Waldorf News

What Would Steiner Say… About Painting with Children?

5. class 3

By Steve Sagarin, PhD

If Rudolf Steiner walked into a Waldorf school painting class today, what might he notice, and what might he say? (I don’t wish to offend anyone who believes I’m being impertinent by putting words in Steiner’s mouth, but my intention, through reference to what Steiner is recorded to have said, and also to what there’s no record of him ever saying, is to make more immediate what would otherwise be dry.)

Q. What about all that wet-on-wet watercolor painting?
A. Believe it or not, I never said anything about that! I only said that the paint should be liquid. Yes, it’s a way to keep the paper flat and to have the colors bump up against one another in a beautiful way, but it’s not necessary, and it’s certainly not something to carry on year after year through elementary school.

Q. What about paintings of one color only?
A. Again, I never said anything about that! Why limit the children’s experience? Is this a meeting of German rectitude and American Puritanism? That’s not what I intended! I spoke about individual colors, of course, but every reference that I made to a painting exercise for children concerns at least two colors; a comparison, a contrast that can give rise to a feeling in a child’s soul. Don’t confuse the theoretical with the practical! And don’t confuse my esoteric lectures for adults with my recommendations for teaching children.

Q. What about restrictions on the colors that children are “allowed” to use? No black and no green? Primary colors only, but without true red or magenta or rose?
A. In lectures for adults, I included black, green, magenta, and white as “image colors,” as opposed to the primary “luster colors,” but I never said children should be limited in their experience of color. You certainly should not overuse black, and you may want to consider when you introduce it and the other image colors, but I never spoke of a restriction on color when working with children.

I did mention a teacher who was working with primaries only, but this was just an example. I said, “In Dornach, Miss van Blommestein has begun to teach through colors, and they are making good progress. I have seen that it is having a very good influence. We allow the children to work only with the primary colors. We say, for instance, ‘In the middle of your picture you have a yellow spot. Make it blue. Change the picture so that all of the other colors are changed accordingly.’ When the children have to change one color, and then change everything else in accordance with that, the result is a basic insight into color.” Notice that I have the teacher ask the students to make the change. You all stand in front of the students and you do it for them. That’s not helpful if you do it too often!

Also, don’t forget that just before talking about Miss van Blommestein, I prefaced my remarks by saying, “In art, you can do different things in many different ways. It is not possible to say that one thing is definitely good and the other is definitely bad.”
Faculty Meetings, 297-298


From Van James

Q. What about mixing the paint so thin that red is pink and other colors are washed out?
A. I never said anything about that. Strong colors can be thinned out if you like, but weak colors will always be weak.

Q. Cutting the corners off a sheet of paper?
A. I never said anything about it.

Q. Every teacher has to paint every year with every class in every grade?
A. I said things that actually contradict this. I said, “It does no harm to interrupt the painting class for a few years and replace it with sculpting. The instruction in painting has a subconscious effect, and when the students return to the interrupted painting class, they do it in a more lively way and with greater skill. In all things that depend upon capability, it is always the case that if they are withheld, great progress is made soon afterward, particularly when they are interrupted.” Then, I said, “We cannot expect all the teachers to be well-versed in painting. There may be some teachers who are not especially interested in painting because they cannot do it, but a teacher must be able to teach it without painting. We cannot expect to fully develop every child in every art and science.”
Faculty Meetings, 716

Q. So, what did you say something about that you don’t see in Waldorf schools today”
A. I was very clear about an early lesson in painting. I said, “You need not hesitate quite early on to take out a box of paints and set a glass of water beside it (indeed, it is a good idea to conduct such lessons quite soon with the children). After you have pinned white paper to the blackboard with drawing tacks, you take up a brush, dip it in the water and then into the paint, and make a small yellow patch on the white surface. When you have finished, you let each child come to the blackboard and make a similar small patch. Each patch must be separate from the others so that in the end you have several yellow patches. Then you dip your brush into the blue paint and put blue next to your yellow patch. And you let the children come up and put on the blue in the same way. When about half of them have done this, you say: ‘Now we shall do something else; I am going to dip my brush in the green paint and put green next to the other yellow patches.’ Avoiding as well as you can making them jealous of one another, you let the remaining children put on the green in the same way. All this will take time, and the children will digest it well. It is indeed essential to proceed very slowly, taking only a very few small steps in the lesson. The time then comes for you to say: ‘I am going to tell you something that you will not yet understand very well, but one day you will understand it quite well. What we did at the top, where we put blue next to the yellow, is more beautiful than what we did at the bottom, where we put green next to the yellow.’ This will sink deeply into the children’s souls. It will be necessary to return to this thought several times, but they will also puzzle away at it themselves. They will not be entirely indifferent to it but will learn to understand quite well from simple, naïve examples how to feel the difference between something beautiful and something less beautiful.”
Practical Advice 52-53

Most teachers don’t even try this! Of course, you must be authentic; you can’t lie. If you yourself do not believe or find that blue and yellow are more beautiful than green and yellow, you could say, “You can clearly see that there is a stronger contrast between the blue and yellow than there is between the green and yellow.” But not to do it at all?

I was also concerned that the students not become slovenly by painting in their books without stretching the paper first. I said, “I think painting instruction for the lower grades needs some improvement. Some of the teachers give too little effort toward technical proficiency. The students do not use the materials properly. Actually, you should not allow anyone to paint on pieces of paper that are always buckling. They should paint only on paper that is properly stretched. Also, they should go through the whole project from start to finish, so that one page is really completed. Most of the drawings are only a beginning.”
Faculty Meetings, 715-716.

I also advocated the enlivening effect of painting on a tinted or colored background, but I hardly ever see teachers trying this. Why not? I said, “We should introduce children to color as early as possible, and it is helpful to let them use colored paints on both colored and white surfaces.”
Practical Advice, 34-36

You teachers. You often don’t do what I recommended, and you rationalize and institutionalize all kinds of things that I never said anything about.

From ssagarin.blogspot.com


From Education Towards Freedom


Quotations

Below, Rudolf Steiner talks about painting and color in his educational work. Some of these quotations are used above, others are not. -S.S.

“It would be very good in every way if we could, for example, begin at the earliest possible point with the sculptural and pictorial element, letting children live in the world of color. Likewise it would be beneficial if we as teachers would steep ourselves in what Goethe presents in the instructive part of his Theory of Color. It is based on the way he always permeates every color with a nuance of feeling. Consequently, he emphasizes the challenging nature of red; he stresses not only what the eye sees but also what the soul feels in red. Similarly, he emphasizes how the soul feels the stillness and absorption of blue. It is possible, without piercing children’s innocence, to lead them into the realm of color so that the feeling nuances of the world of color emerge in a living way. Although at first the result is a great mess, it provides a good opportunity to train the children to be less messy.

We should introduce children to color as early as possible, and it is helpful to let them use colored paints on both colored and white surfaces. We should also endeavor to awaken in children the feelings that can arise only from a spiritual scientific perspective of the world of color. Working as I did with friends in the small dome of the Goetheanum can provide a living relationship to color. One discovers when using blue, for example, that within blue itself there is a characterization of the whole realm of inner absorption. So if we want to paint an angel moved by inner absorption, we instantly have an urge to use blue, since the nuances of blue, the light and dark of blue, evoke in the soul a feeling of movement arising from the soul element. A bright orange evokes in the soul a sensation of shining and outer revelation. Therefore, if we want an effect that is aggressive or an exhortation, if the angel wants to speak to us, wants to emerge from the background and speak, then we express this with bright orange nuances. It is perfectly possible in an elementary way to show children this inherent liveliness of colors.

Next we must become very certain in ourselves that plain drawing has something false about it. The truest of all is the feeling that comes from color itself; somewhat untrue is the feeling that comes from shades of light and dark; and the least true is drawing. Drawing as such, in fact, approaches the abstract element in nature as something that is dying. Indeed, we should always draw in such a way that we become aware of drawing essentially what is dead. When we paint with colors, we should do it in such a way that it makes us aware that we are invoking the living out of what is dead. After all, what is the line of the horizon?

If, on the other hand, I say that I can see something green and something blue that are adjacent but separate, then the line of the horizon appears where the two colors meet, and then I am saying something that is true. In this way you gradually come to appreciate that the forms of nature really arise from the colors, and that drawing is therefore a process of abstraction. We should create in growing children a good mental picture and feeling for such things because this quickens the whole soul, creating for it a proper relationship with the outer world. Our culture has become sick because we lack a proper relationship with the external world. In teaching this way, we do not need to become one-sided. It would, for example, be valuable gradually to develop the possibility of moving from purely abstract artistic work, such as a person creates out of delight in beauty, to a concrete art or artistic craft.” -Practical Advice, 34-36


From Education Towards Freedom, Miner

“You need not hesitate quite early on to take out a box of paints and set a glass of water beside it (indeed, it is a good idea to conduct such lessons quite soon with the children). After you have pinned white paper to the blackboard with drawing tacks, you take up a brush, dip it in the water and then into the paint, and make a small yellow patch on the white surface. When you have finished, you let each child come to the blackboard and make a similar small patch. Each patch must be separate from the others so that in the end you have several yellow patches. Then you dip your brush into the blue paint and put blue next to your yellow patch. And you let the children come up and put on the blue in the same way. When about half of them have done this, you say: “Now we shall do something else; I am going to dip my brush in the green paint and put green next to the other yellow patches.” Avoiding as well as you can making them jealous of one another, you let the remaining children put on the green in the same way. All this will take time, and the children will digest it well. It is indeed essential to proceed very slowly, taking only a very few small steps in the lesson.

The time then comes for you to say: “I am going to tell you something that you will not yet understand very well, but one day you will understand it quite well. What we did at the top, where we put blue next to the yellow, is more beautiful than what we did at the bottom, where we put green next to the yellow.” This will sink deeply into the children’s souls. It will be necessary to return to this thought several times, but they will also puzzle away at it themselves. They will not be entirely indifferent to it but will learn to understand quite well from simple, naïve examples how to feel the difference between something beautiful and something less beautiful.” -Practical Advice, 52-53

“Parallel to such telling and retelling, we introduce the children to a certain visual language of forms. We have them draw simple round and angular shapes simply for the sake of the forms. As already mentioned, we do not do this for the sake of imitating some external object, but simply for the sake of the forms themselves. Also, we do not hesitate to link this drawing to simple painting, placing the colors next to each other so that the children get a feeling for what it means to place red next to green, next to yellow, and so on.” -Discussions with Teachers, 184

“Similarly you can achieve certain harmonies in color. Suppose you do an exercise with the child by first of all painting something in red (see drawing a) Now show the child in a feeling way that next to this red surface a green surface would be very harmonious. This of course must be carried out with paints, then it is easier to see. Now you can try to explain to the child that you are going to reverse the process. “I am going to put the green in here inside (see drawing b); what will you put round it?” Then the child will put red round it. By doing such things you will gradually lead to a feeling for the harmony of colors. The child comes to see that first I have a red surface here in the middle and green round it (see former drawing), but if the red becomes green, then the green must become red. It is of enormous importance just at this age, towards the eighth year, to let this correspondence of color and form work upon the children.” -Kingdom of Childhood, 70


From Education Towards Freedom

“When a child sees a combination of colors, feelings are immediately stimulated.” -Child’s Changing Consciousness, 60

“The will element works very intensively throughout the child’s whole body until the change of teeth. It also remains active after this event, with the result that, between entering school and the ninth year, this predominant will element in the child will tolerate only an approach to external nature and to the human being that is entirely human and pictorial. This is why we introduce not aesthetics but a thoroughly artistic element, especially in the younger classes. We do this by allowing children to use liquid colors from the very beginning, even if this practice is likely to cause rather uncomfortable consequences in the classroom. We let children handle colors because, by putting them on paper next to one another—not according to preconceived notions, but simply from an instinctive sense of color; and through the ensuing inner satisfaction, they work in harmony with their own formative forces. When given this opportunity, children reveal a wonderful instinct for painting artistic color combinations, and these soon show the teacher how to direct children’s efforts toward drawing with colored pencils from which writing can eventually evolve.” -Child’s Changing Consciousness, 99-100


From Freie Waldorfschule Lippe-Detmold, Germany

“I have already told you that we allow our young children paint quite freely and naturally, out of their own formative forces—at first not with colored pencils but with liquid colors. Through this, one soon realizes how much children live within the world of colors. After a while, the young student will come gradually to experience something distant—something that draws us away into far distances—as blue. It goes without saying that the teacher must have experienced this quality of blue as well. Yellow and red seem to move toward the beholder.

Children can already experience this in a very concrete way during the seventh or eighth year, unless they have been plagued with fixed tasks in drawing or painting. Of course, if you force children to copy houses or trees representationally, this color experience will soon be lost. But if one guides children so they can feel: Wherever I move my hand, there the color follows—then the type of material used is of secondary importance. Or: The color really begins to live under my fingers—it wants to spread a little further. Whenever such feelings can be drawn out in children’s souls, one enables them to discover something fundamental and significant—that is, color perspective. A child will feel that the reddening yellow comes towards us, and that mauve-blue takes us further away. This is how one can livingly prepare the ground for something that must be introduced at a later stage—linear perspective; … But there are even further implications.

If you prevent children from having an intensive experience of color perspective, they will not develop the necessary incentive while learning to read (always remembering the reservation expressed yesterday, that it is unnecessary to push a child into reading at the earliest possible time). These color experiences will stimulate mobility in the child’s mental imagery, suppleness in feelings, and flexibility in the will activities. The child’s entire soul life will become more sensitive and pliable. It may well be that, if you use the method of painting-drawing and drawing-painting, the child will not learn to read as quickly. But when the right time comes, reading will not be anchored too loosely, which can happen, nor too tightly, as if each letter were making a kind of a scratch upon the tender soul-substance of the child.” -Child’s Changing Consciousness, 116-117


From Van James

“Children bring many inborn gifts to school. Inwardly they are natural sculptors, and we can draw on these gifts as well as their other hidden talents. For instance, we can let children do all kinds of things on paper with paints (even though this might be inconvenient for teachers), and in this way we introduce them to the secrets of color. It is really fascinating to observe how children relate to color when left alone to cover a white surface with various colors. What they produce in a seemingly haphazard way is not at all meaningless, but in all the blotches and smears we can detect a certain color harmony resulting from an inborn relationship to the world of color.

We must be careful, however, not to let children use the solid blocks of color that are sold in children’s paint boxes, with which they are supposed to paint directly from the blocks onto paper. This has a damaging effect, even in the case of painting as art. One should paint with liquid colors already dissolved in water or some other suitable liquid. It is important, especially for children, to develop an intimate relationship with color. If we use thick paints from a palette, we do not have the same intimate relationship to color as we do when we use liquid colors from bottles.

In a painting lesson, you might say to a child, “What you have painted is really beautiful. You put red in the middle, and all the other colors around it go well with the red. Everything you painted fits well with the red in the middle. Now try to do it the other way round. Where you have red, paint blue, and then paint around it all the other colors so that they also go well with the blue in the middle.” Not only will this child be tremendously stimulated by such an exercise, but by working out a transposition of colors—possibly with help from the teacher—the child will gain a great deal toward establishing an inner relationship to the world in general. However inconvenient it may be for the teachers, they should always encourage young students to form all sorts of shapes out of any suitable material they can lay their hands on. Of course, we should avoid letting them get unduly dirty and messy, since this can be a real nuisance.

But children gain far more from these creative activities than they would by simply remaining clean and tidy. In other words, it is truly valuable for children, especially during the early years, to experience the artistic element.” -Soul Economy, 201-202


From Van James

“The main thing now is that we awaken an inner feeling for color in the children, an experience of the world of colors, so that the children receive a feeling for the life in the world of colors through experiencing fairy tales.”

A teacher: “We need to give the children forms, particular motifs.”

Dr. Steiner: “The children will get forms if you allow their fantasy to be active. You need to allow the forms to grow out of color. You can speak with the children in the language of colors. Think about how exciting it is when to work with the children so that they understand something like: Here is a coy violet with a brash red right next to it. The whole thing sits upon a humble blue. You need to do it concretely, so that the colors do something. That forms the soul.

What we can imagine in the colors can occur in a hundred different ways. You need to get the children to live in the colors by saying things like, “When the red peeks through the blue.” Allow the children to really do that. I would try to bring a great deal of life into it. You must try to bring them out of their lethargy. Bring some fire into it. Nowadays, it is generally necessary to develop this feeling for colors. It is not as corrupted as music, but it will favorably affect their feeling for music.” -Faculty Meetings, 200

Dr. Steiner: “In art, you can do different things in many different ways. It is not possible to say that one thing is definitely good and the other is definitely bad. In Dornach, Miss van Blommesteinhas begun to teach through colors, and they are making good progress. I have seen that it is having a very good influence. We allow the children to work only with the primary colors. We say, for instance, “In the middle of your picture you have a yellow spot. Make it blue. Change the picture so that all of the other colors are changed accordingly.” When the children have to change one color, and then change everything else in accordance with that, the result is a basic insight into color.” -Faculty Meetings, 297-298


From Freie Mittelschule Wernstein, Mainleus, Germany

Dr. Steiner: “It does no harm to interrupt the painting class for a few years and replace it with sculpting. The instruction in painting has a subconscious effect, and when the students return to the interrupted painting class, they do it in a more lively way and with greater skill. In all things that depend upon capability, it is always the case that if they are withheld, great progress is made soon afterward, particularly when they are interrupted.

I think painting instruction for the lower grades needs some improvement. Some of the teachers give too little effort toward technical proficiency. The students do not use the materials properly. Actually, you should not allow anyone to paint on pieces of paper that are always buckling. They should paint only on paper that is properly stretched. Also, they should go through the whole project from start to finish, so that one page is really completed. Most of the drawings are only a beginning. Since you are a painter, what you want will probably depend upon your discussing technical questions and how to work with the materials with the other teachers. No other practical solution is possible.

In the two upper grades, you could have the talented students paint again. There is enough time, but you would have to begin again with simpler things. That could not cause too many problems if you did it properly. With younger children, painting is creating from the soul, but with older children, you have to begin from the perspective of painting. You need to show them what the effects of light are and how to paint that. Do all the painting from a practical standpoint.

You should never have children older than ten paint objects because that can ruin a great deal. (Dr. Steiner begins to draw on the blackboard with colored chalk.) The older the children are, the more you need to work on perspective in painting. You need to make clear to them that here is the sun, that the sunlight falls upon a tree. So, you should not begin by drawing the tree, but with the light and shadowy areas, so that the tree is created out of the light and dark colors, but the color comes from the light. Don’t begin with abstractions such as, “The tree is green.” Don’t have them paint green leaves; they shouldn’t paint leaves at all, but instead areas of light. That is what you should do, and you can do it. …We cannot expect all the teachers to be well-versed in painting. There may be some teachers who are not especially interested in painting because they cannot do it, but a teacher must be able to teach it without painting. We cannot expect to fully develop every child in every art and science.” -Faculty Meetings, 715-716


From Gail McManus

“Also, we do not hesitate to link this drawing to simple painting, placing the colors next to each other so that the children get a feeling for what it means to place red next to green, next to yellow, and so on.” -Discussions 184

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“Everything depends on the contact between teachers and children, which must be permeated by an artistic element. This will bring about—intuitively, almost instinctively—much that teachers must do whenever an individual child comes to them. Let us use a concrete illustration for the sake of clarity.

Suppose we find it difficult to educate a certain boy, because all the images we bring him—the impressions we wish to arouse, the ideas we would give—set up such a strong circulation in his head and disturb his nervous system so much that whatever we give cannot escape the head and go into the rest of his organism. The physical organism of the head becomes somewhat melancholic, in a sense. The boy finds it difficult to take what he experiences from his head into the rest of his organism. What he learns gets stuck, as it were, in the head. It cannot penetrate down into the rest of the organism. Artists in education will instinctively keep such a thing in mind in any specifically artistic work with this child. If I have such a child, I will use colors and paint with him in a very different way than with other children. Because it is so important, from the very beginning we give special attention to color in the Waldorf school.

I have already explained the principle of the painting, but in the painting lesson we can treat each child individually. We have an opportunity to work individually with children, because they must do everything themselves. Now suppose I have a child such as I described. I am taking the painting lesson. If the right artistic contact exists between teacher and child, under my guidance this child will produce a very different painting from other children. I will draw roughly on the blackboard what would appear on a paper painted by the child whose ideas are stuck in the head. Something of this sort should arise: Here a spot of yellow, then further on a spot of, say, orange, for we have to keep in mind the harmony of colors. Next comes a transition to violet, and the transition may be differentiated more, and then to make an outer boundary, the whole may be enclosed in blue. This is what we get on the paper of a child whose ideas are congested in his head.

Now suppose I have another child whose ideas, far from sticking in his head, sift through the head as through it were a sieve; everything goes into the body, and the child grasps nothing because the head is like a sieve with holes, allowing things to go through as it sifts everything. We must be able to sense that in this child the circulatory system of the other part of the organism wants to draw everything into itself.

Then one intuitively decides to get the child to do something different. In the case of this child, you will get something like this on paper. Observe how much less the colors go into curves, or rounded forms; rather, you find the colors drawn out, the painting approximates drawing, and we get loops that are more proper to drawing. You will also notice that the colors are not differentiated much; in the first drawing, they are strongly differentiated and here there is not much differentiation.

If one does this with real colors (not with the nauseating substance of chalk, which does not give an idea of the whole), then through the experience of pure color in the one case, and more formed color in the other, we can work back upon the characteristics of the child I described.” -Spiritual Ground of Ed., 84-86


From Thomas Wildgruber, Painting and Drawing in Waldorf Schools

“And in the painting lesson, children are not taught to draw or make patterns. They learn to work freely and spontaneously with color itself. Therefore, it is very important that children have the right experience of color. The children learn nothing if you allow them to dip their brushes in the little blocks of color in an ordinary paint kit or use a palette when they paint. Children need to learn how to live with color. They should not paint from a palette or blocks of color but from a jar or mug containing the color dissolved in water. Then they get a feeling of how one color goes with another and feel the harmony of colors through inner experience. This can prove difficult and inconvenient, and sometimes the classroom does not look its best after a painting lesson, since some children are clumsy and others are not well versed in matters of tidiness. Although this method can be problematic, enormous progress is possible when children find a direct connection with color in this way. They learn to paint from the living nature of color itself rather than trying to copy something in a naturalistic way.

Color and form thus seem to appear on their own on the paper. To begin with, both at the Waldorf school [in Stuttgart] and in Dornach, the children express their own experience of color when painting by placing one color beside another or by enclosing one color within others. Children go right into color, and, on their own, gradually produce form from color. As you see here, the form arises without any drawing involved, from color [Steiner shows one of the paintings by the Dornach children]. This is done by the somewhat more advanced children in Dornach, but the little children are taught the same principle in the Waldorf school. Here, for example, we have paintings that represent the painting taught in the Waldorf school; they show attempts to express the experience of color. This is not an attempt to paint an object, but to paint an experience of color. Representational painting comes much later. If they paint objects too early, something of their sense of living reality is lost and replaced by a sense for what is dead. By working like this, when approaching a particular object, it becomes far livelier than it would without this foundation. Children who have already learned to live in color can, for example, make the island of Sicily look like this, and we get a map. Thus, artistic work can be related to teaching geography.” -Spiritual Ground 101-102

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“With these [maps], you can see how fully children go into life when the principle they begin with is so full of life. You see this very clearly in these maps. First they have an experience of color, and this is a soul experience; color experience gives them a soul experience. Here you see Greece experienced in soul. When children are comfortable with color, they begin to sense that in geography they should paint the island of Crete in a certain color, the coast of Anatolia in another, and so on. Children learn to speak through color, and so a map can be produced from the innermost depths of the soul.” -Spiritual Ground 104

From ssagarin.blogspot.com


From Eugene Schwartz