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Beauty is, according to spiritual science, the revelation of a spiritual entity in the outer sensual appearance.

„The beautiful is a manifestation of secret laws of nature, which would have remained eternally hidden from us without its appearance.“

Johann Wolfgang Goethe: Maximen und Reflexionen[1]

This is especially true for human beings themselves. To strive for beauty is therefore one of the three fundamental virtues of the initiate, along with wisdom and goodness. The expression of one's facial features, the gracefulness of one's movements, one's posture and one's entire outer conduct of life should thereby become more and more the expression of one's own inner being.

The cosmic origin of beauty

Beauty appears in the highest degree where the whole cosmos, the archetype of all beauty, is imaged in an earthly being with the help of the formative powers of the etheric body.

„But because a being is formed from the periphery of the universe, that which, according to the original meaning of this word, is the essence of "beauty", is imprinted upon it. Beauty is namely the imprint of the cosmos, with the help of the etheric body, in a physical earth being.“ (Lit.:GA 82, p. 57)

Cosmically, beauty has its origin on the Old Moon and will find its perfection on the New Venus.

„On the Moon then begins that which contains the aesthetic sphere. That will be completed on Venus. We can draw it something like this: Moon, Venus completed; so here we have the development of beauty. You see, this overlaps.“ (Lit.:GA 170, p. 88f)

Drawing from CW 88, p. 88
Drawing from CW 88, p. 88

According to Steiner's aesthetics, the beautiful is not the appearance of an ideal, an abstract spiritual, in a sensual dress, as the German idealists in particular thought, but the sensual is so elevated and ennobled in it that it itself already appears as a spiritual. Art, which seeks to make the beautiful appear, does not emerge from the intellect, but from the creative will full of wisdom.[2]

In nature outside, as in human life, that which is spiritually essential in it often appears only fragmentarily and incompletely and is concealed by many purely external coincidences. The task of the artist is to clear away the debris of unessential coincidences and to bring to full manifestation that which in nature and in human life is predisposed but not completed. Steiner's aesthetics are very largely based on Goethe's artistic work, who himself thought that beauty was "a manifestation of secret laws of nature, which would have remained hidden to us forever without its appearance"[3].

„Merck once described Goethe's work with the words: "Your endeavour, your undeviating direction is to give the real a poetic form; the others seek to realise the so-called poetic, the imaginative, and that gives nothing but stupid stuff. This says more or less the same thing as Goethe's words in the second part of "Faust": "Consider the what, more consider the how." It is clearly stated what is important in art. Not an embodiment of the supersensible, but a transformation of the sensual and actual. The real should not be reduced to a means of expression: no, it should remain in its full independence; only it should be given a new form, a form in which it satisfies us. When we lift any individual being out of the circle of its surroundings and place it before our eyes in this separate position, many things about it will at once appear incomprehensible to us. We cannot reconcile it with the concept, with the idea, on which we must necessarily base it. Its formation in reality is not only the consequence of its own lawfulness, but the adjoining reality is directly co-determining. If the thing could have developed independently and freely, uninfluenced by other things, then only would it have lived its own idea. The artist must seize this idea, which underlies the thing but is disturbed in its free development in reality, and bring it to development. He must find in the object the point from which an object can be developed in its most perfect form, but in which it cannot develop in nature itself. Nature falls short of her intention in every single thing; beside this plant she creates a second, a third, and so on; none of them brings the full idea to concrete life; one this side, the other that side, as far as circumstances permit. But the artist must go back to what appears to him as the tendency of nature. And this is what Goethe means when he expresses his creative work in the words: "I do not rest until I find a concise point from which much can be derived." In the case of the artist, the whole exterior of his work must express the whole interior; in the case of the natural product, that falls short of it, and the inquiring human spirit must first recognise it. Thus the laws according to which the artist proceeds are nothing other than the eternal laws of nature, but pure, uninfluenced by any inhibition. It is not what is, therefore, that underlies the creations of art, but what could be, not what is real, but what is possible. The artist creates according to the same principles according to which nature creates; but he treats the individuals according to these principles, whereas, to use a Goethean phrase, nature matters nothing for the individuals. "She always builds and always destroys" because she does not want to achieve perfection with the individual but with the whole. The content of a work of art is something that is sensuously real - this is the what; in the form that the artist gives it, his endeavour is to surpass nature in its own tendencies, to achieve what is possible with its means and laws to a greater degree than it is itself capable of.

The object that the artist places before us is more perfect than it is in its natural existence; but it does not carry any perfection other than its own in itself. In this going beyond itself, but only on the basis of what is already hidden in it, lies beauty. The beautiful, then, is not unnatural; and Goethe can rightly say: "The beautiful is a manifestation of secret laws of nature which, without its appearance, would have remained eternally hidden," or in another place: "To whom nature begins to reveal its open secret, he feels an irresistible longing for its most worthy interpreter, art." In the same sense in which one can say that the beautiful is unreal, untrue, that it is mere appearance, for what it represents is nowhere to be found in this perfection in nature, one can also say that the beautiful is truer than nature, in that it represents what nature wants to be and only cannot be. Goethe says about this question of reality in art: "The poet" - and we can extend his words quite well to the whole of art - "the poet is dependent on representation. The highest of these is when it competes with reality, that is, when its depictions are so alive through the spirit that they can be regarded as present for everyone." Goethe finds, "There is nothing beautiful in nature that is not motivated as true by natural law." And the other side of appearance, the surpassing of the essence by itself, we find expressed as Goethe's view in "Proverbs in Prose": "In the blossoms the vegetal law enters into its highest appearance, and the rose would only be the summit of this appearance again ... The fruit can never be beautiful, for there the vegetal law recedes into itself (into mere law)." Now, there we have it quite clearly, where the idea forms and lives itself out, there the beautiful enters, where we directly perceive the law in the outer appearance; where, on the other hand, as in the fruit, the outer appearance appears formless and clumsy, because it betrays nothing of the law underlying the formation of the plant, there the natural thing ceases to be beautiful. Therefore the same saying goes on to say: "The law that enters into the appearance, in the greatest freedom, according to its own most peculiar conditions, brings forth the objective-beautiful, which of course must find worthy subjects by whom it is apprehended." And this view of Goethe's appears in the most decisive manner in the following statement, which we find in the Conversations with Eckermann (III. 108): "The artist must, of course, faithfully and piously reproduce nature in detail ... but in the higher regions of the artistic process, by which a picture becomes a picture proper, he has a freer play, and here he may even proceed to fictions." Goethe describes the highest task of art as "to give the illusion of a higher reality through appearance. A false endeavour, however, is to realise appearances until at last only a common reality remains."“ (Lit.:GA 271, p. 13ff)

Beauty is the appearance of the spiritual through an exterior

Beauty, as Rudolf Steiner conceives it, thus arises when an inner spiritual is made to appear outwardly in a sensuous image, and the sensuous is thereby so heightened that it already appears as a spiritual:

„The word "beautiful" embraces all words which in all languages mean that an inner, spiritual thing appears in an outer biIde. "To be beautiful" means that an inner thing appears outwardly. And even today we associate the best concept with the word beauty if we keep in mind that in the beautiful object an inner spiritual being appears in the physical image as on the surface. We call something beautiful when we see the spiritual shining through, so to speak, in the outer sensuality. When is a marble work beautiful? When it awakens the illusion in the outer form: the spiritual lives in it. The appearance of the spiritual through the external, that is the beautiful.“ (Lit.:GA 122, p. 137)

„For what then appears? That which we see with the senses need not appear to us, it is there. That which appears to us, that which therefore radiates in the sensuous, announces its being in the sensuous, is the spiritual. Thus, by speaking objectively of the beautiful as beautiful, we grasp the artistically beautiful from the outset as a spiritual that lives itself out in the world through art. For once it is incumbent upon art to grasp what appears, the radiance, the revelation of that which as spirit weaves and lives through the world. And all real art seeks the spiritual. Even if art wants to depict the ugly, the repulsive, it does not want to depict the sensual-oppressive, but the spiritual, which announces its essence in the sensual-oppressive. The ugly can become beautiful when the spiritual apparently reveals itself in the ugly. But it must be so, the relationship to the spiritual must always be there, if an artistic thing is to appear beautiful.“ (Lit.:GA 276, p. 92f)

The subjective perception of beauty

Whether the objectively characterised beauty is also perceived as such, however, depends on further, subjective factors. As is well known, taste is not a matter of dispute, it is a question of personal experience - and rightly so. In the case of aesthetic sensation, we are dealing with a twofold issue. On the one hand, the formative forces of the work of art have an immediate effect within the human being on the etheric body and the physical body. This process remains largely unconscious at first. On the other hand, there is the conscious external perception of the work of art by means of the astral body and the I.

„You perceive an object that you look at in this way, firstly, because it exerts a certain effect on you, on the physical and etheric body. This is the one current, I would say, that comes to you from the beautiful object, the current that goes to the physical and to the etheric body, regardless of whether you have a painting, a sculpture or anything else in front of you, the effect happens on the physical and etheric body. In addition, you experience in the I and in the astral body that which is outside. You actually experience a double perception. And depending on your ability to bring one into harmony or disharmony with the other, you find the object in question beautiful or ugly. What is beautiful in all circumstances is that on the one hand your I and astral body, on the other hand your physical and etheric body vibrate together, come into harmony with each other. There must be an inner process, an inner procedure, so that you can experience something as beautiful.“ (Lit.:GA 176, p. 112f)

„If we did not have the possibility of dreaming and the continuation of this dreaming power in our inner being, we would have no beauty. That we have any dispositions for beauty at all is based on the fact that we can dream. For the prosaic existence we must say: we owe it to the dream power that we have a memory; for the artistic existence of man we owe beauty to the dream power. So: the dream state is connected with beauty. The way in which we feel a beautiful thing and create a beautiful thing is very similar to the weaving, working power of dreaming.“ (Lit.:GA 228, p. 52)

Beauty of the body as a karmic consequence of pain

The beauty of the physical body, like wisdom, is often a karmic consequence of physical and mental suffering and pain endured in a previous incarnation.

„The beauty of the physical body is many times, not always, but very often a consequence of suffering endured in the previous life. Suffering in the previous life - physical suffering and also soul suffering - becomes beauty in a next life, the beauty of the outer physical body. It is really in these cases that one may use a comparison which I have often applied. What is the origin of the beautiful pearl in the pearl oyster? Actually through a disease, it is the result of a disease. In a karmic context, there is also a process that shows the connection between illness, suffering, and beauty. This beauty is often bought with suffering and illness.“ (Lit.:GA 96, p. 114)

Spider creatures

Main article: Spider-creatures

Spider-creatures are abnormal elementary beings that first awaken the sense for real art in humans. They are always to be found in the vicinity of artists and works of art, but are very difficult to observe with clairvoyance and are by no means of a luciferic nature, as one might erroneously assume. These spider-like beings are virtually archetypes of ugliness and live predominantly in the water and air elements. They belong to the same elementary kingdom as the sylphs and undines, with whom, however, they are in constant battle. Unlike the regular elementary beings, they are in descending development (Lit.:GA 219, p. 78ff).


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English.
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.


  1. Johann Wolfgang Goethe: Maximen und Reflexionen. Aphorismen und Aufzeichnungen. Nach den Handschriften des Goethe- und Schiller-Archivs hrsg. von Max Hecker, Verlag der Goethe-Gesellschaft, Weimar 1907. Aus Kunst und Altertum, 4. Bandes 2. Heft, 1823
  2. As an after-effect of German idealism, art was increasingly seen, especially in the German-speaking world, as the embodiment of more or less abstract ideas, ideals or even ideologies. As a result, the understanding of beauty was largely lost. It is a basic evil of artistic creation if the artist wants to think beforehand what he is supposed to create afterwards. Art must spring from direct action. Reflection may only begin when the work has already been completed. Until then, thinking must be limited to purely practical questions of craft and must not interfere with the actual process of artistic creation.
  3. Goethe: Sprüche in Prosa