Art and Science
Two Streams from One Source
Original translator Unknown. Revised by Anna Meuss and Kenneth Bayes.
Part II of VII in a series of articles written for Das Goetheanum (Vol. 2, 21 January 1923) celebrating ten years of the Goetheanum. This translation was originally published in Anthroposophy Vol. 2, No. 1-2, January/February 1923, pages 4-7. Translation revised for Anthroposophy Today, No. 9, Spring 1990.
The first course at the Goetheanum was held in September and October 1920. In my opening address I felt that more than anything it was necessary to point out that in anthroposophy we go to one and the same source for knowledge of the science of the spirit, artistic form and religious depth of inner life. In my opening address I made only brief reference to this; in my lectures on the underlying concept of the building at Dornach I tried to show how the art of the Goetheanum was drawn from the same spiritual source as the ideas that come to the fore when anthroposophy takes the form of a science.
The attempt that was made in creating the Goetheanum has been widely misinterpreted in this respect. People have said that it was intended to be symbolic. It has always seemed to me that the people who said such things cannot have used their eyes and really looked at the Goetheanum when they visited it. They came with the fixed idea that the building represented a certain philosophy and that creators of that philosophy wanted to use architectural design and other means to represent their teachings in symbolic form. They found their ideas confirmed because they did not see the building for what it was. In their view anthroposophy was the same as any other intellectual discipline, and it is true that if such a discipline wants to find expression in art it will usually get no further than symbolism and allegory.
But the Goetheanum did not portray abstract ideas. Nothing was further from the minds of those who let the shape of the building arise out of artistic feeling, letting line follow line, surface follow surface out of artistic sensibility, and presented in colour on the walls and cupolas their direct vision of images that were in colour.
Occasionally, when I had the opportunity to show visitors around the building, I would say that I felt it would be wrong to ‘explain’ the forms and colours, for art should not be brought home to people by presenting thoughts about it; art is there to be looked at, to let our feelings respond to it.
Art that springs from the same ground as the ideas that make up true anthroposophy can become genuine art. The powers of soul that give form to these ideas that make up anthroposophy penetrate to the spiritual source that can also produce the impulse to be creative as an artist. Thoughts formed on the basis of anthroposophical insight exist in their own right and one simply does not have the desire to give them symbolic form in some kind of half-baked art. On the other hand when we experience the reality that anthroposophy reveals, the desire arises to let it come alive in colour and form. Those colours and forms exist in their own right and do not represent ideas; they do so just as little, or as much, as a lily or a lion represent an idea.
This is of the very essence of anthroposophical life and anyone visiting the Goetheanum and using their eyes rather than their dogmatic intellect will have found genuine attempts in artistic expression rather than symbols or allegories.
Something I had to say over and over again in speaking of the design concept of the Goetheanum is that it would be quite impossible to engage an artist who would create a home for anthroposophy in the Classical, Gothic or Renaissance style. We could have done so if anthroposophy were no more than a body of knowledge, of ideas. Anthroposophy is a way of life, however; it means taking hold, both in and through the human being, of all that is human and of the world.
The initiative to build the Goetheanum, taken by friends of anthroposophy, could only be brought to realisation by letting the design, down to the smallest detail, arise from the same living spirit that is the source spring of anthroposophy itself. I have sometimes used the metaphor of a nut in its shell. The shell certainly cannot be called a symbol of the nut. It has however been formed out of the same laws and principles as the nut. In the same way the building can only be a shell the form and images of which reveal in art the spirit that lives in the word when anthroposophy uses the language of ideas. Every style in art has in fact been born out of a spirit that also came to expression in the ideas of a philosophy.
The style of architecture that developed for the Goetheanum arose entirely in the sphere of art; symmetry, repetition and so on had to give way to living organic form principles. The auditorium for instance had seven columns on either side. Only corresponding columns on the left and the right had matching capitals. Apart from that, every succeeding capital was an evolution in metamorphosis from the preceding one. The whole had arisen out of artistic feeling; the element of thought had not come into it. It simply had not been possible to repeat the same design for different places; every form was individually created in its particular place, just as the smallest part of an organism has its own individual and necessary form for its own particular place.
The mystical significance that has been attached to the fact that there are seven columns does not exist. The number of columns is entirely the result of artistic feeling. As the form of one capital developed out of another, artistic feeling had taken us to a point with the seventh column where we could go no further without returning to the motif of the first column.
I think we are not deceiving ourselves if we say that not everyone looked at the building with prejudiced eyes. There have been many people over the years who were prepared to look with open and unbiased eyes, aesthetically, at something that had arisen from open and unbiased feeling.
Goethe spoke out of his own feeling for art when he said that when nature begins to reveal her open secret, those to whom it is revealed feel an irresistible longing for her most worthy exponent, which is art. He also said that beauty manifested the hidden laws of nature, laws that would have remained hidden for ever if beauty did not exist. 1J. W. Goethe, Sprüche in Prosa. The notion has come up in our modern age that true knowledge of the things of nature can only be presented by developing theories as to the laws of nature. But what if nature were creating those things out of an artistic impulse? This would mean that anyone caught up in the prejudice that nature can only be presented in terms of rational thought would be unable to grasp the whole of it. And that is indeed the case. Having penetrated the secrets of nature in our ideas in a way that is truly alive, we find that something remains that cannot be reached by means of thought; it can only be reached if we change from the thoughtful to the artistic approach in heart and mind. That was how Goethe felt when he wrote the lines referred to above. The Goetheanum was created out of that kind of feeling.
Anyone who considers anthroposophists to be a sect will find it easy to see the symbolism of sectarian ideas in the architectural design of the Goetheanum. But anthroposophy is anything but sectarian. It seeks to be wholly and completely human in all it does, without prejudice.
The inside of the small cupola was painted not by starting from figurative ideas and applying colour; instead, colour was first experienced and the figurative aspect developed out of this. If we give ourselves up to colour, the creative powers of the soul are enhanced until the forms and figures are actually demanded by the colours themselves. As you paint you come to feel – in the moments of creative work – as if nothing else existed in the world but living, weaving colours, colours that are creative in themselves and beget realities of being.
Man in his inner being does not belong to the earth;
he is of another world and therefore needs forms that
belong to him in his character as a native of that world.
—Rudolf Steiner, The Arts and Their Mission, p. 21, from a lecture given in Oslo in 1923.