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The Supersensible Origin of the Arts
Rudolf Steiner
Dornach, September 12, 1920

In order to meet the requirements of evolution, humankind must achieve an expansion of consciousness with regard to all domains of life. At present, human beings relate their deeds and actions only to events that take place between birth and death; what takes place between birth and death is all we wonder about. But for our life to become healthy again, it will become essential for us to take an active interest in more than just this particular period of life, which we anyway spend under quite exceptional circumstances. Our life encompasses not only what we are and do between birth and death, but also what we are and do between death and rebirth. In the present materialistic age we are relatively unaware of the influence of the life we have spent between death and rebirth, prior to the present life we entered by way of conception and birth. We are equally unaware of how things that occur during our present life in the physical body point toward the life we are going to lead after death. Today we will point out a number of things that show how certain cultural areas will acquire a quite new relationship to the whole of human life through the fact that human consciousness must and will extend to embrace our life in the supersensible worlds as well.
     I believe that a certain question may arise in our minds if we consider the entire scope of our artistic life. Today, lets take a look at supersensible life from this viewpoint. This will lead us to something that we will also be able to put to good use later, when we turn our attention to social life.
     The generally recognized fine arts are sculpture, architecture, painting, poetry and music; on the basis of our anthroposophical life and knowledge, we are in the process of adding to these the art of eurythmy. The question I have in mind, the question that might occur to us with regard to our artistic life, is "What is the actual positive reason for introducing art into our lives?" It is only during our materialistic age  that art has come to deal with the immediate reality of life between birth and death. But of course in this materialistic age we have forgotten the supersensible origin of art, so our aim now, more or less, is to copy what our senses see out there in nature. But those who really have a deeper feeling for nature on the one hand  and for art on the other will certainly not be able to agree with this naturalism, with art copying nature. For we must question again and again whether the best landscape painter, for instance, can in any way conjure up the beauty of a natural landscape on canvas. Faced with even a very well executed naturalistic painting of a landscape, anyone of sound taste must have the feeling I expressed in the prologue to my first mystery drama,
The Portal of Initiation -- that no copy of nature will ever equal nature itself. People of fine feeling will inevitably find something repellant in naturalism. They will surely only see justification in the aspect of art that transcends nature in some way and attempts, at least in the way the subject is portrayed, to supply something other than what nature itself can present to us. But how do we human beings come to create art in the first place? Why do we transform nature in sculpture or in poetry?
     If we develop a sense for the interconnectedness of all things, we will see how in sculpture, for instance, artists work to capture the human form in a very particular way. Through the way they mold the form, they attempt to give expression to what is specifically human. We will see that their statues cannot simply incorporate the natural human form as it stands before them, imbued with the soul and with the breath and flush of life, with everything we can see in the human being in addition to the form itself. But I believe that sculptors of human figures will gradually achieve an elevated and very particular way of feeling. There is no doubt in my mind that the Greek sculptors had this; it has simply been lost in our naturalistic age.
     It seems to me that sculptors who work on the human form have a quite different feeling while shaping the head than while fashioning the rest of the body. In the work of the sculptor, these two things -- sculpting the head and sculpting the rest of the body -- are totally dissimilar. To put it rather drastically, I might say that in working to sculpt the human head, sculptors have the feeling of being sucked in by the medium as if it were trying to absorb them, while in fashioning the rest of the body artistically, they have the feeling of pushing into it from outside, of pressing and poking it everywhere without justification. They have the feeling that they are fashioning the body and modeling its shapes from the outside. In fashioning the body, they feel that they are working from the outside in, while in fashioning the head they feel they are working from the inside out.
     It seems to me that this feeling is specific to sculpture. It was certainly still felt by Greek artists and has only been lost in our naturalistic age now that we have become enslaved by the model. If we orient ourselves toward the supersensible in our intention to sculpt the human form, we must wonder where such a feeling comes from.
     Much deeper questions are connected to all this, but before I go into it any further, there is something else I would like to mention. Just think about the strong feeling of a certain inwardness that we get when we experience sculpture and architecture, in spite of the fact that these appear to be externally fashioned from external materials. In architecture, we have an inner experience of dynamics, of how a pillar supports a beam or leads over into the form of its capital. We have an inner experience of external form. And in the case of sculpture our experience is similar.
     But this is not the case with music, and especially not with poetry. In the case of prose, we can just about manage to retain the words in our larynx, but in the case of poetry it seems clear to me -- again to put it rather drastically -- that words cast in iambic or trochaic rhythms and put into rhyme soar, so that we have to run after them. They populate the atmosphere around us more than that within us. We experience poetry much more externally than architecture or sculpture, for instance. And the same is probably also true of music if we apply our feelings to it. Musical tones also enliven our entire surroundings. We actually forget time and space, or at least space, and are lifted out of ourselves in a moral experience. We don't have the urge to run after the figures we create, as is the case in poetry, but we do have the feeling that we must swim out into an indeterminate element that is spreading out everywhere, and that in the process we ourselves are dissolving.
     You see how we begin to distinguish certain nuances of feeling in connection with the whole essence of art. The feelings are quite specific in character. I believe that what I have just been describing to you is something that can be appreciated by people who have a subtle appreciation of art; however, this is not the case if we are looking or some other natural mineral, for instance, or a plant, an animal, or even an actual physical human being. Our feelings and sensations with regard to the whole external realm of physical nature as perceived through our senses are quite different from the feelings and sensations that arise in connection with our experience of various types of art, as just described.
     Supersensible knowledge can be described as a transformation of ordinary abstract knowledge into a seeing knowledge that points to experiential knowledge. It is nonsense to require the same sort of logical, pedantic, narrow minded proof of things in higher realms as is desirable in the crasser realms of the sciences, mathematics, and so forth. I you live your way into the feelings that arise when you enter the realm of art, you gradually come to remarkable inner states of soul. Very specific subtle states of soul arise if you really inwardly experience tracing the dynamics and mechanics in architecture or the rounded forms of sculpture. Your inner feeling life follows a remarkable path. As you move along it, you are confronted with a soul experience that is very similar to memory. If you experience remembering or memory, you will notice how much your inner sensing of architecture and sculpture resembles the inner process of remembering, although remembering happens on a higher level. In other words, by way of your feeling for architecture and sculpture, you gradually approach the soul experience know to spiritual research as remembering prebirth conditions. In fact, the way you live in relationship to the entire cosmos between death and a new birth--feeling yourself move as soul-spirit or spirit-soul in directions that intersect the paths of certain beings and maintain an equilibrium with others -- such experiences are remembered subconsciously for the time being, and this is what architecture and sculpture reproduce.
     And if we reexperience this singular state of affairs in sculpture and architecture and do so with inner presence of mind, then we discover that our real aim in sculpture is none other than to somehow conjure, in the physical-sense world, the experiences we had in the spiritual world before conception and birth. If we do not build houses merely according to utilitarian principles, but really make them architecturally beautiful, we fashion their dynamic proportions as they arise from our recollections of the experiences of equilibrium and rhythmically moving forms that we had in the time between death and our new birth.
     In this way, we discover how human beings actually came to develop architecture and sculpture as forms of art. Our experiences between death and rebirth were floating around in our soul. We wanted to somehow bring them forth and have them standing visibly in front of us, and so we created architecture and sculpture. That humanity brought forth architecture and sculpture in the course of cultural evolution can essentially be attributed to the fact that life between death and rebirth goes on working and that within us we will it to be so. Just as the spider spins, so human beings desire to bring forth and give form to their experience between death and a new birth. Prebirth experiences are carried over into the world of the physical senses. What we see if we survey the architectural and sculptural works of art created by humankind is nothing other than an embodiment of unconscious recollections of our life between death and rebirth.
     Now we have a realistic answer to the question of why human beings create art. If we were not supersensible beings who enter this life through conception and birth, we would surely not engage in either sculpture or architecture.
     And we know what singular connections exists between two -- or let's say -- successive lives on Earth. In its formative forces, what is now your head is a transformation of the body -- not including the head-- that you had in your previous incarnation, while what is now your body will transform itself into your head in your next incarnation. The human head, however, has a completely different meaning: The head is old; it is the former body transformed. The forces experienced between a person's most recent death and present birth shaped this external form of the head, but the body is the carrier of forces that are now brewing and will take on form in the next incarnation.
     This is why sculptors feel differently about the head than about the rest of the body. In the case of the head, they feel somewhat as if it were trying to pull them into itself because it is formed out of the previous incarnation by forces that are embodied in its present form. In the case of the body, sculptors feel more as if they would like to get inside it while modeling it, to press themselves into it, because the body contains the spiritual forces that lead beyond death and into the next incarnation. Sculptors sense this radical difference in the human form between what belongs to the past and what belongs to the future especially keenly. The art of sculpture expresses the formative forces of the physical body and how they carry over from one incarnation to the next. On the other hand, what lies deeper down --in the etheric body, which is the bearer of our equilibrium and of our dynamic forces -- comes out more strongly in the art of architecture.
     So you see, it is impossible to grasp human life in its entirety without looking at supersensible life; that is, without seriously answering the question of how we come to develop architecture and sculpture. People's unwillingness to look at the supersensible world stems from the fact that they also do not attempt to look at the things of this world in the right way.
     Generally speaking, what are people's attitude toward the arts that reveal the spiritual world? Very much like that of a dog toward human speech, actually. The dog hears human speech and presumably supposes it to be a bark. Unless it happens to be a particularly intelligent performing animal, such as the one that excited a lot of interest some time ago among persons who concern themselves with such useless tricks, it doesn't understand the meaning that lies in the sounds. This is the attitude of human beings toward the arts, which really speak about the supersensible world we once experienced: We do not behold in them what they really reveal.
     Let's look at poetry, for instance. Poetry emerges clearly for those who can really feel their way into it, although we must keep in mind -- to paraphrase Lichtenberg -- that ninety-nine percent of the poetry that is written is unnecessary for human happiness on this globe and is really not art. The real art of poetry emerges from the whole human being. And what does poetry do? It is not content to stop at prose, but shapes it by bringing meter and rhythm into it. It does something that ordinary prosaic people considers superfluous to their way of life -- it adds form to something that would convey the intended meaning even without the form. If you listen to a really artistic recitation of poetry and begin to sense what the poet has made out of the prose content, you will again discover the remarkable character of this sensation. We cannot experience the mere content of a poem, its prose content, as poetry. What we experience as poetry is how the words sweep along in iambus, trochee, or anapest and how the sounds are repeated in alliteration, assonance, or various forms of rhyme. We experience many other things in how the prosaic content has been given form. This is what must be brought out in recitation. But nowadays, when people give a recitation they merely bring out the prose content, however profound, they think they are being artistic!
     Now if you can really look at this special nuance of feeling that comprises your feeling for poetry, you will come to the point of saying that this does indeed go beyond ordinary feeling, because ordinary feeling adheres to things in the world of the senses, while shaping things poetically does not. I expressed this earlier by saying that when words have been given poetic form, they dwell more in the atmosphere around us, or that we want to rush outside of ourselves to really experience the poet's words.
     This happens because in poetry we are giving form to something that cannot be experienced between birth and death. We are giving form to something that is of the soul, something we can do without if we only want to live between birth and death. It's quite easy to live your entire life with only a dry prosaic content. But why do we feel the need to add rhythm, assonance, alliteration and rhyme to this dry prosaic content? Because we have more within us than we need to make it to our death, and we want to provide a form for this excess while we are still living. Thus we anticipate the life that will follow death. Because we already carry within us what is to follow after death, we feel the urge not only to speak but to speak poetically. Therefore, just as sculpture and architecture are connected with life before birth, with the forces that we carry with us from our prebirth life, so poetry is connected with life after death, with forces that are already present in us for our life after death.
     It is primarily the I-being, as it lives this life between birth and death and then passes through the gates of death and continues to live, that already carries within it the forces that give expression to the art of poetry. And the astral body, already alive here in the world of sound, is what shapes the world into melody and harmony, which we do not find in life in the external physical world. This astral body already contains within it what it will experience after death. You know that the astral body we carry within us lives on only for awhile after death before we lay it aside. Nevertheless, this astral body contains the actual element of music. It contains it in the way it experiences music in its life-element, the air, between birth and death. We need air if we are to have a medium for experiencing music.
     After death, when we reach the point of laying aside the astral body, we also lay aside everything of a musical nature that reminds us of our life on Earth. But at this cosmic moment music is transformed into the music of the spheres. We become independent of what we formerly experienced as music through the medium of the air; we life ourselves up and live our way into the music of the spheres. What we experience here as music in the air is the music of the spheres up there. The reflection of this higher music makes its way into the element of air; it condenses into what we experience as earthly music. We imprint it on our astral body, on what we give form to and reexperience as long as we have an astral body. After death, when we lay aside our astral body, the musical experience in us -- if you will pardon the banal expression -- switches over to the music of the spheres. In music and poetry we anticipate what our world and our existence will be after death. We experience the supersensible world in two directions. This is how these four forms of art present themselves to us.
     And what about painting? There is another spiritual world that lies behind the world of our senses. Crudely materialistic physicists or biologists speak of atoms and molecules lying behind the world of the senses. But it is not atoms and molecules, it is spiritual beings. It is a world of spirit, the world we pass through between falling asleep and waking up. This world, which we bring with us out of sleep, is what really inspires us when we paint and what makes us altogether capable of depicting on canvas or walls the spiritual world that surrounds us in space. For this reason, we must take great care to paint out of color rather than out of line, because the line is a lie in painting. The line always belongs to the memory of life before birth. If we are to paint in a state of consciousness that has expanded into the world of spirit, we must paint what comes from color. And we know that color is experienced in the astral world. When we enter the world we pass through between falling asleep and waking up, we experience this element of color. And when we want to create color harmonies and put color on canvas, what urges us on is the experience of pushing what we have gone through between falling asleep and waking up into our waking physical bodies, allowing it to flow into our waking physical bodies. This is what we attempt to paint on our canvases.
     Here again, what appears in painting is a depiction of something supersensible. Thus in each case the arts point to the supersensible. For anyone with an appropriate sense for it, painting becomes a revelation of the spiritual world that borders us in space and permeates us from space. This is the world we find ourselves in between falling asleep and awakening. Sculpture and architecture bear witness to the spiritual world where we lived between death and a new birth, music and poetry to how we will go through life after death. This is how our participation in the spiritual world makes its way into our ordinary physical life on Earth.
     If we have a narrow-minded view of the arts we create during life and see them as being connected only to the period  between birth and death, we actually deprive artistic creativity of all meaning. For artistic creativity most certainly means carrying supersensible spiritual worlds into the physical world of the senses. We bring architecture, sculpture, painting, music and poetry into the world of physical experience simply because we feel the pressure of what we carry within us from pre-earthly existence, because when awake we feel the pressure of what we carry within us as a result of our spiritual life during sleep, and because we feel the pressure of something already in us that will shape us after death. That people usually do not speak about supersensible worlds simply stems from the fact that they do not understand the world of the senses, either. And above all, they do not understand something that was once known to the spiritual culture of humanity before it was lost and became an external phenomenon, namely art.
     If we learn to understand art, it becomes a real proof of human immortality and of life before birth. This is what we need in order to expand our consciousness beyond the horizon of birth and death, so that we can link what we have during life on the physical Earth to the life that transcends the physical plane.
     If we work creatively out of such knowledge as the spiritual science of anthroposophy, which aims to understand the spiritual world and to receive it into our ideas and thoughts, into our feelings, perceptions and will, it will prepare the ground for an art that synthesizes in some way what precedes birth and what follows death.
     Let's consider the art of eurythmy, where we set the human body itself in motion. What are we setting in motion? We are setting the human organism in motion; we are making its limbs move. The limbs, more than any other part of the human body, are what pass over into the life of the next incarnation. They point to the future, to what comes after death. But how do we shape the limb movements we bring forth in eurythmy? In the sense realm and in the supersensible realm we study how the larynx and all the speech organs have been brought over from the previous life and shaped by the intellectual potentials of the head and the feeling potentials of the chest. We directly link what precedes birth with what follows death. Ina certain sense, we take from earthly life only the physical medium, the actual human being who is the tool or instrument for eurythmy. But we allow this human being to make manifest what we study inwardly, what is already prepared in us as a result of previous lives; we transfer this to our limbs, which are the part of us where life after death is being shaped in advance. Eurythmy shapes and moves the human organism in a way that furnishes direct external proof of our participation in the supersensible world. In having people do eurythmy, we link them directly to the supersensible world.
     Wherever art is developed on the basis of a truly artistic attitude, it bears witness to our connection to the supersensible worlds. And if in our time we human beings are called upon to take the gods into our own soul forces, as it were, so that we no longer wait in pious faith for the gods to give us one thing or another, but try instead to take action as though the gods were living in our active will, then the time has indeed come, if humankind will only experience it, when we must take the step from external, objectively formed arts, as it were, to an art form that will assume quite different dimensions and forms in the future, an art form that portrays the supersensible directly. How could it be otherwise? Spiritual science itself wants to portray the supersensible directly, so it is bound to use its resources to create an art of this kind.
     As for its educational applications, people who are educated along these lines will gradually come to find it quite natural to believe that they are supersensible beings, because they move their hands, arms and legs in such a way that the forces of the supersensible world are active in them. It is the soul of the human being, the supersensible soul, that begins to move in eurythmy. It is the living expression of the supersensible that comes to light in eurythmy movements.
     Everything spiritual science brings us is really in inner harmony with itself. On the other hand, it brings us these things so that we may more deeply and intensely comprehend the life we are engaged in, so that we may learn to turn our gaze to the living proof of the reality of existence before birth and after death. On the other hand, it introduces our supersensible element into our will.
     This is the inner cohesiveness underlying an anthroposophically oriented spiritual scientific striving. This is how spiritual science will expand human consciousness. It will no longer be possible for people to make their way through the world as they have been doing in the age of materialism, when they have been able to survey only what takes place between birth and death. Although they may also believe in something else that promises bliss and redemption, they can form no concept of this "something else." They can only listen to sentimental sermons about it; in actuality it is empty of content. Through spiritual science, human beings are meant to receive real content from the spiritual world once again. We are meant to be released from the life of abstraction, from the life that refuses to go beyond the perceptions and thoughts that lie between birth and death, from a life that at most takes in some indefinite verbal indications of the spiritual world. Spiritual science will infuse us with a consciousness that will widen our horizon and enable us to be aware of the supersensible world even as we live and work in the physical world.
     It is true enough that we go through the world today knowing at, say, the age of thirty that the foundation for what we are now was laid in us when we were ten or fifteen. This much we can remember. If we read something at age thirty, we remember that the present moment is linked to the time twenty-two or twenty-three years ago when we were learning to read. But what we do not notice is that between birth and death we constantly have pulsing within us the experiences we underwent between our last death and our present birth. Let's look at what has been born out of these forces in architecture and in sculpture. If we understand this correctly, we will also be able to apply it to our lives in the right way and to achieve once again a sense of how prose is fashioned into the rhythm, meter, rhyme, alliteration and assonance of poetry, even though this may be considered superfluous to ordinary prosaic life. Then we will form the right link between this special nuance of feeling and the immortal kernel of our being which we carry with us through death. We will say that it would be impossible for anyone to become a poet unless all human beings possessed the actual creative element of the poet, namely the force that already resides within us but does not become outwardly alive until after death.
     This draws the supersensible into our ordinary consciousness, which must expand again if humanity does not intend to sink further into the depths we have plunged into as a results of a contracted consciousness that makes us live only in what happens between birth and death, allowing us at most to hear preaching about what is present in the supersensible worlds.
     You see, we encounter spiritual science everywhere, whenever we speak about the most important cultural needs of our time.

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