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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Creating Art From Spiritual Experiences

I am looking forward to exploring this blog further and am very excited about the collaboration format, also learning about what other people are actually experiencing through their studies and explorations in art.

Recently I have been studying Rudolf Steiner's book "How to Know Higher Worlds" where Steiner states that spiritual realties can be perceived in the same way for everyone, just as we all see a chair. Has anyone depicted some of these perceptions through art?  Has anyone clearly 'seen' these things to be able to depict them? Or is it that if it's spiritual perception it does not translate back into the physical medium as it is a different way of 'seeing'?  And if someone has done this, do others agree with that perception? Many questions!

But I am sure you get my gist, I see a lot of 'perceptions' and interpretations out there, including mine, but is this all just groping in the dark compared to Steiner's suggestion that there is an actual 'concrete' spiritual reality that is the same for us all?

Hopefully this blog will show what picture this collaboration paints about such a reality, that indeed we are all probing the same environment and not just feeding our individual fantasies.

~ Shaun Plowman


David Adams said...

I hope you not only are reading Steiner’s “How to Achieve Knowledge of Higher Worlds” but are also at least beginning to practice the exercises he gives. In my experience, with a bit – or sometimes a lot – of perseverance, the exercises do indeed lead to the supersensible experiences he describes. Ideally, as Steiner himself said in various ways, artists working out of anthroposophy are or should be inspired by their own spiritual experiences, and it is important to HAVE the experiences to be able to treat them authentically. For example, there is a reason why Steiner describes the “coloristic” aspects of some of these higher experiences as, for example, “red-yellow” instead of “orange,” or “red-blue” instead of “purple.” Such experiences are not fixed and still but constantly changing and moving (“mobile” as Steiner often describes them), so that, for instance, one feels astral “red” and “yellow” continually interpenetrating and shifting.

However, I don’t mean that spiritual experiences should be literally “illustrated.” Trying to represent the spiritual directly, said Steiner, is one of the two “original sins” of art (see his lecture of Feb. 15, 1918, “The Two Sources of Art: Impressionism and Expressionism,” included in the book edited by Michael Howard, “Art as Spiritual Activity”). Both of the two more genuine approaches to creating a spiritually inspired visual art that Steiner uniquely depicts in this lecture, Expressionism and Impressionism, involve a passing of both sensible and supersensible aspects through the attentive soul of the artist, in two different ways. There are probably multiple ways to try to express (or stimulate in the viewer) the “qualities” of spiritual experiences other than directly depicting them in paint or woodcarving or metal.

As an example of the somewhat deadened effect of trying to literally illustrate spiritual experience, you could check the illustrations in the Theosophical book “Thought Forms” by Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater (originally published 1901). A number of the colored forms illustrated in that book recall some of the experiences Steiner describes as results of the meditative exercises he describes – e.g., “definite affection,” “grasping animal affection,” “the response to devotion,” and “selfish greed,” and are interesting for that reason sort of like scientific illustrations in a book on birds. Yet they somehow seem too fixed and “dead” painted on the page.

shaun said...

Thanks for your comments, as an artist striving to get a grasp on such things and the role of art today, its great to hear other thoughts and feelings on the matter. Yes I am practicing the exercises ( I quickly came to the conclusion that its a pretty useless book to have if I am not) and it is from them that I am slowly arriving back to picking up once again the pursuit of my artistic longing, and opening to wonders of the world that are around me everyday.

Your comments also touch on further thoughts I have as how good a medium is the visual arts to stimulate experiences within the viewer ? Is it more suited to ones personal pursuit of piercing into the spiritual and finding something real within oneself ? So is pursuing anthroposophy through art a more personal experience or can it be a shared experience, stimulating a spiritual direction for the viewer? As you say there are many other ways to go about this, how suited is the visual medium for this ?,compared to the use of words for example. It certainly would take ones receptivity and empathy and will to enter into what such a painting could offer. Does anyone have an example of such art that depicts a universal truth for us all to access if we are willing ? And if so what could we actually learn from such a piece, what experience could we have from it that could lead us further on our path ?

I can see how art can remind me of a universal truth, prompting me to refind that inside of myself and making it alive once again - such as Steiners "The Representative of Man". - but what I am also interested in is can art induce a spiritual experience, a portal as it were beyond the veil. I see how it could open doors for an artist in action but as a viewer ? What is the use of viewing art if it does not induce an experience such as architecture does as you enter into a space? The visual can change ones perception of how I see the world around me.

My last thoughts are for morals too. Morals and Will. If color can induce certain morals, then art depict morals, art can induce morals, if the viewer/artist is receptive. What is the role of morals within art ? What is the role of the will within art ? A good place to start is to understand what is a moral and what is the will ?

shaun said...

Oh, and Adam would love to hear about some of the supersensible experiences you have had, and have you used these for your art ? It would be inspiring to get an insight into this.

David Adams said...

You raise some rather large questions that cannot really be answered simply or briefly, so I'll just tackle a few points. Today "the visual medium" can actually be quite varied, beyond the traditional object-oriented media, and, I think, needs to become still more varied. I have written about this (and hope to gradually start posting some of those writings on this site). For example, there are a number of artists today (mostly outside of anthroposophy) working with things like installations of moving colored lights/shadows or projected computer animations. If the artist has some sense what he or she is doing, these seem to have the potential to more directly mimic the nature of spiritual experiences (while still being only "substitutes" or maybe "pointers" or, as you say, "reminders"). As Steiner said, moving into the future, the visual arts need to become more musical in character (and vice versa). I don't think it is too likely that a work of art itself could typically produce a spiritual experience (although maybe in some viewers), but it can reference them more or less exactly.

Do you know about Rudolf Steiner's mostly unfulfilled initiative for the development of a new colored "light-play-art" that would work as a counterforce to films? We published some articles on this in a past issue of the Art Section Newsletter and also have a small email group of artists continuing to experiment with this in various ways.

I do find the visual arts to have more potential in this area than the verbal arts (although the latter must appeal directly to the imagination of the viewer with few other aids to visualization). Steiner seemed to find this also, particularly with architecture and interior design. In "Occult Signs and Symbols" in 1907 he said that the unconscious effects of the visual forms we experience around us ("what the eye sees") can have a much stronger effect in countering (or supporting) materialism than the written word or "spiritual dogmas." This is one reason why he felt the urgency to develop an anthroposophical architecture that will have a stronger moral effect on people than any number of criminal laws and prisons, that will teach people "how to love,... to live in harmony and peace with their fellow beings." ("Ways to a New Style in Architecture" 1914)

shaun said...

Sorry David - got your name wrong.

shaun said...

Thanks David appreciate your response. The Light Play Art seems an interesting idea. Plenty of food for thought. I look forward to reading some of your posts.