Painting Genesis – by Karen Crandall

Waldorf schools are nonsectarian. Values such as respect for self and others, universal to all religious and spiritual traditions, are upheld in the classrooms. Spiritual leaders of many cultures are studied through the history of world civilizations. The question of religion is left strictly to the family.  Here is one way we present the Old Testament as literature to our 3rd graders

Painting Genesis

Painting the Seven Days of Creation

Old Testament as Literature in the 3rd Grade Curriculum

Imagine paint pots filled with the primary colors, set beside white painting paper on the bench in front of the teacher.  She allows the water from a sponge to spill over the surface of the paper and soak in on both sides. The brush is dipped into the pot of blue and gently swirled around.  The saturated brush is lifted from the pot and blue paint glides across the white paper.  All the children who stand around her watch in silence as the white paper transforms gradually into different shades of blue.  Red is added for a sense of warmth.Pic 1

Then the teacher swirls her brush in the water jar, wipes it on the sponge, and says, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth, and the earth was without form and void.”  The teacher lifts the paint from middle of the paper, creating light and pale blues. “And God said, Let there be light. And there was light.”

And then the students quietly walk to their benches and begin to relive the painting experience through their own hands and imagination.

On the second day, a similar experience is provided with blue. A touch of red provides a feeling of warmth and the waters are separated from the waters.

On the third day, the same two colors are used as the ground rises out of the seas.

On the fourth day, something new happens. The waters are created with blue, the air with blue, and the earth with more warmth.  After the brush is cleaned, it is dipped into a pot and moved to the sky.  The shocking appearance of the brilliance of yellow after so many days of just blue fills each student with delight.  “Ah…” they breathe in the experience of yellow at the same time.  This was not planned yet through the faithful repetition of the blue in the recapitulation of the creation of the earth, the students’ hearts experienced the birth of a new being: yellow: the sun in their painting.

when the heart is touched learning unfolds

Pic 2Steiner indicated that class teachers should begin in the 1st grade with the idea that form arises out of color.  Painting forms like animals or houses in the first grade is not our goal.  Instead, we move the colors on a thin layer of water, surround color with a different color, all the time using only primary colors.  Only two colors are painted at a time so that an experience of the relationship and dynamics the colors may have can be felt.  The colors become familiar friends.  Their relationships with each other become something we participate in, something we feel in our hearts.  This continues into the second grade.

The birth of a third

Then one day, one color holds hands with another color and something new is born.  Out of the two comes a third.  Where did it come from? It was not there before yet it always had the potential to come to light because of the presence of the two “parent” colors.  Yellow and blue together create the soothing green of grass on earth.

bringing imagination into the world

Throughout a Waldorf education, one has the opportunity to learn to translate one’s imagination through one’s hands and into the materials of the earth.  We learn to bring that part of us that is precious and invisible, our imagination, through the use of our hands into the creation of something beautiful in book form, clay, paint, crayon, wood, etc.  The student who embraces this challenge is striving to do what Michelangelo did with his sculptures: he said that the form was already in the block of marble and he was simply setting it free.  We, too, can have the imagination first and learn to bring it out so that the world may behold it.  We can learn to let that which is invisible speak to us and be devoted to setting it free.Pic 3

By the time the students are in the third grade, we are striving to find the form that arises out of the colors. This requires imagination.  We are learning not only to observe the outside world, but also to learn to observe the awakening inner world.  Every day we are given opportunities to observe privately what our imaginations hold.  We learn to observe skills and practice them so that our capacity to bring our imaginations to light is enhanced.  We can peer into a painting with the intention of finding a fish that swims in the deep, and then create it intuitively with our brushes out of the color and movement already provided.  Isn’t this also an example of bringing to birth something that had the potential to manifest, yet waited a while in the invisible world until declared?

Be they fish or factors, we can learn to leave room for our imaginations to speak to us and thereby learn far more about the world and ourselves than can ever be planned for.