Individuality of Colour

The following is an excerpt from The Individuality of Colour by Elizabeth Koch.  The Individuality of Colour is ‘contributions to a methodical schooling in the experience of colour, from the work of the School in Dornach, Switzerland of Gerard Wagner and Elizabeth Koch’.

The Individuality of Colour

By Elizabeth Koch and Gerard Wagner


In this essay we will try to find a method of approaching more closely the nature of colours, their being and their individual laws.  Individual laws?  Has a colour then, a will of its own?  An impulse towards form, which springs out of its own being?  To gain the answer to this question there are certain conditions to be fulfilled.


In the first place, we must learn to achieve an objective sense of colour.  In this, we find that it is not sufficient merely to free the colour from a particular form.  That is easily done!  The further demand is the one difficult to obey:  it is, that as we confront the colour we must free ourselves from all mental images, from our sympathies and antipathies and from our own will to form and construct.  In fact, we must refrain from imposing anything arbitrary upon the colour, at the time avoiding an undisciplined, nebulous state of mind.  Our aim is to be completely unprejudiced, without presuppositions, but in a state of the highest awareness and expectancy, to receive the answer to the question:  How may we follow a phenomenon, the colour in observable steps so that we reach the secret of its form?  Only in the process of many self correcting repetitions of the exercise may we hope to arrive at an understanding and knowledge of the colour.  The results of this method of observation are, however, of a soul nature, and verifiable only in those terms.


Therein lies the difficulty, but also the great possibility of educational-therapeutic effects on ourselves through our attempt.  We have to use a strictly scientific method and yet to deal with, and judge from, a psychological aspect.  Does not everyone have a different relationship to colour?  Certainly, so long as his soul life is determined by sympathy and antipathy.  And in this, is he not within his own rights?  Of course, so long as he wants to give expression only to his own creative personality.  No longer so, however, when he has discovered that the colour itself possesses individuality – is, indeed, as much an individual as any living being upon whom one does not wish to force one’s will in order to find one’s self mirrored in his personality.  If we can succeed in becoming one with the colour, so that we experience ourselves not on it or through it but in it – yes, experience ourselves as colour – then through such an experience we shall be able to feel healing forces.  The more the effort to achieve selflessness succeeds the more we exclude self-deception.


Here the objection can rightly be raised:  what is left of art when the student can no longer follow the inspiration of his own creative individuality?  It is precisely this creative individuality which must first be formed and trained, in order to be able to unfold itself freely – that is to say, to be free from representations of nature and free from subjective arbitrariness.


In the same way that we had to learn the meaning of sounds, words and concepts in order to make ourselves understood, so do we need a schooling of our sentiments, our feelings, to come to knowledge of the soul as the foundation of new aesthetics, of art expression commensurate with our own times.  The individual, personal characteristics of the artist will be enabled to unfold more freely on the basis of such a methodical schooling.


So, first of all, it will be necessary to seek after the being and the character of the individual colours and to try to make them visible in the way that they themselves wish.


Practical Elements


Colour experience can only be cultivated through practice.  So, the following exercises need not only to be read, but to be done, and not only done but redone, relived over and over again.  Then they can awaken a new creative fantasy.


In approaching colour we want to make our consciousness as empty as possible.  However often we repeat an exercise, this is the first step.  Only so can we achieve a pure perception of the colour, an inner experience which may be tested.


The danger that a once made experience becomes a fixation is great.  We must keep our judgement so mobile that we are ready to correct it at any moment as our insight deepens.  If we have reached this inner questioning we shall notice that the exercise becomes more interesting the more we do it and that it may become more difficult the better we get to know it.  Exercises are soul training.


We notice as we discover the creative life of colour that our own creative abilities grow, and that a secret relationship exists between the element of colour and our own soul.  We become aware that, as we relinquish our personal self, we gain the reality of our real being.


With an effort towards complete open-mindedness, we now begin the exercises, even though we may feel them to be familiar.  Everything is new when we do the exercise in full awareness.


The following exercises are left as incomplete suggestions in order to stimulate the reader to test and practice them for himself.




First Exercise:  Yellow in White – Examples 1, 2, 3.


As a first exercise we paint a light yellow on a white sheet of paper.  We try to experience the opposition between these two colours as to feel their reaction.


At the moment the yellow appears on the previously neutral white sheet there begins a play of forces in which the tension between the two colours begins to work itself out.  That white as a colour plays a real role here becomes obvious when we repeat the very same experiment on a coloured sheet.  How does the yellow relate itself to white?  Does it become congested?  Does it disperse?  Does it gather itself together, does it release itself?


I order to reach a decision, we try softening the hard edge somewhat, so that there is a gradual transition from yellow to white.  We ask ourselves if this creates a more harmonious relationship?  We remark that the yellow seems to like to spread itself out.  It opens itself to the white, to which it is related in luminosity.  As it flows away its need becomes perceptible to strengthen itself within.  Light and darker yellow result.  A dynamic process of contracting and expanding results, in which the whole mobility and luminosity of yellow finds expression.  We try to bring these forces into equilibrium and order.


………………….(Eighteen more exercises comprise a short introduction to the painting method.)……………..


The Fine Arts in the Service of Human Education


Let us now cast a swift glance at the significance of the Fine Arts for the education of man.


Stages of Art Development.  The further we go back in history, the more were the Fine Arts united with the religious life.  They served this need completely and depicted that which was divine in man and nature.  They were derived from the Mysteries, practised by artists who had been trained in the Mystery Centres.  They underlay strict laws which Goethe recognised as revelations of the secret laws of nature.  How much an artist was bound to a higher order was shown in Egypt by the fact that a scribe was put to death for an error in writing.  The scribe occupied one of the highest posts in the hierarchy of priests.  We see how art had its source in the secrets of the Mysteries, from which the artist, as enlightened knower, created out of the power of inspiration.  Art accompanied the life of men on earth with true images of the spiritual world.  It served as an important means of education and expression before men could read or write.  Men were led from the contemplation of mythological pictures, through representation of religious events (Icons), gradually, to the observation of themselves (portraiture) and then of nature as an outside world (landscapes).


Through the discovery of 3-dimensional picture space, and the ever more naturalistic representation of nature, art prepared the way for scientific thinking, long before this entered one its triumphal march, and, through ever-increasing comprehension of the material world, controlled more and more man’s thinking, feeling and willing.


The gradual freeing of colour from its dependence on natural forms, in impressionism, led to a rediscovery of two-dimensional picture space, and then to a more independent expression of inner experience in expressionism.  A completely new sense of freedom awoke in the artist who in this belonged to the avant-garde of a new human consciousness.  Colour becomes a medium of experiment, art a mirror of man’s feeling for life with which he meets the attack of a technical age.  In the ‘isms’ which follow we experience the drama of the emancipated free human being struggling for form.  And before us we have the phenomenon that, in the search for inner properties and value for colour, it disappears more and more as a creative medium from the Fine Arts.  Colour becomes a varnish.  Grey tones and black and white take its place.  Electric light and colour spectrums enter the scene.  Intellectual combinations, technical constructions, or complete arbitrariness begin to push aside the creative soul forces of man.


The atomistic world-conception, the loss of the human ideal, the striving to go beyond a world of representations, the bursting in the super-sensible and sub-sensible powers into our world – we find them all when we look at the various currents of the art of our century.


We see how just the search for the objective worth of colour, which has not been deepened by living experience, and the consequent objectifying of personal soul feeling, has led to the great crisis of painting in the twentieth century.  The significance, the task and the goal of art, yes, its very justification for existence at all, have become a question of conscience for civilisation.  Yet in no other time has the artist had more difficulty in finding his way in these questions.


Stages of Human Development.  These same stages of development are gone through by every human being in his own particular life.  Every child before it can read or write lives in a world of flooding images, which is nourished by fairy tales and myths.  This inner world of pictures gradually fades.  The child begins to discover the outer world, nature, which hitherto he had experienced as part of himself and from which he now becomes detached.


Thereby he learns how to feel himself in his inner life.  In his relation to the outer world, the discovery of perspective is the next decisive step.  An ever stronger awakening of self-consciousness takes place in him.  The adolescent finds himself at a stage of development equivalent to the Renaissance, receptive to the great works of art, and loving them.  When we adults look back at our own youth we remember with thankfulness the deep enduring impressions of such pictures on our soul.  They awaken reverence and joy and are nourishment for our soul.  Some adults even realise to their sorrow how this faculty left them and they had to traverse all the stages of nothingness in search of the self, just as we trace these same stages in the development of art.


Art and Human Education.  When we thus recognise the outstanding educative importance of the Fine Arts we should not shrink back from the question, is not the great helplessness and confusion of modern humanity at least in part caused by the lack of truth-bearing pictures in youth?  Truth-bearing?  What is meant by this?  Does not modern art show a true picture of the chaos of our modern world?  Certainly!   But just here lies the fallacy, that through the one-sidedness of our materialistic picture of the world, we have lost the whole picture of man and world; the wholeness of man in his sensible and super sensible components.


Everyone has this unity living in him, especially in childhood and early youth.  Without it he cannot really exist.  If contemporary art denies or ignores this connection – or the question of it – then it helps consciously or unconsciously in the destruction of the social order.


Consider from this point of view children’s books, magazines or children’s television and odd advertisements, newspapers, etc., and we see alarming results.  What poverty of soul will children have in later life, nourished on such pictures.  The question which should deeply concern us is the following:  How can art education and the work of the Fine Arts become a help for the construction of a new social order?  Only when man as a whole is taken as a foundation for artistic schooling.  Only when the wholeness of man becomes again the measure of all things, will art fulfil its noblest task and grasp its unique opportunity.


An experimental natural science free of moral sensibility has brought man to the edge of his existence, the world to the edge of destruction, art to the edge of any reason for existence.  On the basis of experiments with pure phenomena, inwardly observed with the same exactness which is practised outwardly by natural science, new ways can be found to reveal the secrets of life.


Man may, out of his free moral will, discover laws, at once natural and psychic, which can become a source of creative artistic activity.  This places him, citizen of two worlds, in the centre again – in medias res – by a meditative act.  From here on he can find his relationship to every single manifestation of the world, as manifestations of life are ordered in relationship to one another.  When art becomes again a mirror of a higher order wherein separate phenomenon are formed from a constant centre – a dynamic process whose tensions man must master anew at every moment!  – then again will his organising powers be able to work healingly in social life also.


If we now consider the development of the Fine Arts we find:


  1. Art as the revelation of a godly, spiritual, world through inspiration:  Art of the Mystery Centres.
  2. Art as revelation of a godly spiritual world working in nature and man:  religious feeling.
  3. Art as the representation of the physical in man and nature:  concepts of natural science.
  4. Art helping to dissolve the natural form:  atomistic world conception.
  5. Art as mirror of the chaotic conditions of a technically conceived world:  nihilism.
  6. The end of all art creation and of sensitivity to art at all:  the falling apart of the social order.
  7. The artistic experimenter in the sense of an occult science:  a spiritual relationship to the world of matter.
  8. The artist as explorer who can proclaim a higher nature within nature in which moral law and natural law become identical.


This last step of course is a distant goal, but it lies within the possibilities of art development for the future.  When this unites itself with the development of soul forces in conformity with their inner laws, it will unfold in tune with the spirit of the age.  If it does not, art will disappear from the world.  Technology will take its place – and the place of man.


Where do we feel ourselves most human?  Not in our intellect, not in our desires and drives, but in our hear forces, that want to open themselves to other men, to the world.  Soul exercises will foster these heart forces.  If they are not nourished, the misery of hearts grows ever greater while the intellect, the desires, satisfy themselves independently in ever more refined ways.


Rudolf Steiner pointed out what would happen if thinking and willing were hot held in balance through active soul development.  He said:  As much crime is in the world, as much lying, as there is lack of art.


We stand at the end of an era when art could be created out of old gifts belonging to a past age.  We stand at the beginning of a new era in which all progress lies in the will of man himself.  No longer genius and talent but paths of self-discipline and training will be the basis for art education of the future.


© Copyright 2005 Katherine Rudolph, Exploring The Word in Colour and Speech