Sir F. Chook, Inventor of Leopard Oil

Likeness captured upon a daguerrotype machine in Japan, July 1891


Wherein the Author reflects upon certain topical & personal issues of the Day.

Every Human Being Is An Artist

Penned upon the 15th of February, 2008

Today, we pottered along to the National Gallery of Victoria and saw the exhibition Joseph Beuys & Rudolph Steiner: Imagination, Inspiration, Intuition. Educators both, the bulk of the exhibition is collections of their blackboard drawings from lectures and actions. The effect is fascinating, with Steiner’s lists and diagrams lining the walls, Beuys’s actually heaped in the centre, with additional pieces by Beuys (the felt suit, the plastic shopping bag of direct democracy through referendum, the recording of the words ja ja ja ja ja nee nee nee nee nee) at the cardinal points. Concepts and revelations leap out at you – here is Steiner with ANTHROSOPHY AS COSMOSOPHY – know yourself to know the world, know the world to know yourself. Here is Beuys’s opening to “I Am Searching For Field Character”, the bloodstream of the social organism, a chalk outline of his walking stick. Essentially, it’s a powerful example of the work of two of the most important figures of twentieth-century romanticism.

I refer to romanticism a lot – perhaps an explanation is in order for some, for the term is sorely misused these days. I’m only a dabbler, an enthusiast, a dilletante in matters philosophical, but I shall do my best. One of my philosophy professors, the brilliant Dr Freya Mathews, summed it up best, I think: romanticism is the undercurrent to modernity, entirely part of the modern tradition but usually just in shadow, just below the surface. By way of a history lesson, the problem of philosophy since Descartes has been the divide between consciousness and the physical world. All that we can know, argued Descartes, is the world of our own internal perceptions – though he argued for the existence of the external world on Christian grounds.

From there, we have various traditions grappling. Materialism claims purely physical grounds for all existence, including consciousness. Idealism, the reverse. This much is probably familiar to anyone who’s ever been caught up in a ‘religion vs science’ debate. Kant gave us an unsteady sort of resolution with the claim that external reality must exist – because no subject can exist without an object, the idea of a ‘knower’ without anything to ‘know’ is simply absurd – but, beyond being aware that it exists, we can know nothing about it. It took the later romantics to find a solution: the mind and the world are mutually necessary, neither can predate the other, they create each other. Neither can exist alone. The objective and the subjective, yin and yang, idealism and materialism are the same thing, coterminous, arising from the fundamental unity of LIFE. The chief thinker here – and I say this as an unashamed nineteenth-century German philosopher fanboy – is Friedrich Schelling, whose work is sorely unrecognised in the English-speaking world, barring among the American Transcendentalists, Emerson, Thoreau and all.

Beuys and Steiner draw on the legacy of Schelling and his contemporaries – Goethe, Blake and many other fine names – in exploring the possibilities of the unification of all art and science, society, creativity, economy and education. Steiner education is hugely influential even outside of dedicated Steiner schools, and Beuys was one of the founders of the international Greens movement. Joseph Beuys & Rudolph Steiner: Imagination, Inspiration, Intuition finishes tomorrow – so check it out, quicksmart.

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