From classes one to eight artistic work with colour is an integral part of the main lesson and is thus in the hands of the class teacher. This work falls into two distinct pathways. One is narrative or illustrative drawing, which is done with wax blocks or crayons and pastels, later with coloured pencils. The other is water-colour painting. The former is in constant use for various purposes and in connection with a wide range of subjects. Water-colour painting, on the other hand, is usually done once a week as part of the main lesson, or even at another time specially reserved for it.
Art has its own intrinsic value. Part of being a teacher is to cultivate a feeling for it as an essential element of human development. Whereas learning to understand nature and her laws brings certain skills to maturity, engaging in artistic activity involves free creative expression, which is not directed towards any specific purpose. Through artistic activity the child’s imaginative sensibilities are deeply affected. Art should never appear as an addition to normal classroom work. Accordingly, water colour painting – as mentioned above – also has its set place within the fabric of teaching.
The painting day offers a further opportunity for the teacher to deepen his or her insight into the inner life of the children.
The teaching of art takes its lead from Goethe’s Theory of Colours, especially the “Didactic Section”, where he examines and describes the psychological effects of colours. The idea is that the child should have direct experience of these objective, inner effects of colour perception. Working with thin, fluid paint is a medium particularly well suited to this purpose. And applying the paint to moist paper – in other words, we work with moist on moist – gives the process an even more intense immediacy, such that any tendency to pass judgement, for instance as to “right” or “wrong”, which would be a feature of attempting accurate representation, is rendered inappropriate. Rather the child’s experience is: “I can paint!” This is an important experience, which forms the basis for further artistic development. This in turn entails going through the whole sequence of water-colour techniques from moist-on-moist to painting in layers (“veil painting”), all of which requires practice if the qualities of the medium are to be mastered.
Working purely on the basis of colour should not be eclipsed or diverted by having external images imposed on it. This means that we begin painting with the children in a way that is closely akin to abstract (non-representational) art. However, this painting “from the colour” must appeal concretely to the child’s feelings, which means that the task in hand will bring the psychological quality of the colours into relation with an imaginatively concrete picture “Painting stories”, which “bring the colours to life”, are a helpful introduction to this way of working.
“You must do this in such a way that the forms grow out of the colours. You can speak to the children from within the world of colours. Just think how exciting it is for the children if you could bring them to understand something like this: here is this mischievous lilac, and hard on her heels is a cheeky little red. Together they’re standing on a meek and humble blue. You must make this concrete – this has a positive effect on the growing soul – so that the colours become active. Whatever thoughts emerge from the colours can be combined in dozens of different ways. One must get the child to live in the colour by saying: ‘When the red looks through the blue’, and make sure the child actually manages this.” (Steiner GA 300a, 15.11.1920 (German edition 1975, p. 240))
Once the child has gained sufficient experience of colours in this way, the attempt can be made to derive actual forms directly from them – for minerals (mountains, rock), for atmospheres (phenomena of the heavens, cloudscapes), for the plant, animal and human worlds – with the proviso that even stronger emphasis be placed on the condition mentioned above. Namely, that the external form must emerge from inner experience. The temptation here to lapse into a form of aesthetic illustration is not to be over-estimated!
A completely different element that is added to the moist-on-moist technique in classes 7 and 8 is that of colour washes layered on top of each other, i.e. veil painting. Here there must be considerably more attention to detail, and to the exercise of patient observation. A palette for mixing colours and time to let the picture take shape are just as necessary as being well-versed in the technique for applying the paint.
Whereas before the child’s sensibilities would have been sympathetically absorbed in the act of painting to the exclusion of all external influence, and the detached consideration of the paintings on the following day would tend more towards “antipathy”, with veil painting the two intermingle. Now this “breathing process” is no longer conducted by the teacher, but by the students themselves.
“Art is one of the daughters of freedom” – so says Friedrich Schiller in his letters On the Aesthetic Education of Man. Painting lessons can and should provide a sense of this, insofar as the students are thereby engaged in developing the skills required for the exercise of freedom.
As regards illustrative and narrative drawing, all that need be said is that the children initially learn how this is done from the teacher’s blackboard drawings, and that this is cultivated all the way through their schooling.
Drawings are always built up from bringing together areas of colour, never from lines. In nature outlines arise essentially where differently coloured planes meet. Through creating illustrations accompanying the text in main lesson books, pictures showing artefacts and natural objects in nature study and later in geography, as well as aesthetically refined illustrations of experiments in physics and chemistry, the techniques required for this kind of practical drawing are constantly being practised and improved.