John Ruskin, the storm cloud
John Ruskin on architecture
The Analogy of Arts And Morals
Great art is the expression of the mind of a great man,and mean art, that of the want of mind of a weak man. A foolish person builds foolishly, and a wise one, sensibly; a virtuous one, beautifully; and a vicious one, basely. If stone work is well put together, it means that a thoughtful man planned it, and a careful man cut it, and an honest man cemented it. If it has too much ornament, it means that its carver was too greedy of pleasure; if too little, that he was rude, or insensitive, or stupid and the like. So that when once you have learned how to spell these most precious of all legends,-pictures and buildings,- you may read_ it ^««wtifr xrf man, and of nations, in their artfas -»-» ** mirror; -nay, as in a microscppft-0– * -~-<^-‘■■«■•*–* ->. -rtttndredfold; for the character be-l .—> passionate in tìie art, and intensifies itself in all its noblest or meanest delights. Nay, not only as in a microscope, but as under a scalpel, and in dissection for a man may hide himself from you, or misrepresent himself to you, every other way but he cannot in his work: there, te.aure, you have him to the inmost. Ali that he likes, all that he sees, all that he can do,-his imagination, his affections, his perseverance, his im-patience, his clumsiness, cleverness, everything is there.Status of the Medieval Artist
The necessary consequences of this enthusiasm in useful build¬ing, was the formation of a vast body of craftsmen and architects; corresponding in importance to that which the railway, with its associated industry, has developed in modem times, but entirely different in personal character, and relation to the body politic.
Their personal character was founded on the accurate know-ledge of their business in all respects; the ease and pleasure of unaffected invention; and the true sense of power to do every-thing better than it had ever been yet done, coupled with gene¬ral contentment in life, and in its vigour and skill.
It is impossible to overrate the difference between such a condition of mind, and that of the modem artist, who either does not know his business at all, or knows it only to recognize his own inferiority to every former workman of distinction.
Again the political relation of these artificers to the State was that of a caste entirely separated from the noblesse; paid for their daily work what was just, and competing with each other to supply the best article they could for the money. And it is, again, impossible to overrate the difference between such a social condition and that of the artist of to-day, struggling to occupy a position of equality in wealth with the noblesse,-paid irregular and monstrous prices by an entirely ignorant and selfish public; and competing with each other to supply the worst article they can for the money.
I never saw anything so impudent on the walls of any exhibition, in any country, as last year in London. It was a daub professing to be a “harmony in pink and white” (or some such non-sense);absolute rubbish, and which had taken about a quarter of an hour to scrawl or daub -it had no pretence to be called painting. The price asked for it was two hundred and fifty guineas.
(Whistler, Symphony in Grey and Green, Dudley Gallery,l872) From Val d’Arno. lecture III.The Smallness of English Architecture
But I know not how it is, unless that our 3nglish hearts have more oak than stone in them, and have more filial sympathy with acorns than Alps; but all that we do is small and mean, if not worse -thjn, and wasted, and unsubstantial. It is not modem work only; we have built like frogs and miee sino e the 13th century (except only in our castles).What a contrast between the pitiful little pigeon-holes which stand for doors in the east front of Salisbury, looking like the entrances to a bee-hive or a wasp’s nest, and the soaring arches and kingly crowning of the gates of Abbeville, Rouen, and Rheims, or the rock-hewn piers of Garters, or the dark and vaulted porches and writhed pillars of Verona! Of domestic architecture what need’ is ther3 to speak? How small, how cramped, how poor, how miserable in its petty neatness is our best! how beneath the mark of attack, and the level of contempt, that which is common with us! What a strange sense of formalized deformity, of shrivelled precision, of starved accuracy, of minute misanthropy have we, as we leave even the rude streets of Picardy for the market towns of Kent! Until that Street architecture of ours is bettered, until we give it some size and boldness, until we give our
We expect them at a word to conceive and deal with breadth and solidity? They ought not to live in our cities; there is that in their miserable walls which bricks up to death raen’s iniagination, as surely as ever perished forsworn nun. An architect should live as little in cities as a painter. Send him to our hills, and let him study there what nature understands by a buttress, and what by a dome.
[from The Seven Lamps of Architecture, ch.III]Railway Architecture
Another of the strange and evil tendencies of the present day is to the decoration of the railroad station. Now, if there be any place in the world in which people are deprived” of that portion of temper and discretion which is necessary to the contemplation of beauty, it is there.
It is the very temple of discomfort, and the only charity that the builder can extend to us is to show us, plainly as may be, how soonest to escape from it.
The whole system of railroad travelling is addressed to people who, being in a hurry, are therefore, for the time being, miserable No one would travel in that manner who could help it -who had time to go leisurely over hills and between hedges, instead of through tunnels and between banks: at least, those who would have no sense of beauty so acute as that we need consult it at the station. The railroad is in all its relations a matter of earnest business, to be got through as soon as possible. It transmutes a man from a traveller into a living parcel. For the time he “has parted with the nobler characteristics of his humanity for the sake of a planetary power of locomotion. Do not ask him to ad mire anything. You might as well ask the wind. Carry him safely, dismiss him soon:he will thank you for nothing else.
Ali attempts to please him in any other way are mere mockery, and insults to the things by which you endeavour to do so. There never was a more flagrant nor impertinent folly than the smallest portion of ornament in anything concerned with railroads or near them. Keep them out of the way, take them through the ugliest country you can find, confess them but the miserable things they are, and spend nothing upon them but for safety and speed. Give large salaries to efficient servants, large prices to’ good manufacturers, large wages
to able worker let the iron be tough, and the brickwork solid, and the carriages strong. The time is perhaps not distant when these first necessities may not be easily met and to increase expense in any other direction is madness. Better bury gold in the embankments than put it in ornaments on the stations. Will a single traveller be willing to pay an increased fare on the South Western, because the columns of the terminus are covered with patterns from Nineveh? -he will only care less for the Ninevite ivories in the BritishMuseum: or on the North Western, because they are old English-looking spandrels to the roof of the station at Crewe? he will only have less pleasure in their prototypes at Crewe House. Railroad architecture has, or would have, a dignity of its own if it were only left to its work. You would not
All lovely architecture and was designed for cities in cloudless air; for cities in which piazzas and gardens opened in bright populous ness and peace; cities built that man might live happily in them, and take delight daily in each other’s presence and powers. But our cities, built in black air which, by its accumulated foulness, first render all ornament invisible in distance, and then chokes its interstices with sooth; cities which are mere crowded masses of store, and warehouse, and counter, and are therefore to the rest of the world what the larder and cellar are to a private house; cities in which the object of men is not life, but labour; and in which all chief magnitude of edifice is to enclose machinery; cities in which the streets are not the avenues for the passing and procession of a happy people, but the drains for the discharge of a tormented mob, in which the only object in reaching any spot is to be transferred to another; in which existence becomes mere transition, and every creature is only one agora. in a drift of human dust, and current of inter-changing particles, circulating here by tunnels underground, and there by tubes in the air; for a city or cities, such as this no architecture is possible -nay, no desire of it is possible to their inhabitants.
[From The Study of Architecture in our Schools.]
The Degradation of Labour
It is verily this d3gradation of the operative into a ma¬chine, which, more than any other evil of the times, is leading the mass of the nations everywhere into vain, incoherent, destructive struggling for a freedom of which they cannot explain the nature to themselves.
Their universal outcry against wealth, and against nobility, is not forced from them either by the pressure of famine, or the sting of mortified pride. These do much and have done much in all ages; but the foundations of society were never yet shaken as they are at this day.
It is not that men are ill fed, but that they have no pleasure in the work by which they make their bread, and therefore look to wealth as the only means of pleasure. It is not that men are pained by the scorn of the upper classes, but they cannot endure their own for they feel that the kind of labour to which they are condemned is verily a degrading one, and makes them less than men.
Never had the upper classes so much sympathy with the lower, or charity for them, as they have at this day, and yet never were they so much hated by them; for ,of old, the separation between the noble and the poor was merely a wall built by law; now it is a veritable difference in level of stand¬ing, a precipice between upper and lower grounds in the field of humanity, and there is pestilential air at the bottom of it.
[The stones of Venice . Vol .II. cap. VI]
The Division of Labour
We nave much studied and much perfected, of late the great
civilized invention of the division of labour; only we give
it a false name* It is not, truly speaking, the labour that is divided; but the men:-divided into mere segments of men-broken into small fragments and crumbs of life; so that all the little piece of intelligence that is left in a man is not enough to make a pin, or a nail, but exhausts itself in making the point of a pin or the head of a nail. Now it is a good and desirable thing, truly, to make many pins in a day; but if we could only see with what crystal sand their points were polished,- sand of human soul, much to be magnified before it can be discerned for what it is-we should think there might be some loss in it also. And the great cry that rises from all our manufacturing cities, louder than their furnace blast, is all in very deed for this,- that we manufacture everything there except non; we blanch cotton, and strengthen steel, and refine sugar, and shape pottery but to brighten, to strengthen, to refine, or to form a single living spirit, never enters into our estimate of advantages. And all the evil to which that cry is urging our myriads can be met only in owe way: not by teaching nor preaching, for to teach them is but to show them their misery, and to preach to them, if we do nothing more than preach, is to mock at it. It can be met only by a right under-standing, on the_ part of all classes, of what kinds of labour are good for men, raising them, and ranking them happy; by a determined sacrifice of such convenience or beauty, or cheapness as is to be got only by degradation of the workman and by equally determined demand for the products as results of healthy and ennobling labour.
[Prom The Stones of Venice,VolII,ch.VI.]
The 19th century
Yes, believe me, in spite of all our political liberality, and poetical philanthropy; in spite of our almshouses, hospitals, and Sunday-schools; in spite of our missionary endeavours to preach abroad what we cannot get believed at home; and in spite of our wars against slavery, indemnified by the presentation of ingenious bilia,-we shall be remembered in history as the most cruel, and therefore the most unwise, generation of men that ever troubled the earth:-the most cruel in proportion to their sensibility,-the most unwise in proportion to their science.
No people, understanding pain, ever inflicted so roach: no people understanding facts, ever acted on them so little.
[From The Eagle’s Nest. Lecture II]