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What is the Art Section?

The Art Section (of the School of Spiritual Science) is an international cultural organization working within the visual arts from a modern spiritual perspective based on the pioneering artistic work of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) and anthroposophy.

The Society and the School

Rudolf Steiner, the founder of the Anthroposophical Society, announced on January 18, 1924, that “Anthroposophy must now be represented before the world at large, and this requires quite another style.” In addition to the refounding of the Society at the end of 1923 (originally begun in 1913 in Germany), this meant its expansion into the School of Spiritual Science (Freie Hochschule für Geisteswissenshaft), whose world headquarters is at the Goetheanum building in Dornach, Switzerland (near Basel).

While not intended to be a traditional college or university, the School was nevertheless divided up into various topical “Sections” or “Departments” and, Steiner said, was intended to pursue research into “the various departments of life – artistic, educational ethical, etc.“ However, this research would develop through knowledge that includes but also moves beyond the level of ordinary intellectual ideas into research undertaken through the development of the more advanced human faculties of spiritual knowing that Steiner termed Imagination, Inspiration, and Intuition. The initial training in the school was one of developing these higher research faculties through three levels or “classes,” only the first of which was brought to partial completion before Steiner’s death in 1925. One of the ten professional sections of work in the School of Spiritual Science concerns the visual arts and has been named the Art Section (Sektion für Bildende Künste). Steiner named the English sculptor Edith Maryon as the first leader of the Art Section, but she was unable to take this on due to an illness that soon took her life.

Before describing further the new School, Steiner emphasized over the following days in 1924 certain characteristics of the Anthroposophical Society itself, into which the School was to be incorporated.  First, it “is an absolutely public Society like any other society” without “any mysterious pretences.” It “exists for every human being the world, who, in his soul, is seeking for the paths to the spirit.” The Society exists to cultivate and bring to life the existing anthroposophical “spiritual treasure, with all its consequence for the artistic, religious, and scientific life.” The Society must reveal “the greatest possible broad-mindedness, combined . . . with the greatest zeal. [It} . . . will not abide intolerance, or narrow-mindedness.” The leaders of the Society and its School “must be quick to perceive – and with the fullest interest – everything that arises in our time in the direction of true human progress.” (Above quotations from Rudolf Steiner, The Constitution of the School of Spiritual Science 1964.)

Link to the Anthroposophical Society in America web site

Membership and work within the School of Spiritual Science represents an additional stage of commitment beyond simple membership in the Society and is only available after at least two years as a member of the Society. For one thing, School membership is intended for those who want to be active and who “are prepared to take it on themselves to represent the anthroposophical cause before the world, in one way or another.” For another, members must work within an atmosphere of free confidence and trust with the administration of the School. But the primary task of the School involves spiritual research.

The Work of the Art Section

Experience within the School of Spiritual Science may be expected to deepen the inner life and creative practice of artists in very individual ways. These artists can then find approaches to representing this work in the world in general, both out of self-initiative and as part of group efforts from within the Section. Joining the work of the Art Section is most essentially a freely chosen inner gesture, more a self-appointment than joining an external organization. While anthroposophical spiritual research in the visual arts can deepen and quicken the creative work of an individual, it is also part of a communal effort to seek how the visual arts can best serve a larger human spiritual development. Artists don’t join the Art Section as much for themselves as for the world.

Art Section members work to develop a clear picture of the tasks of anthroposophy, particularly within the visual arts. In addition to ongoing research on the esoteric artistic work and impulses of Rudolf Steiner, Art Section members strive to become ever more aware of the larger spiritual and artistic situation of humanity today, including what is happening in the contemporary “artworld” and why.  Art Section members strive to share work and keep in contact with other artists trying to work in this way within the Section and are also prepared to defend and correctly interpret anthroposophical artwork in the face of erroneous interpretations.

A further, more internal task of the Section is to awaken people within the Anthroposophical Society and anthroposophical movement to the universal human potential for artistic creativity and to encourage the expression of this way of enlivening anthroposophical work in general. As part of its outreach work, the Art Section also periodically sponsors public events or publications that are open to anyone interested, including this website.

The Art Section in North America

Since 1979 groups of visual artists inspired by anthroposophy had been sporadically meeting on the East Coast (primarily between the Spring Valley and Harlemville/Ghent, New York, areas) to share their work, discuss possible collaborative projects, and clarify and deepen the basic principles of an anthroposophical approach to the visual arts. Some of these artists, as well as several others, had also known each other during the later 1970s while students at the former Waldorf Institute in Detroit or at the nearby Rudolf Steiner Institute in Ann Arbor. In addition, a national exhibition of 40 American visual artists with a catalog was organized in Spring Valley by Michael Howard and David Adams in 1981 in connection with the first national conference of the Anthroposophical Society in America.

Thus, the ground had been prepared when Christian Hitsch, who was appointed leader of the Art Section at the Goetheanum by 1989 (succeeding the former leader, Hans Hermann), first visited North America in late 1992, lecturing and meeting with artists at several locations across the continent. Inspired by Hitsch's visit and sparked by the organizing initiatives of Michael Howard, a group of East Coast artists began meeting regularly over the following three years to deepen their work and prepare the founding of an organized North American Art Section activity. Another group of artists in the Sacramento, California, area also began meeting together, and the Art Section was formally inaugurated in North America at an October meeting in Spring Valley in 1995 with Hitsch present.

Beginning in 1995 North American representatives began attending the annual Art Section meetings in Dornach, in 1996 David Adams began sharing editorial duties for the international English-language Art Section Newsletter with the British group that had founded it in 1993 (currently edited with Marion Briggs and Gertraud Goodwin from the U.K. side, see sample issues elsewhere on this site), and in 1998 a North American Council was formed to facilitate the new Section activity. As a result of these efforts and several succeeding conferences, by 2000 the Section address list included more than 200 American artists working out of anthroposophical inspiration.

Link to Photos from the history of the Art Section

The forming of an American Art Section work took place over the same time period as the renovation project in the main hall of the Goetheanum, and a number of North American artists went to Dornach to participate in this large-scale project, bringing back further resolve and impulses for future work. Most recently (2009), the Council of the Art Section in North America has been expanded with several mostly younger members, and now consists of the following:

David Adams, California
H.S. (Bert) Chase, British Columbia, Canada
Patricia Dickson, California
Christopher Guilfoil, Oregon
Michael Howard, Massachusetts
Van James, Hawaii
Julie Moyer, California
Patrick Stolfo, New York