Painting and Drawing in Waldorf Schools: Class 1 – 8 by Thomas Wildgruber
A Review by Donna Simmons
There was great excitement in the Christopherus office when a great, fat envelope from Floris Books arrived. I was in town visiting the office and Leigh and I had just sat down with some coffee to review sales reports when the mail came. Eager to see what offering Floris had for us, we tore open the envelope.
A beautiful, brightly colored massive tome of a book spilled out. With full color illustrations on every page, beautifully designed and laid out, this book looked perfect. Could it be that this was the much sought after definitive guide to both painting AND drawing through the Waldorf curriculum?
I can tell you, I was seriously thrilled. I am always on the lookout for books on Waldorf art techniques and have been repeatedly disappointed over the years by a number of seemingly promising resources. Having found the most wonderful guide to Waldorf modeling through the curriculum (which is probably the single most therapeutically important book we sell, an absolute must-have for every child’s healthy education) I am always hopeful that I will eventually find the same such magnitude of wonderfulness in a book on painting and drawing.
Well, I haven’t found it yet. Wildgruber’s book is an absolute aesthetic treat and enormously inspiring to leaf through. But once one begins to read it carefully, the problems begin.
For starters, the translation from German is more than a little rough, with some annoying non-English usage and sentence construction which, especially if one is unfamiliar with the subject matter, is terribly confusing. The text is full of “anthroposophical in-speak”, words and phrases that those who are not well versed in anthroposophy will find meaningless. Like a term paper written by an unprepared college student hoping to convince his professor that he actually knows what he is writing about, the over-use of quotes breaks up the already uneven flow of the text and leaves one wondering what the author actually has to contribute himself on the subject. And, unfortunately, it would be a help for any reader of this book to have a fine arts degree in order to really understand it. The opening sections are on art theory and although they appear promising, including interesting artistic exercises to work with, the explanations and discussion of themes are very poor and will undoubtedly confuse more than enlighten., though the actual how-to-paint-this-picture exercises which follow the curriculum are straightforward.
And there are definitely very good features as well. Many homeschooling parents will find the sections on form drawing, for instance, to be both useful and inspiring. I personally do not agree with the extent to which Wildgruber encourages his students to color in their forms. I am of the “less is more” school of form drawing, feeling that the therapeutic benefits of the forms lies in their unembellished starkness but there are many who do not agree. And I can live with colored-in form drawings.
However, what I cannot live with is Wildgruber’s use of very detailed and formed figures in first and second grade drawing and, far worse, painting. This goes right against the therapeutic approach we take at Christopherus Homeschool Resources. Like Leo Klein, master Waldorf teacher who travels the globe instructing Waldorf teachers and parents in watercolor painting, I firmly believe that young children, until about the 9 year change, should not work with formed pictures, but should have as pure an experience of color as possible each time they reach for crayons or paints. To work with detail and form is too intellectual – the images are fixed, concrete, finished. In order to nurture and enhance their feeling life and ultimately, their ability to think originally, the artistic experiences that they have in their first 9 years should be as flexible and open as possible. As I have said in many places, for young children, what is not on the paper can be as important as what is actually there – the more one brings them into detailed drawing and, God forbid, detailed painting, the less this can be so. The product, what is created materially, becomes more important than the inner experience the child is having. And this is a serious pedagogical mistake.
As for the letters, the pictures the teacher supplies to the child are meant to be imaginative indications, giving life to the abstract qualities of the symbolic nature of the letters themselves. Rudolf Steiner’s own examples which he gave to the first teachers of the school in Stuttgart, Germany were very bare indeed. Like classic Waldorf dolls, the child fills in the details with his own imagination.
I am belaboring this point because it is part of a trend which I am becoming uncomfortably aware of. Just as the sanctity of early childhood is under threat even in the world of Waldorf, what with all-day kindergarten and early grades, as well as pre-k for tiny ones, so the therapeutic basis of Waldorf education is being lessened in other areas in the schools. There is no denying the beauty of Wildgruber’s work and beauty itself can, of course, be healing. But especially now, especially in the time of the domination of digital technology, something which effects our children no matter how carefully we shelter them, we have to be absolutely resolute in our conviction that the actively therapeutic benefits of Waldorf education be strengthened and never weakened. Precocious intellectualism is never, in any way, of benefit to children and it is important that all educators consider this in the choices they make for the children in their care.
Having said all this, by the time Wildgruber gets to the older grades, I start to relax a bit and even get pretty excited by the fantastic sections on perspective drawing and black and white color exercises. For these alone, the book is worth having as there are so few really good Waldorf resources on these subjects. Wildgruber develops the themes of perspective and contrasting color in grades 6 through 8 in a marvelous way and there are some excellent examples of projects that one can do with one’s child at home during these grades.
But if you are feeling confident and, especially if you have an older child, I would definitely recommend Thomas Wildgruber’s Painting and Drawing in Waldorf Schools: Class 1 – 8.