyme with melody, so that the lines would pass in a flow of recitative and the rhyme be sung like an aria.9Paul Baumann, Songs of the Free Waldorf School. This would result in a clean severance of the music of a poem from its words, which, of course, disturb the actually musical person.

And again, when the musical ear of the individual is cultivated he himself becomes more disposed to a living experience of the musical essence of the world. This is of the supremest value for the evolution of the individual. We must not forget: In the plastically formative we contemplate beauty, we live it; in music we ourselves become beauty. This is extraordinarily significant. The further back you go into olden times the less you find what we really call music. You have the distinct impression that music is only in process of creation, in spite of the fact that many musical forms are already dying out again. This arises from a very significant cosmic fact. In all plastic or formative art man was the imitator of the old celestial order. The highest imitation of a world-heaven order is the plastic formative imitation of the world. But in music man himself is creative. Here he does not create out of a given material, but lays the very foundations for what will only come to fulfilment in the future. It is, of course, possible to create music of a kind by imitating musically, for instance, the rushing of water or the song of the nightingale. But true music and true poetry are a creation of something new, and from this creation of the new will arise one day the Jupiter, Venus, and Vulcan evolutions.10R. Steiner, Outlines of Occult Science. In linking up with music we retrieve, in a sense, what is still to be; we retrieve it for reality out of the present nullity of its existence.

Only in linking up in this way with the great facts of the world do we acquire a right understanding of teaching. Only this can confer on it the right consecration, and in receiving this consecration it is really transformed into a kind of divine service.

I have set up more or less an ideal. But surely our concrete practice can be ranged in the realm of the ideal. There is one thing we ought not to neglect, for instance, when we go with the children we are teaching—as we shall, of course—into the mountains and the fields, when, that is, we take them out to nature. In introducing these children like this to nature we should always remember that natural science teaching itself only belongs to the school building. Let us suppose that we are just coming into the country with the children, and we draw their attention to a stone or a flower. In so doing we should scrupulously avoid allowing so much as an echo of what we teach in the school-room to be heard outside in nature. Out in the open we should refer the children to nature in quite a different way from what we do in the class-room. We ought never to neglect the opportunity of drawing their attention to the fact that we are bringing them out into the open to feel the beauty of nature and we are taking the products of nature back into the school-room, so that there we can study and analyse nature with them. We should, therefore, never mention to the children, while we are outside, what we explain to them in school, for instance, about plants. We ought to lay stress on the difference between studying dead nature in the class-room—and contemplating nature in its beauty out of doors. We should compare these two experiences side by side. Whoever takes the children out into nature to exemplify to them out of doors from some object of nature what he is teaching in the class room is not doing right. Even in children we should evoke a kind of feeling that it is sad to have to analyse nature when we return to the class-room. Only the children should feel the necessity of it, because, of course, the disturbance of what is natural is essential even in the building up of the human being. We should on no account suppose that we do well to expound a beetle scientifically out of doors. The scientific explanation of the beetle belongs to the class-room. What we should do when we take the children out into the open is to excite pleasure in the beetle, delight in the way he runs, in his amusing ways, in his relation to the rest of nature. And in the same way we should not neglect to awaken the distinct sense in the child's soul that music is a creative element, an element that goes beyond nature, and that man himself becomes a fellow-creator of nature when he creates music. This sense will naturally have to be formed in a very rudimentary manner as an experience, but the first experience to be felt from the will-like element of music is that man should feel himself part of the cosmos.