Blackboard Drawings 1919-1923

Rudolf Steiner

Kiasma, Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki.

In July 2000 I played a couple of gigs in Finland, and managed to squeeze in a visit to this museum, where I was intrigued to find an exhibition of some of the drawings Steiner used to illustrate some of his 5000 lectures on whatever he felt like lecturing about. For someone like myself who enjoys the work of Joseph Beuys, the drawings may have an immediate appeal, but what was most striking was the set of texts accompanying the images. A disappointingly small sample of them are printed in this catalogue, and will serve here as examples of the unique insights of this famous guru.

The first quote hints at the profundity of Steiner's biological understanding:

"A small child easily transforms the trefoil acid found in the abdomen into formic acid. In this way, the organs get enough formic acid. The formic acid is the base for the development of the soul and the spirit. When, however, the person becomes old and can no longer produce enough formic acid, the soul and spirit depart."

The Columbia Encyclopedia ( tells us that,

"Formic acid occurs in the bodies of red ants and in the stingers of bees."

This may make us wonder under what conditions formic acid might be present in humans (apart from when we are stung). Searching for more information, I found this item on the EMBBS Emergency Medicine and Primary Care Home Page (

"Methanol itself may cause inebriation but by itself is almost completely non-toxic. The methanol is metabolized by alcohol dehydrogenase to formaldehyde and then to formic acid. Clinical findings correlate better with formic acid levels than with methanol levels. It is these two metabolites that cause toxicity with formic acid being more responsible. It is the formic acid that causes the profound metabolic acidosis that is typical of methanol poisoning. The overall mortality of methanol poisoning is approximately 20% and among survivors the rate of permanent visual impairment is 20-25%."

It will perhaps not be surprising that formic acid is used industrially as a paint-stripper. What might be surprising is that a fine museum like Kiasma reproduces these silly Steinerisms without anything but approving commentaries.

Here is another gem:

"When we sleep we reproduce the cosmos. Everything in the cosmos is arranged in crystal forms. In sleep, all types of inanimate mineral designs want to form in us through the cosmos. We must constantly prevent the mineral, the crystalline taking possession of us or else we could get gout, for example."

So: alarm clocks prevent gout.

There is much fascinating scientific literature about form in biology (see, for example, Stewart - Life's Other Secret). Readers can choose between this or Steiner's much-vaunted grasp of the organic, as expressed in this text:

"What is the physical body of the human? It is the body which is subject to the powers which lead to the centre of the earth. What is the ethereal body of the human? It is that in the human which is subject to the powers which come in from everywhere on the periphery of the universe. This can be read directly in the human form. The legs have their form because they are more suitable to the earth's powers whereas the head is more adapted to the peripheral powers."

We might well wonder how he would account for the formal similarity of the roots and branches of trees. I take it that these "earthly powers" are what are commonly known as gravity. If so, a side-issue here is that, although he was besotted with astrology, he seems not to follow those devotees who surmise that we are influenced by the moon in the same way that the oceans are, namely by gravity.

Walter Kugler's eulogy in the catalogue describes Steiner as an "archaeologist of thought". What we have here is an antiquarian of piffle.



Paul Taylor 2001