100 years of anthroposophical art

Matthias Mochner

It lies in the nature of anthroposophy that it becomes art in different fields of life. Waldorf education is an art of education. The visual and performing arts also possess this transformative ability. “Everywhere where art is developed out of a truly artistic sentiment,” Rudolf Steiner said on 12 September 1920 in the lecture “Der übersinnliche Ursprung des Künstlerischen” (The Supersensory Origins of Art), “art bears witness to the connection between human beings and the supersensory worlds.” Human beings had to move to an art “which directly represents the supersensory”. They needed art – Steiner continued – as true evidence “of human immortality and human beings from before birth”, “so that consciousness expands beyond the horizon which is limited by birth and death”. 

Anthroposophical art can be characterised as art at the threshold to the spiritual world. “I consider it my goal,” the artist Yvonne von Miltitz (1907-1997) said, “to capture something from that sphere which is not perceptible with the senses and yet can light up in sensory perception if the latter is taken beyond itself. I want to wander in a picture like in a landscape, but in a landscape with other dimensions.”

We know that the Polish Jewish painter Stanislas Stückgold (1868-1933) painted what he saw when he looked into the starry sky at night singing Hebrew psalms until it disappeared. The sculptor Paul Schatz (1898-1979), represented in Halle with an interesting chess set, published his book Der Weg zur künstlerischen Gestaltung in der Kraft des Bewusstseins (The Path to Artistic Creation in the Power of Consciousness) in 1926 and wrote an essay still worth reading today on “Wege und Abwege des Künstlers im Lichte der Initiation” (Right and Wrong Ways of the Artist in the Light of Initiation).

The term “Aenigma” (“secret”, “riddle”) refers back to a group of artists who had asked Rudolf Steiner for a name in 1918. The exhibition gives a sense of the high quality and individual versatility of anthroposophical art and also that – often ironically sneered at, indeed discredited – we do not really yet know it at all. Surprisingly different artistic techniques were used, others newly created. The exhibition shows what people whose biographies we hardly know created artistically and what maintained itself as a creative impulse of the future – despite loss, persecution and destruction – and, indeed, continues to live into the present. That is overwhelming. For these people Rudolf Steiner’s suggestions for a new artistic style were spiritual training material.

Max Wolffhügel (1880-1963), the Waldorf teacher whose blackboard drawings of religious motifs are legendary, is also represented. The educational arrangement of an anthroposophical “children’s room” communicates that adequate space for development must be created for the child – in contrast we have the “room of the spiritual researcher”. In this polarity art does indeed, as suggested by Steiner, create an arc between birth and death.

The exhibition was first shown in the Olomouc Museum of Modern Art / Czech Republic. There I saw on one occasion how a small child, beaming, escaped from his mother’s hand and with enthusiastic cries wanted to run into this, “his” children’s room where two lovingly organically crafted doll’s houses by Karl Hald (1890-1975) were exhibited together with children’s furniture by Bernhard Weyrather (1886-1946), but also early wooden toys and a white lady’s dress with coloured embroidery, belt and handbag based on a design by Theodor Ganz (1896-1956).

Then there are equally precious tabbed picture books by Hilde Langen (1901-1979), Snow White and Rose Red for example, published at the beginning in the Waldorf-Spielzeug & Verlag Stuttgart. Rightly, work of the pupils from the local Waldorf school are exhibited in the Halle Museum of Modern Art. Because anyone who seeks anthroposophical art will find its seeds and traces also today in Waldorf schools.

Anthroposophical art is not accessible through our familiar way of looking at things. It can only be understood out of itself. What is new and future-oriented in it begins to speak to us as soon as we open our mind to it without preconceptions. The question of individual artistic access to the spiritual can be one motif by which to guide ourselves in this magnificent exhibition. It becomes apparent that there is something which all the artists have in common, however different they might be – and that appears to be their love of anthroposophy.

The works speak specifically about being touched by the spirit. We come across the appearance of Christ in the etheric – not in an eye-catching but in a hidden way – and the encounter with the human doppelganger. Or we need only immerse ourselves in the “untitled” picture ascribed to Max Wolffhügel showing a human being standing on a mountain top in great darkness and surrounded by forces of nature, or Werner Dietrich’s (1907-1995) oil painting of 1929 – also “untitled” – with three garishly coloured faces. The departure of the individual into modernity is consciously guided in a spiritual direction.

The exhibition is only able to show a small sample. Whole worlds stand behind each work: Albert Steffen (1884-1963) created almost 2000 water colours, Gerard Wagner (1906-1999) more than 4000 works.

Just consider Beppe Assenza (1905-1985) and all those (undoubtedly over a hundred) who – like the sculptor Erich Glauer (1903-1987) or the artist Wilfried Ogilvie (born 1929) – could not be included in the exhibition for reasons of space.

A 400-page catalogue of the exhibition has been published.

About the author: Matthias Mochner is a freelance journalist, editor of the journal Mensch und Architektur and board member of the International Forum Man and Architecture.