“Education must not be a science, it must be an art. And where is the art which can be learned without living constantly in feeling? But the feelings in which we must live in order to practice the great art of life, the art of education, are only brought to life through observation and contemplation of the cosmos and its connection with the human being.” (1)
A Question of Identity
Is the Waldorf School Movement today at risk if we continue to picture the paradigm of a Waldorf school as the work of an artist who has long since passed away: an unfinished masterpiece, varnished, framed and hung on a gallery wall, with calendar copies distributed worldwide? Or can we still see it in the studio, a ‘work in progress’, and, as with a growing human being, still with an identity in process of unfolding, determined as much by the future as by the past?
In 1909 Rudolf Steiner had already outlined the essential ingredients for what he then referred to for the first time as the ‘art of education’ (2). He emphasised that the art of education should be considered seriously as a genuine art form in its own right, and not be based on generalised catch phrases, but on authentic, detailed knowledge of the human being. Ten years later, with the opening of the first Waldorf School, he was able to articulate and demonstrate how this new art form could work in practice, and he continued to enlarge upon this right up until the last months of his active life in 1924. During this period he used the expression “the art of education” in a wide variety of different contexts – meetings with teachers, comments after class visits, public lectures, articles – and in relation to a whole range of different subjects. Within this many-sided web of connections a number of themes are discernable:
The art of education as an art form in its own right
The art of education’s aims and goals
The art of education versus scientific intellectualism
The teacher as artist
Artistic/aesthetic feeling in the art of education
The spiritual scientific basis for the art of education
The role of the arts in the art of teaching
The role of the arts in training for the art of teaching
Social challenges to the art of education
The comprehensive way in which these themes were consistently articulated in the context of teaching practice substantiates the underlying premise that educating is essentially an artistic enterprise. As with all art forms, the art of teaching demands a grounding in skills necessary for the development of refined sensory awareness that can then be placed in the service of creative thinking. And like any authentic artist, the educator is deeply and intimately linked with his medium, but in this case even more so, for both the subject and object of his practice is the developing human being.
The above list of themes can all be accommodated within the span of the quotation with which this article began. In essence it states three main requirements, to which the themes may be related. They are: firstly, that education should not be considered as a science but as an art; secondly, that as an art it is based on living constantly in feelings; and thirdly, that these qualities of feeling can only be brought to life through observation and contemplation of the human being in relation to the cosmos, or world in the wider sense.
Education must not be a science, it must be an art!
Why should we consider educating as an art form and not a science? In Rudolf Steiner’s statement the central position of feeling is significant. It constitutes the bridge between the creative aspirations of the teacher, on the one hand, and the skills and methods employed in teaching on the other. Without it the teacher would no longer be a practitioner motivated by innovative thinking (i.e. an artist), but a mere technician impelled by the imperatives of prescriptive norms and contents. Teaching-skills would then be applied solely in terms of predetermined, standardised goals, aims and outcomes without any consideration for the immediate reality of the situation, namely, the individuality of the young human being the teacher is involved with.
Thus artistic feeling in the practice of teaching marks the essential distinction between education as mere technique, as an applied branch of the behavioural sciences, as a form of social and psychological engineering – and education as an art. It is in this context that Rudolf Steiner referred to qualities of feeling as the precondition for the practice of the ‘great art of life’; and at the same time repeatedly demonstrated the negative effects of scientifically orientated educational practice in the classroom.
Time and again he addressed this challenge, with constant stress on its premature and one-sided intellectual focus. On many occasions he used particular examples from teaching practice, comparing the artistic to the widespread overly scientific-intellectualised approach, and emphasising the latter’s damaging consequences to the physical, emotional and spiritual health of children (3). On other occasions he confronted the dangers head on. A particularly strong statement to this effect introduces the four lectures in Balance in Teaching (4). His uncompromising stance and urgent tone is a striking call to protect the fragile beginnings of the renewed educational impulse both outwardly and inwardly.
However, such a response to the challenge of the scientific outlook in education should not be considered reactionary. On no account should Rudolf Steiner be considered as championing a return to a pre-scientific, instinctive attitude to educational practice. In an article based on a lecture given in 1922 he fully confirmed the role of scientific intellectualism in human development, but stressed the need to move beyond it with an artistically-based science of soul and spirit that can inform and enliven the new art of educating (5). And in a further highly charged passage he challenged teachers to recognise that the task of the art of education for the future is to transform science into an artistic grasp of the world:
“You should have the feeling that insofar as you are simply a scientist you are a moon-calf. Only when you transform yourself as an organism of soul, spirit and body, only when your knowledge assumes an artistic form, do you become a human being. In essence, developments in the future - and in these education will have to play its part, will lead from science to an artistic grasp of the world, from the moon-calf to the full human being.” (6)
A primary task of the art of education, therefore, is to prepare for this future. Indeed, the transformation from a scientific to an artistic grasp of the human being is a demand placed upon educational practice in the immediate conditions of the classroom today. We need to know:
“. . . that our conception of the build of a human being, of man’s inner configuration must be that of an artist. And the teacher must be in a position to experience the child artistically, to see him as an artist would. Everything within the child must be inwardly mobile to him.
Now, the philosopher will come and say: “Well, if a thing is to be known it must be logical.” Quite right, but logical after the manner of a work of art, which can be an inner artistic representation of the world we have before us. We must accept such an inward artistic apprehension. . .” (7)
Thus in order for such a new art of education to move forward and be fully realised in practice, its identity will have to be persistently asserted as an art form fit for the times we live in, and not as an applied science. It will have to persistently contend with an extreme tendency towards standardised educational practice arising from an overly intellectual and materialistically based scientific outlook. And as a result, it will also have to be continually safeguarded from the increasing misinformed antipathy of scientifically-orientated policymakers, legislators and practitioners of education worldwide.
Where is the art which can be learned without living constantly in feeling?
On a number of occasions Rudolf Steiner used the expression ‘artistic feeling’ in relation to the art of teaching; on others he used different words to mean the same thing in the context in which they appear; and on still others used the word ‘feeling’ not directly related to its artistic use, but in connection with the engendering of a religious mood and describing the relation between sensory perception and cognition (8). However, all of these nuances of feeling can be included with those ‘in which we must live in order to practice the great art of life’. Thus, in Rudolf Steiner’s statement the stress on feelings is clear. But what kind of feelings are these, and how are they related to the theme of artistic feeling in the practice of teaching as such?
In his four lectures entitled ‘Balance in Education’ Rudolf Steiner comprehensively embraced the full range of these nuances of feeling. For instance, he recommends that teachers make use of emotive moods drawn from the vocabulary of drama – tragedy, pathos and humour, and of others, such as reverence, enthusiasm and protective sympathy. But above all, he also referred to feelings as capacities that build up the teacher’s heightened perceptual and cognitive abilities. In describing the latter he used terms from other art forms, particularly music, the pictorial arts, sculpture, speech, movement, and especially the art of balance applicable to teaching in all subjects (9). The comprehensive range of all these feelings can be considered as the teacher’s artistic media, a palette of soul colours for the practice of educating.
But what, then, is the qualitative difference between the normal expression of feelings we use in daily life and their mode of use as media for the artistic practice of teaching, and how is their transformation effected?
As an example of this we may take something Rudolf Steiner said in connection with the teacher’s use of dramatic moods. Here he emphasised the fundamental imperative that teachers must be able to distance themselves from their own personal moods and feelings; and that they must also have the ability to freely evoke these dramatic moods as required by a particular lesson content and in tune with the phases of its presentation:
“As teachers we must train ourselves to lay aside these moods and to let what we say be determined solely by the content of what we are to present: Thus we should really be in a position as we picture one thing to speak tragically (but out of the nature of the thing itself) and then to shift over to a humorous vein as we proceed with our description surrendering ourselves completely to the subject.” (10)
The distancing of personal feelings, and a discriminate flexibility in the intentional use of particular moods in a given instance, are two qualities that distinguish the feelings of everyday life from those transformed and lifted into the artistic realm.
Regarding the distancing process the opening sentence is significant: ‘We must train ourselves to lay aside these moods and to let what we say be determined solely by the content of what we are to present ’. Just as the competent actress has to lay aside her own personal moods, when, as Juliet, she enters the stage to meet Romeo, so a similar detachment is demanded of the teacher as he or she enters the world of the classroom.
However, there is also a fundamental difference between the teacher and the actress or, say, a circus clown. The clown may provoke much laughter, but behind the painted smile he may well be in tears. In the teacher’s case such a disjunction between inner mood and outer display is highly problematic. In a class of young children the teacher will inevitably fail to evoke a mood of reverence if she does not carry with conviction an authentic mood of reverence herself. In an older class the teacher may raise his voice with strong words of admonition to some boys misbehaving at the back, but when he overhears another at the front whispering to his classmate, ‘Oh, he’s just pretending to be angry’, the teacher knows he has lost the moment.
But what happens when the teacher feels genuine anger arising when witnessing the injustice of a group of Class 9 girls teasing a fragile and sensitive newcomer to the class? The question is no longer whether she is entitled to give vent to an authentic feeling of outrage; but what she does with her feeling. Does she suppress it, or can she transform it and use it to awaken an appropriate pedagogical response to the specific situation at hand?
A similar challenge arises with teachers privileged with a gift of humour. Evoking joy and laughter at appropriate moments in a lesson is a vital resource in the art of teaching. But it can be wide open to abuse if the teacher is unable to leave personal undercurrents of attitude and feeling outside the classroom door. Otherwise humour can become a two-edged sword. For instance, when a teacher allows frustrations of a personal nature to twist a healthy use of irony into cutting sarcasm; or the teacher with a low sense of self-esteem seeks constant adulation and popularity through using the classroom as an arena for entertainment and comic performance.
What is significant in Rudolf Steiner’s statement is not only the injunction for the teacher to set aside personal feelings, but also for the teacher to determine when and how to introduce appropriate nuances of mood at any given moment in a lesson. It is in this sense that the teacher is called upon to use artistic feeling as a creative power of judgement to meet the immediate needs of the moment. And it is in this context that the question arises as to the difference in the character of artistic feeling involved in creative practice from what we generally refer to as feeling.
Artistic feeling as an organ of cognition
Whatever else it might mean – and it has many shades of meaning – the expression “artistic feeling” clearly implies the exercise of a capacity for aesthetic perception and judgement. It suggests a specific mode of heightened discernment attuned, through the schooling of perception, to a particular art form. The musician hears sound and tone, the painter sees colour and form - in sharpened and heightened ways qualitatively different to the untrained listener or viewer.
Although a predominant sense organ might be engaged in the process, the total participation of the artist’s cognitive, affective and volitional life is implicit. The artist’s whole being is involved, with qualities of attention at play that have been consciously schooled to become heightened organs of perception and insight. This is especially true of artistic feeling in relation to the ‘great art of life’, where no one sense can be expected to dominate; indeed, all senses – those of the body, the soul and the spirit, will be comprehensively engaged.
But what is the objective basis upon which the artistic teacher can justify the involvement of this special quality of feeling? A fundamental, scientific condition of any cognitive judgement is the objective rigour of the process involved in achieving it. A distinguishing feature of such a process is for any subjective intrusion to be systematically banished from the field of enquiry. But feelings are subjective. How, then, can the state of mind involved in the art of teaching be both subjective and objective simultaneously? If educators are to take the practice of teaching and the schooling of perception on the basis of artistic feeling with any conviction, then they must inevitably be faced with the challenge of finding a satisfactory explanation to this dilemma for themselves.
In the domain of artistic creativity the attainment of such conviction demands more than the transparent logic normally required for the attainment of such certainty within a scientific context. What then is this something more? An approach to an answer is to examine more closely in how far any authentic act of cognitive judgement can be regarded as purely objective. In this connection Rudolf Steiner’s comments on the dispute between Brentano and Sigwart throw light on the role of feeling in forming judgements (11). According to Rudolf Steiner, while the objectivity of such a judgement can be seen as holding its validity within the context of the thinking process itself, the interplay of feeling must be regarded – within the act of judgement as a whole – as a necessary, but separate element by which the “rightness” of the result is confirmed.
Now, an artistic process combines both cognitive and creative activities simultaneously in the creative act, and in so doing is entirely in keeping with acts of judgement as characterised above. This is especially evident in the performing arts in the work, say, of a proficient actor, dancer, singer or musician. Creativity unites an act of will with a thinking process. It combines conscious will and living thinking in an interplay with the affirmative character of the ‘rightness of judgement’ based on feeling. This special capacity for artistic feeling permeates the whole creative process from inception to performance. Even the audience cannot be conceived as detached onlookers. In many respects the performer’s creative will engages the audience as co-participants, in a sense endeavouring to hold and connect their will to the artistic process. Yet aesthetic detachment is still maintained to a degree sufficient to allow the art or music lover the freedom to exercise his or her capacity for objective critical discernment: a discernment that simultaneously interplays with his or her own subjective involvement with the performer’s creative will; and, once again, through the medium of a refined artistic feeling.
In an authentic artistic activity it is only through the development of a conscious cognitive discernment, along with the rigour of an ongoing, practically based training of the will and schooling of the senses that artistic feeling can be awakened, nurtured and developed. The demand is for both the subjective and objective domains to be schooled simultaneously, interwoven without boundaries between the two. Such qualities of artistic judgement and feeling cannot be nurtured and developed through reflective thinking and theoretic discourse alone, but primarily through a graduated, ongoing, practical engagement with the artistic medium concerned – in the case of the artist-teacher, the children.
Michael Grimley is an art teacher with a master’s degree in fine arts, and for many years was a teacher in both mainstream and Waldorf schools in South Africa. He served on the council of the country’s Federation of Waldorf Schools, and as a member of the International Forum for Waldorf Education. He initiated the work of the Pedagogical Section in the country; and continues giving lectures, training and enrichment programs countrywide.
(1) Steiner, Rudolf: The Study of Man, L10: Rudolf Steiner Press 1966 (GA 293).
(2) Steiner, Rudolf: The Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy (1909): Rudolf Steiner Press 1965 (GA 34).
(3) Steiner, Rudolf: GA 34, GA 302a (L1), GA 36 (Vol.2, No. 17), GA 307 (Lectures 2, 4 & 7).
(4) Steiner, Rudolf: Balance in Teaching, L 1: Anthroposophic Press/Steiner Books (GA 302a).
(5) Steiner, Rudolf: A Lecture on Pedagogy (1922): The Anthroposophical Quarterly 1927 (Das Goetheanum, Volume 2, Number 17 (GA 36). A lecture on pedagogy during the French course at the Goetheanum, 16 September, 1922.
(6) Op cit. Note 4, L2.
(7) Steiner, Rudolf: The Spiritual Ground of Education; The Teacher as Artist in Education, Lecture 6: The Anthroposophical Publishing Company, London 1947 (GA305).
(8) Sources using the expression ‘artistic feeling’: GA 34; GA 294 (L1); GA 302a (L4); GA 307 (L4 & L7). Sources using alternative words with a similar meaning to ‘artistic feeling’ determined in the context they appear: GA 302a (L2); GA 36, Das Goetheanum Vol. 2, No.17; GA 305 (L6); GA 310 (L8). Sources using the word ‘feeling’ referring to a religious mood or a perceptual-cognitive sensing implicitly related to its artistic use: GA 34: GA 293 (L1, L2 & L10); GA 305, 1919 Essay: GA 302a (L2, L3 & L4); GA 307 (L4 & 6).
(9) op cit, note 4.
(10) ibid. L1.
(11) op. cit. note 1, L5.
The GA numbers used in these notes refer to the German sources published by the Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, and which can also be used to access the English translations on the Rudolf Steiner Website (www.rsarchive.org). The ‘L’ with numerals refer to lectures.