The Development of Anthroposophic Art Therapy
with Particular Reference to the Visual Arts

The Development of Anthroposophic Art Therapy with Particular Reference to the Visual Arts

Elisabeth Körber, Art Therapist

Rudolf Steiner, Light Weaving, 1911, painting for the Mystery Drama ‘The Soul’s Probation’: the painter Johannes Thomasius struggles to depict something visually that he has experienced emotionally-spiritually.

Introduction to the Theme

Anthroposophic art therapy has been around for nearly a century. What are our roots? What defines us? What has changed? What remains?

A group of Association of Anthroposophic Therapeutic Arts (AATA) members followed up on these questions for the 2019 AATA conference, drawing members into a broad reflection of their practice. I facilitated this process using a flexible design questionnaire. The inquiry was based on the principles of grounded theory to collect observations that would enable us to explore different perspectives, gain more specific insights and, possibly, form a narrative. It consisted of a set of closed and open questions, in anthroposophic and other therapeutic subjects and artistic exploration. The aim was to look into practice in terms of methodologies, therapeutic principles, work situations, needs, training wishes and possible necessary innovation processes related to the findings. With a number of semi-structured interviews I explored the theme further, with particular interest given to the new generation of transpersonal arts counsellors.

I am using the term ‘anthroposophic art therapy’ (AAT) overall, as a common denominator of the past and its international professional term used by the anthroposophic medical section at the Goetheanum in Switzerland. The historical development is based on a literature review.

Origin of Anthroposophic Art Therapy

Rudolf Steiner was a philosopher, teacher, researcher, educator and artist. He gave numerous lectures about the being of the arts and their spiritual aspects. In 1888, in his very first lecture, he contemplates on what art consists in. It is a bridge to our spiritual home, he says. Steiner describes how art supports health, its transformative and preventative effects. The artist, he outlines, creates ‘according to the same principles as nature’ creates. However the artist goes beyond nature by creating new objects. In this way, each artistic activity is an expression of our own individual human and spiritual nature in our I. Soul moods are reflected in the colours of paintings.

In sculpture it is our vital forces that flow into the forming and shaping. This is because our vital, formative forces follow an innate transformative principle: they are involved in both the physical up-building and regeneration as well as in the formation of thoughts, ideas and creativity – thus allowing the human being to be free in mind and spirit.

This becomes a core principle of anthroposophic art therapy. Art helps to raise awareness. Through art, our spirit, our I, can reflect, develop self-awareness and intentions, create and bring about change. Steiner emphasises the importance of developing lively, imaginative thinking. ‘A connection exists between the impulses inherent in artistic imagination’ and those of ‘supersensible knowledge’, he explains. In 1921 he concludes that ‘Only through the artistic understanding of the entire soul can we gain access to the sphere of knowledge’. In the same year he continues with lectures on therapeutic insights.

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