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Friday, December 16, 2011

Report from Michael Howard


Report on
The Visual Art Section Conference
At the Goetheanum


November 24-27, 2011


Michael Howard


If the Visual Art Section meeting at the Goetheanum in November 2010 was shrouded in a dark and troubling mood, the gathering this year was imbued with a more light-filled and creative spirit of renewal.


Significant steps had already been taken at our June, 2011 meeting, concluding with the strong mandate given to Rik ten Cate of Holland to serve as a Section Coordinator for the coming year till our conference in May 2012. Rik had been urged to form a Coordinating Council to work with him in attending to the essential business of the Art Section. This included the forming of the two Art Section conferences that traditionally took place in November and May/June of each year. Most particularly, Rik and the Coordinating Council were charged with facilitating the process of finding new organizational forms, and in particular a new organ of leadership, that would serve the future development of the Art Section.


On the afternoon of Thursday, November 24th,before the conference proper began, two First Class Lessons were held in which the Fourth Recapitulation Lesson and Lesson Five were read in German, followed by an open conversation.


That evening Rik ten Cate warmly welcomed the 70+ members of the Art Section gathered in the Sudatelier of the Goetheanum. The Social Ethic Motto given by Rudolf Steiner to Edith Maryon was spoken in both German and English. Rik then gave a detailed report of all that had happened since the June conference. The following were among the main points:
  1. a)  Rik introduced the four other Council Members; Christiane Schwarzweller, Martin Zweifel, Gottfried Caspar and Michael Howard. He also introduced Tanja Hietsch, who is Seija Zimmermann’s assistant, but who in recent months had done much of the administrative work for our Section.


  2. b)  Rik gave an update on the revising of the contact list of Section members worldwide, emphasizing that a final letter will go out shortly in an effort to have everyone who regards themselves an active member of the Art Section to confirm their contact info or provide an update.


  3. c)  While a year ago the Art Section had no budget, Rik was pleased to report that we have had a modest but adequate budget since June and a comparable budget of E 60,000 is in place for 2012. In addition, our Section has received 2 gifts totaling E1500.
Rik went on to introduce the two main subjects of this conference, and outlined the different ways they would be addressed:
1.Exploring the question of spiritual scientific research within the realm of the visual arts.
  1. i)  Two full lectures by Pieter van der Ree and Heinz Georg Haussler;
  2. ii)  8 workshops meeting three times each;
2.Continuing the process of reforming the Art Section.
  1. iii)  Four formal presentations by Willi Grass, Espen Tharaldsen, Michael Howard and
    Christians Schwarzweller;
  2. iv)  Four Discussion groups meeting two times, plus one session for reporting;
  3. v)  Two plenum discussions.
Rik concluded his introduction to the conference with three questions intended to guide our deliberations about the future of the Art Section:
  1. What does the Art Section need to realize its spiritual tasks?
  2. What organizational and leadership forms will serve those needs?
  3. What process will bring us to the new leadership of the Art Section?
The evening concluded with Elizabeth Wagner saying a few words about her research in regards to developing 8 sets of 12 paintings that were exhibited in the Sudatelier throughout the conference. Each set of 12 paintings started with placing on successive page a different colored wash according to Steiner’s12-fold color circle related to the Zodiac. To each of these different ground colors Elizabeth brought the same sequence of four colors. Each set of 12 paintings was based on the four colors Rudolf Steiner indicated were related to a particular vowel sound. The first color was the color of the planet to which the vowel belonged,. For example, U is related to Saturn
and the color for Saturn is blue, so the first color brought to each of the 12 different ground colors was blue. This was followed by another blue that is the ‘movement color” Steiner gave for the eurythmy gesture of U, followed by yellow as the ‘feeling color’ of U, and lastly, violet as the “character color’ of U. This methodical approach to building up the colors of a painting led to an incredible metamorphosis of motifs through each sequence of 12 paintings, some of which were clearly related to Rudolf Steiner’s painting sketches. As the fruit of a life’s works, it deserved a more in-depth presentation than the occasion allowed, but it was inspiring nevertheless.


I. Spiritual Research in the Realm of the Visual Arts:


1.Lecture by Pieter van der Ree:

Pieter began with the question: how can spiritual scientific research in architecture contribute to

mainstream architecture? He took us on a journey through the history of architecture from the igloo to the BMW Welt building in Munich. Through this Pieter drew our attention to the incredible freedom given to the architect today through the technological developments of recent decades that no longer limits architecture to the box. But, all this freedom begs the question: Are we any closer to architecture truly serving human life and human development? More and more buildings draw upon the full spectrum of the language of form, that have an organic, free-form quality to them, but what is needed for this freedom of form to more truly serve the human being? Pieter’s main point was that we have a long way to go in developing the capacities for a living architecture, for this depends on our developing the capacity for living thinking to a much greater extent. Pieter concluded by showing some examples of his student’s work to indicate how the schooling of architects must strengthen the middle realm where living, pictorial thinking can mediate between abstract thinking, on the one hand, and the practical demands of the physical world, on the other.


2.Lecture by Heinz Georg Haussler:

Heinz Georg recalled how from his earliest days as a student he had the question: Are their laws of

sculpture? He soon realized that no one could answer this question for him; that he would have to search for answers himself. He then described the profound and humbling shock of seeing the work of Michelangelo—what was left to achieve in sculpture? In 1961 he had a further shock when he saw the 2nd Goetheanum and the photographs and models of the 1st Goetheanum. Much of his subsequent work was based on exploring the relationship between the formative forces at work in Michelangelo’s sculptures and those of the Goetheanum buildings. Heinz quoted Steiner from 1912 in which he indicated there was a relationship between the 4-fold human being and the four main reclining figures of the Medici Tomb. This led him to some forty years of study and drawing these figures, searching to discover and experience deeply their archetypal gestures, and eventually publishing his findings in a book. More important than any particular results was the process of asking questions and pursuing them through artistic means. This is what anthroposophy can offer as a new path for art and artists. Heinz then described the evolution of another research project that occupied him for the last 20+ years, namely, the carving of 8 large columns in marble that only recently were placed in a village for handicapped children in Germany. They stand in a circle with two in the East representing Life and Death, two in the South representing Flowering and Fruiting, two in the West representing Light and Dark, and two in the North representing Thought and Will.


3.Research Workshops:

The following workshops explored the question of artistic research in a variety of ways:

  1. i)  Two Approaches to Painting with Dorothea Templeton and Caroline Chanter.
  2. ii)  The Riddle of Counter Colors in the Small Cupola with Peter Stebbing.
  3. iii)  Painting as an Inner Schooling with Doris Harpers.
  4. iv)  Developing the Capacities for Creating Living Architecture with Pieter van der Ree.
  5. v)  Spiritual Research in the Visual Arts with Michael Howard.
  6. vi)  Architecture and Mystery Architecture with Espen Tharaldsen.
  7. vii)  An Epistemology of the Visual Arts with Willi Grass.
  8. viii)  Carving the Schreinerei Pear Tree with Barbara Schnetzler and Steffen Marreel. 
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II The Future of the Visual Art Section


A. Formal Presentations:

Four short presentations on the future of the Section were offered:


1. Willi Grass affirmed that the basic aim of the School of Spiritual Science is to cultivate the practice of spiritual scientific research, however, this is still little understood among the members. As for finding new forms for the Art Section, Willi reminded us that the forms are not for us but are to serve human evolution. Can we simply invent new forms of this kind, or are the forms established at the Christmas conference of 1923 still the appropriate forms needed now and into the future? The present forms of the Society and School give every member great freedom to take initiative with others. The task of a Leader is not to judge but to support and coordinate the initiative of the members. Without a Leader it is difficult to unify all the parts as a whole. The challenges of the School cannot be answered by one Section but must be addressed among the members of all Sections. As members of the School we need to research the future. In the 5th Statute Rudolf Steiner is clear that Dornach is only one of many possible centers for anthroposophy. But Dornach has a particular leadership role as a center where all questions can be brought and seen as a whole. Willi concluded with three questions:
  1. i)  Who are those already perceived to be playing a leadership role?
  2. ii)  How can we foster inter-sectional work?
  3. iii)  How is the form of our Society and School still right for the present and future situation?
2. Espen Tharaldsen began with a quotation from a 1911 lecture where Rudolf Steiner suggests that human beings today need to experience buildings with “walls that are not walls”. Espen helped us appreciate this thought by presenting a brief overview of the evolution of human consciousness through the history of temples, making visible that the temple is the human being. Whereas the temples of the past—as with the pyramid—were visible imaginations of the spiritual brought down to the human, today the gesture needs to show how the human being can raise himself up to the spirit. It is in this sense that we need “walls that are not walls”, or living spiritual walls. Espen concluded with the view that new forms cannot be invented but must be born out of the spiritual forces of the Time. In what way are the spiritual forces that were active in shaping the Society and School in1923 the same or different than the forces active today?


3. Michael Howard began by bringing together Willi’s thought about the form of the Society and School given in 1923 being the form needed today, and Espen’s thought from Steiner that humankind needs “walls that are not walls.” Michael was reminded that elsewhere Rudolf Steiner had spoken of the need for “living etheric walls.” This led to the thought that today we need social forms that are not social forms, but living, etheric social forms. The forms of the Anthroposophical Society and the School of Spiritual Science are to be understood and worked with as such living etheric social forms that are not fixed but remain in living movement. With this in mind we can avoid the danger of holding on too tightly to the forms of 1923 without inventing new forms abstractly. The principle of metamorphose, made visible in the forms of the Goetheanum, must be worked with in the forms of the Society and School. Michael affirmed the central importance of Section activity where we work together in person, but he suggested two reasons for strengthening awareness for our individual Section work. Our involvement in the Section originates in our personal experience of working within the spiritual stream of the Michael School, and we must keep in mind that many Section members do not have the possibility of working very often with other Section members. Michael then quoted the sentence: “the whole purpose of spiritual science is to prepare for the 6th cultural epoch.” This suggests a primary task for the Art Section: How can the arts prepare for the 6th epoch? One indication Steiner gives is that human beings will become only more diverse in their inner constitution such that it will require quite new capacities to create social harmony and unity out of such diversity. How can the arts develop the capacities for a social art that will serve communities of aspiring ethical individuals? What will leadership look like if there are no followers but all are leaders? How can we today prepare the way for such a new form of leadership? Michael urged that we put more time and effort into building up individual and local Art Section activity, including in Dornach, so that we see more clearly that at the local level the leadership qualities we need to cultivate are the capacities to engage in spiritual research, while the work at the more regional and worldwide level call for leadership in coordination of the individual and local activity. We have the opportunity to demonstrate in the way we continue to evolve the form of our Section how an artistic experience of metamorphosis can be applied to the metamorphosis of the forms of the Society and School.

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4. Christiane Schwarzweller noted that the present exhibition, Goetheanum 1:1, that highlights the Goetheanum itself as a work of art, challenges us to understand this last work of art from Rudolf Steiner. To understand this building we must understand the activity it is meant to serve. She used this analogy to suggest that if we are looking for the form of the Art Section we must likewise look to the activity of the Art Section. For this reason we might use the Goetheanum as the model for the Art Section. As the Goetheanum did not appear out of nothing but arose out of the stream of evolution, we too must try to enter into the stream of forces that have shaped the Section in order to envision how it might metamorphose in a living but spiritually lawful manner. Christiane also gave a brief overview of the history of sacred spaces from Noah’s ark to Solomon’s temple, Chartre, and eventually to the First and Second Goetheanum. Through the image of the Jachim and Boaz pillars and its metamorphosis in the Goetheanum buildings, she suggested that we are now in a time where we have no teacher to guide us directly, but we must guide ourselves. Through the arts we have the tools to do this; through art we can learn the language of the gods and thereby find our way back to the spiritual worlds. Michael’s spear of light is a spear of insight, not a spear for slaying. And through Michael, our ‘I’ can develop the strength to develop freedom in our thinking, feeling and willing, and in this way, find our way to the Christ. Particularly, through art we can develop freedom in the realm of feeling that leads us to cosmic feeling, to the spiritual beings working in and through feeling. And freedom in the realm of willing will allow each individual to realize their individual potential in a way that does not hinder but complements the will of others. Christiane concluded with the thought that we should not be overly concerned about what is right or wrong, but open ourselves to seeing what is needed. We should only ensure that no structure of the Section hinders any individual’s will but allows each to unfold their potential. This is what Rudolf Steiner intended with the Stiftung of 1911. Perhaps the time is ripe for us to realize this ideal through our present efforts in the Art Section.


B. Discussion Groups


There were two sessions in which four discussion groups met to discuss the future of the Art Section. The three questions Rik presented the first evening were used to guide the conversation:
  1. What does the Art Section need to realize its spiritual tasks?
  2. What organizational and leadership forms will serve those needs?
  3. What process will bring us to the new leadership of the Art Section?
The following is a summary of the points made from the reports made by each of the four groups. They are organized according to the three questions above:
  1. Each group explored in their own way why each person belonged to the Art Section, and what they felt the tasks of the Section were in the world. The practice of spiritual research in the sphere of the visual arts was emphasized in each group, especially the need to meet in person to support each other on the inner path of developing the capacities for doing spiritual research. Other tasks mentioned were to cultivate inter-sectional research activity, to exhibit the work of colleagues, especially those less known, to tend the need for art trainings, to find the language for speaking about the anthroposophical art impulse in ways that can be understood by our contemporaries.


  2. In regards to the form of the Section, including the form of leadership needed at this time, the following points were made:
    1. i)  Some felt we should hold back on the question of a Leader and focus on gaining a fuller picture of Art Section activity around the world;
    2. ii)  Look to see who has the capacities for different kinds of initiative such as organizing exhibitions, conferences, newsletters, coordinating activities and facilitating communications;
    3. iii)  The idea of a separate Section for architecture was put forward;
    4. iv)  The difference between a Leader and a Coordinator, and the pros and cons of
      both were debated. Most seem to favor the idea of the members naming a
      Coordinator of the Section, who in turn would form a Coordinating Council;
    5. v)  There were different views about whether to have a small leadership group of 2-3
      or a larger group in order to draw upon a wider scope of capacities, and that would
      include a wider representation of Section activity around the world;
    6. vi)  Servant leadership was mentioned in most groups , along with the picture of the
      heart--not as a pump but as an organ of perception—as a model for Section leadership.
3. Regarding the process by which we go forward, in the written contributions posted on the Section
website before the conference, there were some proposals for how to appoint a new Leader or Leadership Group for the Art Section. At the end of the conference itself, it was noted that no proposals had been made about the leadership process. By inference, as much as by direct statements, it was evident that everyone supported the form that emerged last June, namely, that the members name a leading Coordinator, who in turn would form a Coordinating Council. In other words, there was widespread accord that we should continue with the present form, understanding that this would naturally and organically continue to evolve.


Closing Plenum:

Two open plenum sessions filled the final morning with a variety of announcements--too numerous to
record here—as well as closing thoughts about the process of moving forward and about our next conference in May. Rik urged that we foster the idea of not waiting for some leadership group to take an initiative but that everyone develop their potential to take initiative. For example, wherever we have a question or interest, we should see it as an opportunity to take it up as a research question. Furthermore, we should think about developing ways for people to let others know of their interests so that they might find ways to collaborate whether near or far. He especially encouraged us to take up the research question of how the arts develop social capacities, on the one hand, and how art is a meditative path for developing spiritual organs of perception, on the other hand. Rik hoped we would find ways to go further with these subjects at our next conference scheduled for May 17-20, 2012 at the Goetheanum. And plans have been set in motion to organize a large exhibition in the Goetheanum during the May conference, to which all are invited to contribute 2-3 works.


Lastly, in response to comments and questions about the continuation of the Coordinating Council, all five members of the present Coordinating Council affirmed their commitment to complete their task through our conference in May. They also made clear that the question of who will be Coordinator and who will serve on the Coordinating Council was an open matter to be discussed and decided at the May 2012 conference.
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