classroom decoration

One of the most frequently asked questions on the Waldorf List concerns what classroom decorations are appropriate at different grade levels. We came upon these guidelines, presented by Rudolf Steiner during a faculty meeting with the teachers of the original Waldorf School, and found them so interesting and revealing that we wanted to make them available to as many people as possible. What follows is our draft translation.

Bob and Nancy

Faculty Meetings with Rudolf Steiner, Volume 2
Tuesday, January 23, 1923, afternoon
Rudolf Steiner
Translation by Robert F. Lathe & Nancy Parsons Whittaker

I would like to share some of my thoughts about my visit to the school, specifically, about the walls. Now that everything here is so new, it is more apparent than before that it is not good for a school to merely have a somewhat lost and not particularly good picture hanging here and there. It is significant that our school does not make a particularly impressive artistic impression.

Of course, we cannot completely fulfill the ideal at this stage, but it seems to me that it would be good to at least have an ideal before us so that we could move toward it, at least in our thoughts, and that in the end we would do something in that direction. I would ask you not to understand what I have to say the way many things have been understood. For instance, when I said that this or that is a difference between eating meat or vegetables and people immediately began to promote vegetarianism as a result.

Accept it as an idea. Out of our pedagogy itself, what should be the artistic form in our classrooms? We could perhaps extend this from what we find in the schoolrooms to what we find near the schoolrooms on the walls.
There is no doubt that we need some pictures to decorate the schoolrooms. I say this not because I think we need to do this tomorrow morning, but because our guiding principle needs to be what is needed by our pedagogy.

First, we have the lower grades. There, we need a more physical presentation of what we give the children pictorially. That can gradually move into the more artistic, on the one hand, and to more practical activities in life, on the other. Today, I only want to mention some of the main things that we can deepen in the course of time. It is important that where the subjects themselves play the main role in artistic decoration, we have no mechanically created or barren illustrations, but that things be artistically formed. These artistic creations should not be such that they emphasize special opinions or special styles, but more in the direction of what seems to genuinely human.

If we look at the first grade, the main thing would be to decorate the walls with pictures from fairy tales, and when possible, to have them in color. I need to emphasize that if it is not possible to do everything in color, we will need to use some black and white reproductions. It is better to have a technically good reproduction than to have some poorly done copy of something. In the first grade we need to have pictures of fairy tales, and in the second, of legends. That is something we need to strictly maintain.

You can imagine the continuous and proper effect that will have upon the children's feelings. The only thing is that we cannot just take the pictures from picture books. They should be artistically done. It would be beneficial to set this as a task, not in some one-sided painting style, but such that everything has a general human feeling to it.

When we come to the third grade, we must take into account the state of the soul. What we hang on the walls should be what is normally called "still life" pictures of plants and of flowers. Of course, these should not be normal still lifes, but genuine representations of what is living, but not yet feeling. If we bring the children so far that they live into them with their souls, that will be good. We should save representations of the feeling of animals for the next grade because then the child's soul begins to relate to a portrayal of feeling. Only from that time on do children have a sense that they have feeling in themselves, even though that feeling may be quite dull. Pictures of animals that the children saw earlier in children's books have an effect such that the child cannot differentiate whether it is a picture of a real cow or a cow made of wood. Before about the age of nine or ten, children cannot differentiate in an inner living way between the picture of a real cow and a cow made of wood. However, at about that age, this capacity to differentiate begins.

In the fifth grade, when the children are ten or eleven years old, what is important is to choose pictures that show groups of people of differing ages, for instance, dancing groups, or, say, a street where people meet one another, so that you can say something to the children about it. You need groups of people so you can talk with the children about what occurs between those people.

We now come to the sixth grade. There, we should have individual human beings. You could have pictures of heads or of the whole person, for example, a person standing in nature, where nature comes to that person's aid. You could then draw the children's attention to what a sunny landscape is, or to one in the rain, but there should be a person in it such that the individual person is important. Perhaps a picture of a small lake where someone is rowing.

We have now come to the point where the material itself is less important and where the pictures should move more into the artistic. Here, we need to begin with the most artistic things. We must, of course, recall that if you cannot obtain good copies, then we should have black and white pictures. For the age of the children in the seventh grade, it would be good to have Raphael and Leonardo, things that can also remain in the eighth grade. You could divide these between the classes in both grades. What is important is that the children have these pictures in front of them. You should not believe that the proper thing to do is to choose the pictures so that they go in parallel to what is being taught. It is actually quite important that the children have the pictures before they are spoken about in art class. You should speak occasionally about the pictures, but, in general, the child's eyes should simply be occupied with the artistic aspect of the pictures. Children should first receive only a pure sense impression and know that we consider these pictures particularly beautiful. They have already been properly prepared since they knew that previously the pictures hanging on the walls were primarily important because of their content.

In the following classes, what is important is that you tactfully connect what is artistic with the practicalities of life, so that the children have both perspectives continually in front of themselves. Thus, in the ninth grade, you might have pictures from Giotto or similar things, and in the same class, pictures of other things, more technical, for instance, a meadow or a willow tree, a pine forest, and so forth, but not done artistically, rather, technically. Purely as examples, in the way that you might draw a plan. You could put those on one wall and hang other things on the back wall, for instance, paintings by Giotto. You could also have a star chart in the ninth grade where the various constellations are connected with some figure, with stylized figures of the heavens, as used to be done in star charts.

In the tenth grade, where you are dealing with fifteen and sixteen year olds, you should have pictures by Holbein and Dürer on the artistic side, and on the technical scientific side, you could have-other things would be possible-a drawing of everything in the sea, all the animals, and so forth. That would have to be drawn appropriately so that it was intellectually instructive, but also had an artistic effect upon the children.

Holbein and Dürer would remain for the eleventh grade, with perhaps the addition of Rembrandt. That would also continue in the following grades. You might also include some older paintings. At that age instruction can go in parallel. Thus, for the eleventh and twelfth grade, Holbein, Rembrandt, and Dürer.

On the technical side in the eleventh grade, you should hang something like a cross-section of the Earth or geological cross-sections or perhaps elevation charts and similar things. Only in the twelfth grade would you have physiological pictures, anatomic charts in addition to Holbein, Dürer, Rembrandt.

That is what we need as an ideal. Things look terrible now, but if you have an ideal before you, you can, at least under some circumstances, work in that direction, even if it takes a century,. It is better to have a good woodcut than much of what is hanging now. This is what I wanted to say to you about pedagogy. It is certainly necessary that we attend to an exceptionally good treatment of art in our pedagogy, since that definitely belongs to the total picture of the anthroposophical treatment of human progress.