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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211: On Living (Happily) in Ignorance

Ruskin always had some sort of plan for what he would write. But he was also wise enough to know that the creative process flowed as often as it logically progressed. His peripatetic mind, ever active on many subjects and levels, was constantly sorting, reorganizing, surprising itself. If a new insight or understanding suddenly appeared while he was composing, as often as not, if he thought it would not distract from the argument he was making, he would just include his new thoughts in his emerging manuscript, hopeful that it would prove helpful to his readers. This was one of the characteristics that made his writing so engaging; readers were constantly being surprised, often delighted, as they turned a new page. only to discover something they had never suspected. Such is the case, I believe, with the the passage that occasioned today’s Post.

It appears near the beginning of Modern Painters IV (Modern Painters III and IV, were each over 500 pages long [!!]; and were published simultaneously in 1856).

Always a deep student of Plato, Ruskin was well-aware of the famous passage in The Republic where the Greek master, using Socrates as his voice, laments about how little we actually know. It was a topic with which Ruskin’s genius struggled all his days. In letters and numerous comments to friends, he frequently laments about how little he knows about so many things of import–frustrations and ruminations that finally led him to the conclusion that enduring, extensive, and profound ignorance was the fate of human beings: the world was simply too large and its mysteries too many and immense for us to make much of a dent in them during our brief span. In which context, readers of the fifth chapter of the fourth volume of Modern Painters, already having made their  way through nearly 600 pages of text, might have been surprised to find the following paragraphs in a book whose raison d’être was nothing other than to determine – for all time as Ruskin saw it! – the qualities that made some art great and some pedestrian:

Our happiness as thinking beings must depend on our being content to accept only partial knowledge even in those matters that chiefly concern us. If we insist on perfect intelligibility and complete declaration on every subject, we shall instantly fall into the misery of unbelief. Our whole happiness and power of energetic action depend on our being able to breathe and live in the cloud—in being content to see it opening here and closing there; and rejoicing to catch, through the thinnest films of it, glimpses of stable and substantial things– yet perceiving Nobleness even in the concealment,  and rejoicing that the kindly veil is spread where the untempered light might have scorched or the infinite clearness wearied.

I think that every rightly-constituted mind ought to rejoice, not so much in knowing anything clearly, as in feeling that there is infinitely more which you cannot know. None but weak people will mourn over this–for we may always know more if we choose by working on; but the pleasure is, I think to humble people, in knowing that the mystery is endless and the treasure inexhaustible – in watching the clouds march before us to the end of time and the length of eternity; in realizing that the mysteries of infinity will still open further and further, their very present dimness being the sign and necessary adjunct of their inexhaustibleness.

I believe that resentment of this interference is one of the forms of proud error that are too easily mistaken for virtues. To be content in darkness and ignorance is indeed unmanly; and therefore we think that to love light and seek knowledge must always be right. Yet, wherever pride has any share in the work, even knowledge and light may be ill- pursued. Knowledge is good and light  is good, yet man perished in seeking knowledge, and moths parish in seeking light; and if we, who are crushed before the moth, will not accept the mysteries that remain for us, we shall perish in like manner...

Happy seeking in the day-gifts emerging before you! Do please stay well out there!!

Until next time!



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