WorthAttention is the personal initiative of Cliff Gorman. I am grateful for the encouragement and support of Taurus Crafts, The Camphill Village Trust, and Dirk Rohwedder in particular.
When I am reading anything, or listening to someone speak on a topic, I think it is useful to know of their practical experience and background; so it is perhaps only right to share a summary of mine.
I was one of those late developing 11+ failures in the U.K. who eventually made it to a technical school at 13. In many ways this was fortunate, for here I had a practical education very much slanted towards the sciences. It equipped me with an understanding of the machines and technology that help us all lead comfortable lives. I went on to teach physics and chemistry at ‘O', ‘A' and ‘S' level for 5 years, but began to feel uncomfortable with teaching science at a time when there appeared to be a real possibility of nuclear war.
I left teaching to take up growing plants, becoming Managing Director of a large wholesale nursery, supplying millions of plants to the burgeoning Garden Centre industry. And this is what it was - an industry - a business concerned with production targets and profits.
A chance meeting with Paul Cooper, a lecturer in art at the University of Lancaster, brought me firstly into the world of garden design and then art, and in particular, contemporary art. We formed a contemporary garden design company ‘Avant Gardens Ltd' and I registered the name Avant as a registered trade mark (since lapsed, and no connection with any existing businesses of that name). A cross between a planter and a piece of sculpture, designed by Paul and known as a ‘Harmonic Column' was exhibited as the first Avant Garden product at the Liverpool Garden Festival.
It was clear to us that, at that time, very few garden designers had attempted to incorporate modern materials and technologies into their work. Gardens had not moved with the times. As a way of drawing attention to this I produced a magazine called XpGar. It was launched in conjunction with the controversial ‘Cool and Sexy Garden' in the 1994 Chelsea Flower Show.
During this period I came across the work of Joseph Beuys and was particularly impressed with his epic environmental sculpture ‘7000 Oaks'. My interest in his work and ideas continues to intensify to this day.
Whilst reading Heiner Stachelhaus' book ‘Joseph Beuys', I learned that Beuys had been influenced by an Austrian philosopher, Rudolf Steiner. This was the first time I had come across the name. I delved deeper into his life and ideas and much (not all) seemed to make sense.
In the meantime Paul and I started consultancy work with a dynamic and progressive garden centre group (Jardinerie). Here the directors, in particular Ken Allen, concurred with the view that gardening is fundamentally a creative activity, and took on the challenge of providing a contemporary, design-conscious environment for their customers. At the same time we were all aware that garden centres - of all retail establishments - were best placed to lead the way on ‘going green'.
I believe, even now, that the vast majority of garden centres do not do enough to promote gardens as important door-step nature reserves, or sufficiently emphasise the importance of plants in the environment. Plants are usually sold as commodities.
Sensing that the advent of computers and the internet would bring about major changes in the way we handle knowledge and how we would make choices in what we buy, I made a brief sojourn into the e-world. This proved to be unwise. I was involved in things too remote from my experience. For me now, computers are useful tools. I have no wish to live and work in a virtual world, but appreciate that people who do, achieve really wonderful, useful results. I am not anti-technology.
Having by now joined a Steiner study group and having become acquainted with the breadth and depth of Steiner's philosophy the time was ripe for me to become practically involved. I accepted an offer of work at Taurus Crafts (see Resource Centre), a community enterprise successfully putting into practice the ideas of Rudolf Steiner.
Anyone who becomes acquainted with Steiner and his body of work soon learns that he provided numerous leads into many areas that require further research and that much of this research takes place in a building in Dornach, Switzerland, dubbed by Steiner, the ‘Goetheanum', after Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
One also learns that Steiner lived in Weimar, Germany for about seven years (where Goethe lived for over fifty years) and worked in the Goethe archives in order to write an authoritative account of all the scientific work that Goethe studied and published. It becomes obvious that Steiner's philosophy owes a lot to Goethe's world view.
The fact that Goethe, author of Faust, and seen by many as at least on par with Shakespeare, is still little known or regarded as an outstanding scientist (but not in ‘orthodox' scientific circles), is regrettable in my view.
My aim, therefore, is simply to draw to the attention of as many people as possible the works and ideas of Goethe, Steiner and Beuys. I do this not in any dogmatic, evangelistic way, but simply in order that others will at least know of, and be in a position to consider, an alternative way of viewing life. A way that sees nature as a whole. A way that sees life as more than accidental mechanical vitality. A way that values life as something purposeful, precious and awesome.