Wednesday, a New Painting Takes Wings
I worked for many years in Waldorf schools, where observations Rudolf Steiner made in the early twentieth century continue to inspire and challenge school communities. Not only the teachers but also the staff, organizational board, parents, students and visitors who come to a Waldorf school quickly feel that something different, and powerful, is happening there.
For one thing, there is artwork everywhere, the academic work of the Waldorf curriculum illustrated in pencil, ink, chalk and paint in every classroom.
Being the teacher/attendant in a roomful of painting children offers many possibilities for awesome moments, and I was privileged in my work to many times experience the truly profound energy that is generated by a group of students silently brushing color onto paper.
POINT OF VIEW
In my school painting classes we painted pictures illustrating topics from other lesson work, and we practiced with color exercises designed to help students learn to explore color and develop the ability to see deeply.
When paintings were dry I put them on display, and we studied them together, students and I verbally sharing what we saw before us. Many important educational points were made in those critiquing sessions, from the very basic: “Did the artist follow the instructions?” to the more complex issues of color, balance and design.
We always saw images of material forms appear out of the color combinations in the paintings, and more things appeared the longer we looked. When someone pointed out a bird form in the painting, others were able to see the bird, as well, and when someone saw a “storm at sea” we were all able to see that.
We found that the orientation of the painting to our seeing made a difference. On end, upside down, there were other ways of looking, and different things came with each viewpoint.
In my studio at home, I continue with the study of color, in preparation for classes and just for fun in various manipulations, with dye, ink, watercolor and oil paint.
Pigment and oil go well together. And that of late has been the focus of my time in the studio, exploration of what color can reveal when moved around with oil and varnish on a flat surface, either stretched canvas or hardboard.
I’ve lived on the east coast of North America, on the west coast, and in Toronto, Chicago and Wisconsin in the Midwest. I’ve lived in the northwest, and I’ve lived in the southwest, and every time I left those places I lived I was faced with the same logistical problem: what to do with all my pictures?
Sometimes I just left them behind, abandoned in the basement, or in the barn, for the next person to discover. And sometimes I got lucky and left them with friends.
But the problem persists even when I stay at home. My family seems agreeable that I hang some pictures on the walls of our house, still they multiply and stack up and it is back to the logistical problem of art in material form:
What do you do when you discover you have more paintings than you have walls to hang them?
Well, then you could sell them. That brings the contemplation right out of the realm of color and oil, where I so enjoy lingering, into the realm of economics.
What is the price of a painting?
What, really, is money?
The non-charter Waldorf schools are independent institutions, and as such they are funded independently. Not surprisingly, the study of money accompanies the study of child development in the Waldorf school, because the school can’t exist without money, so caught is the modern culture in a money economy. Money weaves through human interactions carrying lots of baggage and heavy in abstraction.
Over a hundred years ago, Rudolf Steiner urged people to clarify and deepen their interactions with one another by realizing that life is threefold: in the cultural realm, the realm of heart and art and church and music, thinking and creating, the human is completely an individual, completely free.
However, in the economic realm, complete freedom would lead to a wildly out of balance economic system. Brotherhood is the required mode of behavior in the economic realm, a realm where interactions should be held in check by the greater understanding of the common good.
In the third realm of the threefold order, the legal realm, the realm of rights, there is complete equality. No one is worth more than anyone else in the realm of rights.
If, in the economic realm, we meet cooperatively, as kin, then we can remain free in our cultural life and speak with one another. And when an agreement is made between an artist and a patron, then, for a moment, a painting has a price.
I remember many years ago sitting in a small room in a Chicago meeting place listening to Siegfried Finser give a talk about money. When someone has something to sell, I heard him say, and someone else wants to buy it, and the two agree on a price, then at the moment of exchange there is a point of light. A spiritual flash, if you will, in the meeting of two beings exchanging something for a price.
I loved that image and have kept it with me. It makes so many things in this world of mad marketplace materialism more fun, and I enjoy thinking of the points of light that have illumined my life each time I bought a vegetable at a farmers’ market and each time I found a new home for one of my paintings.
To really want a painting, though, a patron really needs to be in the same room with the actual physical flat textured painting. An electronic image on an electronic device can also be alluring, but in that case the patron sees an image of the painting and is actually visualizing a print. Because multiple prints can be made of a painting, an infinite number, actually, without damaging the painting itself, the cost of the print could simply be whatever it is that covers the expense of printing with a little extra added on to reward the artist for creating an image.
Of course the art world is more complicated than that, because the image still belongs to the artist, and the value of a print can rise if a limit is set on the number of prints released, or if the print itself was produced by a particularly prestigious shop, or if the artist is particularly popular. A print’s value can also rise or fall with age and condition. So again, even with a print, the price is set at the moment of transaction when buyer and seller agree. But there is no direct contact between artist and buyer, and so there is no connection for a spark of light moment there.
As technology flies us higher and higher and makes more and more things digitally possible, prints now are sold on the internet at the whim of the buyer, copies of original work that the artist has released to unlimited commerce via a digital print shop.
ArtPal.com, an online gallery service, is such a shop. More than 100,000 artists have galleries at that site, and the number seems to be growing at a remarkable rate. Each artist has a gallery with innumerable images; ArtPal.com maintains the website and offers prints of paintings at prices based on the economics of printing and delivery, with a bit off the top for the artist.
It can be staggering to consider, but those hundreds of thousands of images flying all over the world from the ArtPal.com print shops wherever they may be – do these all generate points of light?