Sophia between Light and Dark

by Anne Stockton


Rudolf Steiner tells us about the new rulership of Michael which started in 1879. Then came the end of Kali-Yuga in 1889, the dark age of three thousand years of falling away from the spirit, a spiritual dying away. Now comes the heralding of the new age of light. What more triumphant trumpet call to announce its coming could we have than the wave of impressionism, the Fauves and the impressionists, turning the world into pure color, us upside-down and outside in. As also Freud, Jung and the others were doing. The new century – then – took a giant step inward.


Rudolf Steiner points to the evolution of man’s consciousness, and how this can be read through art history among other texts. He alerts us to the state of our spiritual development as we approach the threshold of the spiritual world anew in this, our new age. Our thinking, feeling and willing are in confusion, but beginning to separate in us, going their separate ways, often without our control, all creating great confusion and messing up our karma!


We can find footprints of Sophia when we connect ourselves with the picture of art in this century and realize it as revealing of the human condition. Art has reached the threshold, too. The modern art scene shows us clearly where we are in this process – thinking freezing into abstract art, or intellectual Surrealism taking the place of feeling, certainly willing into the active processes like Jackson Pollack’s Action Painting. We see the Ego itself falling into many dead-end isms and egotisms. That glorious announcement of new experience through color fell into ashes as the fire died down and failed to find spiritual and soul directions. Individualism, materialism and technology have now taken their toll.


Anne Stockton


When we look back we can realize that we have had more than a century of great art, or, if not many great works of art in themselves, we have had great artists, great artistic activity, and a great artistic process. As Time magazine says for the Queen Mother, “What a century!” Those artists had done all our homework, our exercises for us, and most of them were seeking to crash the barriers, to get through to Spirit. We are, in a sense, still waiting. I would name a few: the Blue Riders, Kadinsky, Picasso, Nolde, who found color magically out of the dark, and more recently Rothko who got lost in the dark, Esteban who brings new meaning to abstract colour, and Beuys who brings a social impulse and tries to take up Steiner’s way of expression in blackboard art. There are others, of course.


Perhaps sensing that art is at the crossroads, if not a dead end today, the Pope has written a fine “Letter to Artists”, Easter 1999, and at one point he has gone through a mini-art history, and evolution of consciousness, and he begs the artist for continued cooperation with the message of the Church, dealing kindly with modern art thus:


“the Church has not ceased to nurture great appreciation for the value of art as such. Even beyond its typically religious expressions, true art has a close affinity with the world of faith, so that even in situations where culture and the Church are far apart, art remains abridge to religious experience. In so far as it seeks the beautiful, fruit of an imagination which rises above the every day, art is by its nature a kind of appeal to the mystery. Even when they explore the darkest depths of the soul or the most unsettling aspects of evil, artists give voice in a way to the universal desire for redemption.”


He seeks a new alliance with artists, a “renewed epiphany of beauty in our time” and goes on in a very interesting way:” Art must make perceptible….the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God.”


Of course he promotes the use of the Gospels, and I would wish he had seen the paintings of three of the Gospels of Parjani, a Georgian painter who died recently and who was a student of Anthroposophy. The trouble is that contemporary artists do not want the old images, but new and alive experiences and today their experiences descend into Hell, into the evil around them and they cannot reach its redemption.

Faust, First Goetheanum Ceiling,
Rudolf Steiner


Rudolf Steiner helps us thus: “….and if we wish to really grasp art we must never forget that the ultimate in art in the world is the interplay of the beautiful with the ugly, the presentation of the battle of the beautiful and with the ugly. For only by looking upon the state of equilibrium between the beautiful and the ugly do we stand within reality….”


At a recent conference called the “New Metaphysical Arts” at Sussex University, the same call was issued: “Ugliness must be portrayed, but must be made sublime. To do this the artists must have tasted transcendence himself.” Here lies our homework!


In speaking about art and architecture, Steiner also warns:


“However much study may be devoted to the elimination of crime and wrong-doing in the world, true redemption, the turning of evil into good, will in the future depend on whether true art and architecture are able to generate a definite cultural atmosphere that can so fill the hearts and souls of human beings – if they allow this atmosphere to influence them – that liars will cease to lie and disturbers of the peace will cease to disturb the peace of their fellow citizens. Buildings will begin to speak. They will speak the language of which people today as yet have no inkling.


Nowadays people gather at congresses to negotiate world peace. They imagine that speaking and listening can actually create peace and harmony. But peace and harmony, and conditions worthy of humanity, can only be established when it is the gods who speak to us. When will the gods speak to us? We had better first ask: When do human beings speak to us?”


He goes on to talk of art and architecture as larynx of the gods. Human beings must learn to speak!


As the Pope, Steiner shows the artist as reaching to express the “something more” of his experience. But he sits between two stools, the Icon and the Madonna. Now he must get up and move.


Soloviev also gives us indications of the artists’ situation and possible directions for a new art. At Dostoevsky’s death he compared the static soul-understanding of Tolstoy with Dostoevsky’s dynamic movement. Three months later he gave three lectures in appreciation of Dostoevsky as man and genius against the background of the development of art:


“In the beginning of human evolution the poets were prophets and priests. Art served the gods. But as civilization developed, art, along with human activities in general, separated from religion. Artists who had formerly been servants of the gods considered art itself as their idol. Priests of pure art were born who regarded the perfection of artistic form the most important factor…. Modern artists will not and cannot serve pure beauty or seek only for content. However, since they have been estranged from the former religious content of art, they are now dependent on attempting to imitate reality slavishly and secondly, upon responding to the tastes of the public and changing morality. Naturally it is easy to condemn the present trend of art, but this is unjust. Behind the faćade of poor art of the present, the promise of divine greatness is hidden. The modern artist more or less consciously wishes his art to enlighten mankind. However, earlier art offered light and joy to humanity, but modern art draws attention to the evil in life. If art seeks to make the evil in life better, but it is not sufficient today simply to work out of realism.


In ancient times art lifted man to the heights of Olympus. The art of the future will return to earth, expressing love and sympathy, not in order to bury itself in the darkness of earthly life, but to help the latter and renew its spiritual substance. However, to work efficiently on this earth for this renewal of art, it is necessary to draw to art forces which are not of this earth.


Art which has been separated from religion must be reunited with it, but in perfect freedom. Artists and poets should become priests once again, but in a far deeper sense than formerly, for they will have to gain control over the idea of religion and consciously control its earthly incarnation. Even at this moment, the traces of the religious art of the future can be detected in today’s seemingly anti-religious art.


Dostoevsky’s world is the exact opposite of the prevailing realism. Here, everything is in movement, nothing is fixed, for he is the only one of our contemporary Russian writers who concentrates on movement.”


 For the painter, taking his/her start from color, it is movement in color, how the color moves, not the form, but the color in itself.

Isis - Medieval Book Cover, anon


We can now think of two of the giant artists of our latest millennium moment at the frontier. I will not attempt to go beyond them, or explain “Tracy’s Bed” or Francis Bacon’s howl of pain, or some of the decadence we can see in the Tate Modern Museum, even though it probably applies to all that as well.


I mention Joseph Beuys and his social art, even if it's maybe more intellectual than artistic; and Mark Rothko in his genuinely artistic search to reveal the human soul through color and its innate movement on the surface…..  “expressing love and sympathy for the human soul through color, but getting buried in the darkness of earth.” Tragically, Rothko came to an end at the Threshold in black squares; squares, only at the least content-laden form with which to show the color but still not understanding the spiritual movement and gestures of the colors. Kadinsky tried and did.



Having come through that excursion into art history, I would continue the trail of Sophia, but it is going to lead through another question which belongs to the picture for which I am groping: Where do the colors come from? Please bear with me while I go far back in time!


Genesis tells us that “God created the heaven and the earth, and the earth was without form and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said ‘Let there be light!’, and there was light. And God divided the light from the darkness.”


So there was light and darkness but not yet color until later, when Noah saw it from the Ark. One of Steiner’s Rainbow meditations translated from his notebook reveals what Noah may have experienced


In the darkness I find God’s Being

In Rose Red I feel the source of Life

In Ether Blue rests the yearning of the Spirit

In Life’s Green breaths all Life’s Breath

In Gold Yellow radiates Thinking’s clarity

In Fiery Red is rooted the Strength of Will

Sun’s White manifests the Kernel of my Being


Ceiling, First Goetheanum
Rudolf Steiner


In An Outline of Occult Science, Steiner has given us a description out of his Initiate insight into details of evolution. There is also another lovely series of lectures called “Inner Realities of Evolution” about the sacrifice of love of the Seraphim to the Cherubim and Thrones of the First Hierarchy. This was not accepted and led to later difficulties. He traces development through the state of warmth on Ancient Saturn, to the division of light and darkness on the Ancient Sun, where air was created. Then he comes to the Ancient Moon period where he describes how air was the shadow of light and was wrung out, so that water resulted. The water reflected the light and the darkness and through refraction the colors began their weaving in the interaction of air, mists and water….the rainbow appeared!


This might be considered ‘fairy-tale science’, but let us not throw the baby out with the bath-water. As modern science developed, we have Newton telling us that color is to be found by breaking up the light, out of light alone. He made a box with a pin prick in its side, and sent a beam of light through a prism to the opposite wall, where it divided into the spectrum of seven colors. This one-sided theory sent Goethe into a fury. He did the experiment over and over observing all the phenomena, saying of Newton,” He has forgotten the darkness!”


A phrase of Goethe’s is often quoted: “The colors are born of the deeds and suffering of the light.” Here is where truth and poetry, art and science come together, for we can see the light suffering as it is overcome by the darkness resulting in the reds and warm colors of the sunset seen through earth’s dust, while the sunlight lights up the black of outer darkness as a brave deed, shining through the sky revealing the heavenly blues. Goethe brings a qualitative element to science.


Rudolf Steiner was chosen as editor of the Weimar Edition of Goethe’s scientific works. He was especially involved with the color research, and it laid the basis for his own development of understanding of color. He laid great emphasis on the importance of Goethe’s method through observation and his phenomenological approach. The English artist William Turner drew on Goethe’s research in his study, resulting in his liberating works with colors, and in Paris at the Jeu de Paume, in a large poster on the genesis of impressionism, credit is given for its color discoveries to Goethe and Turner.


Sophia, by Frederico, Prague Palace, King Carl


The Newton-Goethe controversy sparks a dividing line for the future, a parting of the ways between a materialistic science and one leading to an understanding of an etheric realm. Ralph Waldo Emerson prophetically recognized this in his writings on Goethe.


Newton’s experiments led to the wave theory and materialistic handling of color through measure, weight, and number. But there are situations where it simply does not work, for instance, in the case of the experimental Land camera leading to the Polaroid.


In1970, MIT published a facsimile edition of Goethe, introduced by D. J. Rudd with the comment: “Perhaps after 160 years, Goethe’s mystical theory may come to be recognized as foreshadowing, however, dimly, the next advance in the theory of color.”


Henri Bortoft, physicist and teacher of science, its history and philosophy, in Kent, England, describes Goethe’s method:


“When observing the phenomenon of color in Goethe’s way it is necessary to be more active in seeing than we usually are. The term ‘observation’ is in some ways too passive. We tend to think of an observation as just a matter of opening our eyes in front of the phenomenon, as if it were something that happens to us when visual information flows in through the senses and is registered in consciousness. Observing the phenomenon in Goethe’s way requires us to look, as if the direction of seeing were reversed, going from ourselves toward the phenomenon instead of visa-versa. This is done by putting attention into seeing, so that we do really see what we are seeing instead of just having a visual impression. It is as if we plunged into seeing. In this way, we can begin to experience the qualities of colors.


But Goethe’s encounter with the phenomenon did not stop at this stage of observation. He could then repeat the observations he had made, but this time doing so entirely in his imagination without using the apparatus. He called this discipline ‘Exacte sinnliche Phantasie’, which can be translated ‘Exact sensorial imagination.’”


Bortoft continues with a description of how to see the colors through the prism with black and white printed forms, repeating the process Goethe described as ‘recreating in the wake of ever-creating nature’. This is impossible, he says, by simply having thoughts…and working it with the intellectual mind, and he goes on to describe the dynamic movement within the colors in a holistic way.


For the new art, undisciplined fantasy is not enough. It can lead far a field and to insanity to which many artists are witness. For Goethe and Steiner, it must have a grounding in reality of spirit and experience. So, Goethe describes a sound path through observation and connection with the laws of nature and metamorphosis, exploring what he called Nature’s Holy Open Secret and saying ‘Art begins where Nature leaves off.’

Madonna Gran Lucca


Steiner’s revelations of new aspects of color were grounded on Goethe’s theory and the day spectrum of color. If Goethe called attention to the soul aspects of color, Steiner spoke of spiritual aspects as he leads the discipline further through his Anthroposophy. He pointed also to the ‘night spectrum’ of shades of violet, mauve, purple, magenta, and peach-blossom color.


In another lecture, Steiner gives a moving description of the Rainbow, going on to reveal these hardly seen colors of the magenta family in their spiritual-psychic connections; the result of weaving of the Hierarchies in and out of the colors and behind the rainbow as if it were tubular! And all this in an atmosphere of glowing rapture! He points out how frozen we are today with our cold theories.


Those particular colors are a far-reaching mystery connected with the Tree of Life, and he wanted physicists to bend the spectrum with a magnet to reveal the meeting of the poles of the infra-red and ultra-violet, but the Dornach scientists were not able to find a magnet strong enough! Now, I am an artist, and am over my head in science so I will say no more, but hope that others will bring more light as Bartoft is doing.


Steiner went on to describe other color circles: active, sun colors and passive moon colors in their qualities and inner movements and gestures of the colors which Kadinsky, almost alone, explore in his “Concerning the Spiritual in Art.” This is all work for future artists, which goes beyond the needs of this talk.


Howdy those different gestures of the colors want to be painted? I met Anthroposophy at age 21, and this question with many others, poured in. Life did not become easier with these challenges, but they led me to study further, and finally led me to the Art Therapy I found in Germany and Switzerland. Francis Edmunds then asked me to teach at Emerson College, which I did for some years. I remarried, and when space gave out at Emerson, my second husband, Kurt Falk and I founded a new Tobias School of Art to help bring these into the world in a practical way.


The questions live on! What is the relation of all this to the main stream of Art as I have related its development? What is good and bad art? Spiritual art? Art of the etheric? Christian Art, and I don’t mean art which illustrates the Gospels? Out of a new awareness of Christ and the etheric, of Sophia, can art be fertilized again to bring something new to humanity? These are all qualitative questions that we are working with in our School in EnglandTobias School for Art, Education, and Art Therapy – for they bring with them a new aspect of color, and a potential for healing.


Grunewald in Colmar


It is time to return to the present and the theme, which changes as constantly as Sophia herself. Another anecdote is relevant. My friend, Rachael Shepherd said last year before she died that we should look back every evening on the miracle of each day!


One such review came to me during the last few months of carrying this question of Sophia about with me. I went to a workshop with Coenraad Van Houten called, “Practicing Spiritual Research”. I took my notes and the question “Who is Sophia and does she work in the color?” For me it had always seemed to be the Christ working in the middle stream of color, in the soul, between the light of Lucifer and the darkness of Ahriman.


I will spare you details of my experience in the workshop, and only hope that you will not agree with the feed-back I first received from the group! Groups can be very helpful, so after demolishing me at the first session, a kind Norwegian woman said to me, “Why don’t you just ask Sophia?” I think this confrontation was exactly what I had been avoiding.


I went home tired and discouraged that first day, but just before I went to sleep I put my questions to Sophia. I woke after two hours sound sleep, at 2 a.m., and on the tip of my soul was the memory of my teachers’ voice, quoting Steiner: “Color is the Soul of the World.” And further was added, “Sophia is Color.” In the morning I reached for a book by my bed, and on the last page, read: “Sophia is the sister soul of Christ. “This is a mystery.


So I offer this on the altar of what will be a mystery for long to come: recent meditations borrowed from the Christian Community run: “The Father god lives in us. The Son God creates in us. The Spirit God enlightens us.”


May I add a comment from a mundane source but illuminating, from the Radio Four’s “Thought for the day”: “Beauty is not a luxury, but a necessity to human life. When it is realized, not as superficial aesthetics, but as God’s love, shining through!”


I understand this as: the World Ground [the Father] gives us the substances, the color. With the Son, we create: when you create you must forget all and dive into chaos, a kind of death. You hold a conversation with the color between your karmic biography, your constitution and the objective spiritual nature of the colors; you may come through to understanding to the Holy Spirit, Sophia, to conscious realization.


WE SEE – not the substance of the material, but of the archetypal forms of this world given to us.


WE SEE – in creating with the Passion of the Christ.


WE HOPE TO SEE – with the insight of Sophia’s conscious light and wisdom.


Anne Stockton was born in Manhattan, NY, USA in 1910; she died in 2012. She decided to devote her life to painting and art at  13. At 15 she was allowed to go to the Art Student's League. A first exhibition in New York of Impressionists was a great awakening. In Santa Fe,N.M., she established herself with a group of painters and a gallery. Her brother's death brought Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy into her life with new meaning and a new impulse in Art. Since then her life has been filled with research, both artistic and spiritual, and full of questions. She studied at the School of Artistic Therapy of Dr. M. Hauschka, and with Gerard Wagner in Dornach. Asked to teach at Emerson College in England, she left 12 years later to found, with her husband, the Tobias School of Art. Ms Stockton was the recipient of the 1999 Sophia Award, given at the Sophia Conference in Hickory, N.C., by The School of Spiritual Psychology
Editor's note: Ann Stockton live the second part of her life in England. Once she said to me, "England is great, I love it, but indoors when you turn around you're always afraid of breaking something." FTS

This essay was originally published in Sophia: Journal of the School of Spiritual Psychology.