For the Russian actor, director and teacher Michael Chekhov (1891–1955), the essence of artistry in acting, as in any discipline, was transformation. He wrote extensively about ‘the hallmark of talent and the divine spark within the actor’ — the ‘ability to transform oneself totally’ — and explored this transformation in unusual depth in his teaching.
Chekhov was an Anthroposophist, a follower of the teachings of the spiritual philosopher Rudolf Steiner, and his association of artistry with divinity was not merely a turn of phrase, but a reflection of that belief system. Steiner posited intimate connections between the human and the divine, or between ‘the sense-perceptible world’ and ‘the spiritual realm’.
He taught a process of ‘clairvoyant perception’ by which he claimed that his followers would be able ‘to perceive the world we enter after death’ and thereby see beyond physical appearances and ‘move from the figure we perceive to the actual being.’ For Steiner, however, ‘clairvoyance’ was not only spiritual but artistic: he defined the artist by the capacity to ‘create in beauty a piece of the world, so that the image on canvas or in marble lets us see more of the world than we do on our own.’