Welcome to “Why Ruskin”

The goal of this site is to introduce 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 in his paragraphs. I am hopeful that, after reading some of the posts you might be inclined to agree with these assessments.

If you are a First Time Visitor, I recommend that you begin by reading the First Post: “An Introduction to this Site” (to do this, just click on the underlined passage). 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, three are two options. You can go to the top of this screen and, under the banner, chose the Page, “Previous Posts in Sequence”; this will take you to a list of all of the site’s posts; chick any one and you will be taken to it. Alternatively, you can slide your cursor to the right side of this screen and click on the Drop Down “Previous Posts by Topic,” choose a “Category,” click on that, and a list will appear which names all the Posts which pertain to the topic. As a third option, if you’d like to read an overview explaining how I came to admire Ruskin as much as I do, complete with examples demonstrating why that judgment is sound, you can have a look at my essay,  “Why Ruskin?”

More information about Ruskin and myself will be found in the Pages which are listed on the navigation bar beneath the banner photographs. The most recently published Post can always be read below this “Welcome” note (just scroll down). If you’d like to be notified of  subsequent Posts as they publish, as I hope you will, just click on the “FOLLOW” button at the top of the right hand column and type in your email address.  Questions, suggestions, or comments are always welcome.  The lovely drawing–there are many more!–of a peacock’s and a falcon’s feather, is Ruskin’s.

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165: Light and Dark

Fine Folks,

A dear friend of mine, Alan Davis, once told me, when we were discussing the power of Ruskin’s writing during my early JR days, that, while a good book is always a delight, a great book is a thunderclap. It demands that you notice what it’s saying, and, once you’ve really done this, it frequently forces you to rethink things you had long thought needed no more thought.

Below’s a passage I consider to be of that special meteorological sort. You can find it at the very end of the third volume of The Stones of Venice (1853). It’s in Ruskin’s seventh appendix to that three-volumemasterpiece, and, for that reason, is probably overlooked much more often than not (who takes time to read appendices anyway, let alone the seventh of them?). He’s writing about the popular demand–then pretty new–that there should be universal education. He thinks it a fine idea in principle, but only when the education provided is tailored to meet the needs of a given group. It’s probably not useful, he would say, to use valuable time to teach high-level trigonometry to folks who will be spending their days doing something else of great use to us all, say farming. Would it not be much more profitable both to them and the rest of us if we spent the same amount of time teaching something which will be of great use to them, say, -in this case, the repair of farm vehicles?The cognitive mistake we always make, he says, in our press for universal education is in our uncritical acceptance of an assumption which would have us believe that all education is helpful, brings light to a place where, before, there was only darkness.

A thunderclap issue worthy of thought and debate, that, in its own right (happy to entertain comments in this direction if you’d like). But it was what followed his mention of this instructional issue that interested me on this particular morning, another of Ruskin’s turn-the-tables on his readers moments: his following comments on the role and importance of light and dark in our lives:

One great fallacy into which men are apt to fall when they are reasoning on this
subject is that light, as such, is always good, and darkness, as such, always evil.

Far from it. Light untempered would be annihilation. It is good to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. But, to those that faint in the wilderness, so also is the shadow of the great rock in a weary land. If the sunshine is good, so also the cloud of the later rain. Light is only beautiful, only available for life, when it is tempered with shadow–pure light is fearful, and unendurable by humanity.

And it is not less ridiculous to say that the light, as such, is good in itself, than to say that the darkness is good in itself. Both are rendered safe, healthy, and useful by the other–the night by the day, the day by the night… and our business is not to strive to turn the night into day, but to be sure that we are as they that watch for the morning.

Seneca Sunrise--wide angle--October 2019

Sunrise over Seneca Lake, October 2019

Mont Blanc Sunset October 2019

Sunset at Mont Blanc, October 2019

Ruskin--Rain Clouds

Ruskin: The Rain Clouds

Until next time.

Be well out there!

Jim

 

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