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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235: Moving the Needle

Frirnds,

From the moment he was born, John Ruskin was taught that, simply but crucially, because he had been born a human being, he was charged with making a difference for Good in the World. The lesson was reinforced time and again. His considerable powers had been granted him, he was told, by the great Spirit whose deepest desire was that the creatures He had created would live happy and joyous lives in the World He had also created. Never, throughout his long life, did Ruskin doubt the validity of this teaching and its attendant injunction.

He began adult life, as we know, as a critic of art, establishing himself in the process, as his books and essays published, as one of the great literary figures of the age. As I have mentioned often in these Posts, he rose each morning with a singular thought in mind: “How can I do something during this day which has been granted me which will ease the passage of my fellow human beings, or, at the least, bring them some greater measure of pleasure, joy, or understanding? How. in short, can I move the needle, however small that shifting might be, toward the Good?”

The quote illustrated above is one of his most often remembered. It was a a message Ruskin repeated time and again in his writings in one guise or another. Here, from the moving Epilogue to the last, fifth, volume of Modern Painters, (edition of 1890) is one complete version of that teaching:

Fix, then, in our mind that the guiding principle of all right practical labor is that the objective of all life is to be helpful. Your art is to be the praise of something that you love. It may be only the praise of a shell or a stone; it may be the praise of a hero; it may be the praise of God. Your rank as a living creature is determined by the height and breadth of your love. But, be you small or great, all healthy art that is possible to you must be the expression of your true delight in a real thing, better than the art.

This is the main lesson I have been teaching,, so far as I have been able, through my whole life. Only that picture is Noble which is painted in love of the reality, It is a Law which embraces the highest scope of art; it is one also which guides in security the first steps of it. If you desire to draw and love the thing which you wish to represent, you will advance swiftly and readily. If you desire to draw so that you may make a beautiful drawing, you will never make one.

And this simplicity of purpose is further useful in closing all discussions of the respective grace or admirableness of method. The Best Painting is that which most completely represents what it undertakes to represent, as the best language is that which was clearly says what it undertakes to say.

And here, in illustration of his great principle of life and its charge are a few examples of some things our subject loved and thought worthy of his painted praise (all are watercolors, currently housed and protected in institutions in the UK and North America, that being the medium at which he most excelled and in which he most delighted): a seashell, a stone (a gneiss boulder in the Swiss Alps), a peacock’s feather, an apple, a branch of leaves in Fall. and, for wider perspective, a study of mountains and clouds (also in the Alps) …

… not bad for a man who never considered himself a true artist.

And so, Good Friends, until our next Post, please do continue well out there, while, in your several ways, you consider how to move the needle.

🙂

Jim

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