ruskin – passages


JOHN RUSKIN
from The study of Architecture in our schools.
All lovely architecture was designed for cities in cloudless air; for cities in which piazzas and gardens opened in bright populousness and peace; cities built that men 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 renders all ornament invisible in distance, and then chokes its interstices with soot; 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 labor; 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 . . . for a city, or cities, such as this no architecture is possible — nay, no desire of it is possible to their inhabitants. Hearts and Heads
From The Stones of Venice (vol. II, ch. VI)
“It is verily this degradation of the operative into a machine, which, more than any other evil of the times, is leading the mass of the national everywhere into vain, incoherent, destructive struggling for a freedom of which they cannot explain the nature themselves. Their universal outcry against wealth, 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 mean 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 mean are pained by the scorne 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 standing, a precipice between upper and lower grounds in the field of humanity, and there is pestilential air at the bottom of it.”
From The Analogy of Grace and Morals – The Elements of Drawing
What grace of manner and refinement of habit are in society, grace of line and refinement of form are in the association of visible objects. What advantage or harm there may be in sharpness, ruggedness, or quaintness in the dealings or conversations of 92 men; precisely that relative degree of advantage or harm there is in them as elements of pictorial composition. What power is in liberty or relaxation to strengthen or relieve human souls; that power precisely in the same relative degree, play and laxity of line have to strengthen or refresh the expression of a picture. And what goodness or greatness we can conceive to arise in companies of men, from chastity of thought, regularity of life, simplicity of custom, and balance of authority; precisely that kind of goodness and greatness may be given to a picture by the purity of its color, the severity of its forms, and the symmetry of its masses.
135. You need not be in the least afraid of pushing these analogies too far. They cannot be pushed too far; they are so precise and complete, that the farther you pursue them, the clearer, the more certain, the more useful you will find them. They will not fail you in one particular, or in any direction of inquiry. There is no moral vice, no moral virtue, which has not its precise prototype in the art of painting; so that you may at your will illustrate the moral habit by the art, or the art by the moral habit. Affection and discord, fretfulness, and quietness, feebleness and firmness, luxury and purity, pride and modesty, and all other such habits, and every conceivable modification and mingling of them, may be illustrated, with mathematical exactness, by conditions of line and color; and not merely these definable vices and virtues, but also every conceivable shade of human character and passion, from the righteous or unrighteous majesty of the king to the innocent or faultful simplicity of the shepherd boy.
Good Men: Good Art , from The Queen of the Air, lecture III
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 the characters of men, and of nations, in their art, as in a mirror; nay, as in a microscope, and magnified a hundredfold; for the character becomes passionate in the 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, be sure, you have him to the inmost. All that he likes, all that he sees,−−all that he can do,−−his imagination, his affections, his perseverance, his impatience, his clumsiness, cleverness, everything is there.
Whistler Symphony in Grey and green, Dudley Gallery, 1872; from Val D’Arno, lecture III
Status of the medieval Artist
The necessary consequence of this enthusiasm in useful building, 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 modern times, but entirely different in personal character, and relation to the body politic. Their personal character was founded on the accurate knowledge of their
business in all respects; the ease and pleasure of unaffected invention; and the true sense of power to do everything better than it had ever been yet done, coupled with general 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 modern 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 separate from the noblesse; [1] 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 artists 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.

[Footnote 1: The giving of knighthood to Jacopo della Quercia for his lifelong service to Siena was not the elevation of a dexterous workman, but grace to a faithful citizen.]
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 nonsense;) 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.

The Smallness of English Architecture, from the Seven Lamps of Architecture, ch. III
But I know not how it is, unless that our
English 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–thin, and wasted, and unsubstantial. It is not modern work
only; we have built like frogs and mice since the thirteenth 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 beehive 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 Chartres, or the dark and vaulted porches and writhed pillars of Verona! Of domestic architecture what need is there 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 formalised 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 windows recess, and our walls thickness, I know not how we can blame our architects for their feebleness in more important work; their eyes are inured to narrowness and slightness: can 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 men’s imaginations, 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.

The Division of Labour from the Stones of Venice, vol II, ch. IV
We have 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 it 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 that there might be some loss in it also. And the great cry that rises from our manufacturing cities, louder than their furnace blast, is all in very deed for this, — that we manufacture everything there except men; 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 one way: not by teaching nor preaching, for to teach them is but to show them their misery, and to preach at them, if we do nothing more than preach, is to mock at it. It can only be met by a right understanding, on the part of all classes, of what kinds of labour are good for men, raising them, and making them happy; by a determined sacrifice of such convenience or beauty, or cheapness as is to be got only by the degradation of the workman; and by equally determined demand for the products and results of healthy and ennobling labour.

The 19th century – from the Eagle’s nest, Lecture II
Yes, believe me, in spite of 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 bills,—we shall be remembered in history as the most cruel, and therefore the most unwise, generation of men that ever yet 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 much: no people, understanding facts, ever acted on them so little. You execrate the name of Eccelin of Padua, because he slew two thousand innocent persons to maintain his power; and Dante cries out against Pisa that she should be sunk in the sea, because, in revenge for treachery, she put to death, by the slow pangs of starvation, not the traitor only, but his children. But we men of London, we of the modern Pisa, slew, a little while since, five hundred thousand men instead of two thousand—(I speak in official terms, and know my numbers)—these we slew, all guiltless; and these we slew, not for defence, nor for revenge, but most literally in cold blood; and these we slew, fathers and children together, by slow starvation—simply because, while we contentedly kill our own children in competition for places in the Civil Service, we never ask, when once they have got the places, whether the Civil Service is done.

Railway Architecture, from The Seven lamps of Architecture, Ch. IV
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 are 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 there[Pg 117]fore, 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 admire anything. You might as well ask the wind. Carry him safely, dismiss him soon: he will thank you for nothing else. All attempts to please him in any other way are mere mockery, and insults to the things by which you endeavor to do so. There never was 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 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 workmen; 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 British Museum: or on the North Western, because there are old English-looking spandrils 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 put rings on the fingers of a smith at his anvil.

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