Welcome to “Why Ruskin”

The intent of this website is to introduce its readers to the remarkable thought of the great 19th Century British Art and Social Critic, John Ruskin. Even though his is hardly a household name these days, it is my deep and enduring belief that Ruskin’s brilliant thought and carefully worked out ideas (always encased in glorious prose) still retain great relevancy for our modern days, offering new ways of thinking about and, quite possibly, if put into practice, alleviating or lessening many of the troubles which still beset us. But there is second level to Ruskin’s genius, his unparalleled ability to make the beauty of this world and life come alive. I am hopeful that, after reading some of the posts that follow you might be inclined to agree with these assessments.

If you are a First Time Visitor, I recommend you begin by reading the First Post: “An Introduction to this Site” (just click on this link). Using a number of Ruskin’s best quotes, this initial offering outlines the site’s history and goals. If, after reading it, you’d like to read other Posts, scroll up to the top of this screen and, under the banner, chose the Page, “Previous Posts in Sequence.” This will bring you to a list of all the site’s posts; chick on any one and you will be taken to it. The other Pages listed under the banner, “Writing Ruskin,” “Talks and Walks,” “Ruskin Resources,” and “Ruskin’s Life: A Radical Revision” will be self-explanatory as you open them.

The ten most recently published Posts can always be found in the right hand column. Click on any one and you will be taken to it. If you’d like to be notified of  new Posts as they publish, as I hope you will, click on the “FOLLOW” button at the top of the column and just type in your email address. (Questions, suggestions, or comments always welcome.) Also in the right column you will find a feature that allows you to view “Previous Posts by Topic,” and a very useful search engine (type in a word or phrase you are interested in).

If you’d like to read an overview explaining how I came to admire Ruskin as much as I do, complete with examples showing why I think that judgment is sound, you can have a look at my essay,  “Why Ruskin?”  The lovely drawing below–there are hundreds more (many are reproduced in the following Posts)!–is Ruskin’s

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196: Falling

Good Folks,

As we wend our various ways through these difficult days, all of which suggests future days we cannot see, it is perhaps not a bad idea to remind ourselves of the eternal verities, especially of those to which Mr. Ruskin constantly pointed us: namely, to the glories of nature, glories which, daily, call for our attention, attention which, given brings us joy and helps distract us from the routine and the sadness of our current world situation.

In which context , this story: Just a couple of days ago, as an unquestionable example of the supporting fors at work, I received an email from Frank Gordon, Ruskin lover, inveterate UK hiker with his wife Sheila, and artist (https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/1-frank-gordon). It seems that Frank and Sheila had recently been hiking up the mountain known as The Old Man high above Coniston Water in the Lake District. High too is that same mountain above Brantwood, Ruskin’s home on the east side the lovely lake below. As they reached the top, not surprisingly, the Gordons looked back, across the water, to Brantwood, to see this:

Brantwood in Fall 2020 (Frank Gordon)
Ruskin’s Brantwood in Fall, 2020 (Frank Gordon)

How wonderful this! As it happens, I have never been to Brantwood in high fall, so, for  me, the Gordons’ view was a revelation. As it should be. As in (from Modern Painters II):

The work of the great spirit of Nature is as deep and unapproachable in the lowest as in the noblest objects–the Divine Mind is as visible in its full energy of operation on the lowly bank and moldering  stone as in the lifting of the [great mountain] pillars of heaven, and in the settling of the foundation of the earth.

And to the rightly perceiving mind, there is the same infinity, the same majesty, the same power, the same unity, and the same perfection, manifest in the casting of the clay as in the scattering of the cloud, in the moldering of the dust as in the kindling of the day-star.

Which revealing got me thinking about home, and about our now fading fall over here, about, more specifically, the fall on display in some littler things. Such as:

Not a hundred yards from our house, on the edge of our glacial lake, Seneca by name, a profusion of sumac grows. Most of the year we give it a pass. We register it as nice, as dark green, with banana-shaped leaves that wave gingerly and engagingly in the wind. But that’s about it. Then, it, by this time, surely a little miffed by the inattention it has been accorded by so many summer passers-by, comes to its fall moments: 

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Astonishing, isn’t it? But, then, less than a hundred yards to the south, after having from some minutes absorbed this marvel, if we look carefully (the only way to look, Ruskin says), our eyes delight in a different sort of sumac, a variety unwilling to accede pride of place to its pretentious orange neighbor, doing, if the wind is blowing at all, its finest tarantella, in red:  

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While, just across the street, the locust, another of those almost-always-ignored-during-the-summer sweethearts, for the week and a half it has been allotted to bestow its blessings, dons its best yellow dress and… 

Fall 2020 Locust

While, a half block away, a Red Maple, having heard the tales about the pretentious red sumacs, commits all of its remaining life-force into its leaves:

Fall 2020 Red Maple

Which sights bring us back, from across another continent, to the Gordons’ view of Brantwood from the top of Coniston’s Old Man, where, it is worth mentioning, we have similarly inspiring views on this side of the Atlantic, as this picture of one of our largest Finger Lakes, Canandaigua, looking north from near the town of Naples, taken a week or so ago, suggests:

Which brings us back, finally, as it should, to Ruskin, and another of his reminders about how critical it is for each of us to find ways to absorb Nature into our lives. The passage comes from his first series of lectures to his Oxford students in 1869.

If it is not human design you are looking for, there is more beauty in the next wayside bank than in all the sun-blackened paper you could collect in a lifetime [he means photographs, then newly available]. Go and look at the real landscape, and take care of it. Do not think you can get the good of it in a black stain…in a folio.

But if you care for human thought and passion, then learn yourselves to watch the course and fall of the light by whose influence you live, and to share in the joy of human spirits in the heavenly gifts of sunbeam and shade. For I tell you truly, that to a quiet heart, and healthy brain, and industrious hand, there is more delight and use in the dappling of one wood-glade, with flowers and sunshine, than to the restless, heartless, and idle could be brought by a panorama of a belt of the world photographer round the equator. 

Fall is fast falling away for this year. May you find some ways to enjoy its last marvelous days whether you be in the UK, in North America, in India or Sri Lanka (where, as we now all know, Ruskin once was, and still, in his special way, remains: 194: Ruskin in Sri Lanka: Stories and Reflections in Celebration of Mahatma Gandhi’s 151st Birthday.

Do continue well out there.

Until next time.

Jim

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