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Understanding the very beginnings and influences of the creation of graphic design is helpful to any serious graphic design student. One of the first influential figures to lend his thoughts and weight on art, architecture and European culture was Rudolf Steiner.

Birth and Education

Born in 1861 in a small village in Austria, Rudolf Steiner became one of the most influential and controversial thinkers and activists until his death in Dornach, Switzerland in 1925. Formal education at university consisted of studies in mathematics, physics and chemistry with a main thesis on philosophy. Steiner was a man of many interests and thoughts, some spiritual and elusive, with many others practical to the every day condition. He would later earn a doctorate and be drawn into literary and scholarly circles in Viennese social and political life. During his lifetime he influenced art, culture and design by his innovative thoughts.

Early Work

By the 1890s, Steiner was working in Weimar at the Goethe archive for seven years editing Goethe’s scientific works while collaborating a complete edition of Schopenhauer’s work. As Weimar was a center of European culture at the time, it allowed Steiner to meet many prominent artists and cultural figures. In 1894 Steiner published his first important work, Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path: A Philosophy of Freedom.

Development of thought

By 1899, Steiner had become more affirmed in his radical thoughts and concerned friends considered him an “occultist.” With age and confidence, Steiner resisted the urge to hold back his thoughts on a variety of subjects. He felt called by the time he was living in to impart his thoughts on others.

Steiner studies a variety of areas from art and architecture to science and religion. In his scientific age, he felt only by forgetting the spiritual world temporarily, could new faculties be tapped to take full advantage of the material world thus experiencing true individual inner freedom.

Steiner’s Influence

Steiner saw the arts as crucial for translating spiritual science into social and cultural innovation. He felt natural science had to combine and interact with the human heart to achieve its potential. Steiner viewed architecture as a servant of human life.

Due to his unique thoughts teachers, doctors, farmers, academics, scientists, and theologians sought him out for his thoughts. The genesis for the Waldorf school movement originated with Steiner in creating a school for the children of factory employees at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory. The Waldorf schools concept has now spread all over the world.

Steiner influenced well known artists such as as Wassily Kandinsky , Piet Mondrian, and Joseph Beuys. He is also seen as one of the key initiators of organic architecture. With the help of many stenographers over the years, Steiner created over 330 volumes of his thoughts on numerous practical and spiritual fields.

150th Anniversary Retrospective

As a renaissance man of his time, Steiner is now being commemorated on the 150th anniversary of his birth with his first ever major retrospective of his artistic endevours at the Vitra Design Museum.

The exhibit explores Steiner’s influence in design, art and society. The exhibit also traces the impact of Steiner’s work in the Basel region of Switzerland which has become the to the leading international center of the anthroposophical movement founded by Steiner.

The Vitra Design Museum dates back to the early 1980s starting with the aim of documenting the history of the Vitra company, Vitra CEO Rolf Fehlbaum who began collecting the furniture of designers who had influenced the company’s development, such as Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson, Alvar Aalto, and Jean Prouve. As the collection grew, so did the desire for an architectural venue in which the objects could be displayed. Today, the Vitra Design Museum is internationally active as a cultural institution that has made a major contribution to the research and popular dissemination of design.