“The Whole Earth considered as an economic organism, is the social organism.” Lecture Series in World Economy, Rudolf Steiner
Reading this book I still contemplate the role of art in the threefold social order. These issues, from my perspective, have been tangentially debated in the school of art where I work, not necessarily with the perspective of an anthroposophical world view, but as a mater of contemporary process. What role does money play in the arts? To what extent, as art educators, do we prepare our students for the profession of art? How will they make money after they are graduated and how will they sustain their artistic practice? Should we as artists and educators be apologetic about the often assumed impracticality of an art degree, which is idealistic at its foundation? Since the artist is a laborer, in some degree like any other laborer, how do they participate in the the economic social organism and maintain their idealistic purpose as artists. Some of the things that were learned by the transitions from modernism to post modernism, is that art can be viewed as an extremely lucrative commodity (for better or worse), and that funding for the arts, cannot be ultimately dependent on the government, especially if it wishes to remain free.
After a lull I have returned to write down a few more thoughts on reading Steiner’s lectures on World Economy. At the time of Steiner’s lectures, World Economy was an emerging idea, now it is an accepted, though often troubling, fact. Steiner, despite the esoteric nature of his ideas, dealt in practicalities. He stressed the idea that money must always be perceived in its relationship to nature and labor directly associated with nature, commodities from nature as worked upon by labor. Art and artists, though their materials come from nature and they are also physical laborers to some extent, are categorized with the prototypes of priests, teachers, and clerks as spiritual laborers. The fruits of their labor find value in direct relation to labor associated with nature, cultivating the land for food and hunting are the first examples of this that come to mind and while even these have aspects of spiritual labor, they are more directly associated with nature and associated with natural process, the part of us that is also of nature and by necessity needs food , shelter and clothing.
The world as we know it today, Has exploded from the examples of spirit labor, priests, teachers, clerks, and artists, to a world in which many of us, if not most are now in professions of specialization that might be classed as spirit labour. We all still rely on nature labor and the wages or compensation we earn, is in direct relation and proportion to the offsetting of labor we are not required to do to feed cloth and shelter ourselves.
Steiner does not suggest that we should return to a simpler time. On the contrary he seeks to clarify and balance these relationships, not abolish them, The same goes for the role of land, capitol, investment, loans, profit, and gifting, among other concepts associated with the then newly emerging science of economics. He was establishing the groundwork for a healthy and vital social organism that would sustain and propel the complex evolutionary processes of human development.
If we, as artists see these relationships, we cannot deny our role as spirit laborers, but also cannot separate ourselves entirely from the role of money and the need for ordinary compensation for our work. In order to remain free, as artists and spiritual laborers, however, we have to dig deeper. Here is where a deeper understanding of the threefold social organism is essential. We as world citizens, and as citizens of our, nation, state and communities, are a part of all three spheres, the cultural, the rights, and the economic spheres. Even though we are more invested in the cultural sphere, we cannot ignore our part in the others, as whole and integrated human beings.