John Ruskin and William Morris were nearly contemporaries, Ruskin born 15 years earlier than Morris. Both men pursued meaning via art and both men were significant contributors to the world, as commentators on art, and as social commentators on the need for men to address the deep necessity to include appreciation and practice of art within their daily life. Their preoccupation with the understanding that economic criteria should not be the ruling criteria over men’s lives is echoed in Ellen Dissonayakes more modern writing about the importance of the common man making things, ‘ making special’.
In William Morris’s words,
“These arts, I have said, are part of a great system invented for the expression of a man’s delight in beauty: all peoples and times haveused them; they have been the joy of free nations, and the solace of oppressed nations; religion has used and elevated them, has abused and degraded them; they are connected with all history, and are clear teachers of it; and, best of all, they are the sweeteners of human labour, both to the handicraftsman, whose life is spent in working in them, and to people in general who are influenced by the sight of them at every turn of the day’s work: they make our toil happy, our rest fruitful.”
Ruskin became an important influence of a wide variety of men of repute, and he wrote about an array of subject matter emphasizing the connections between nature, art and men. Tolstoy described Ruskin as, “one of the most remarkable men not only of England and of our generation, but of all countries and times”. Not a bad review from a fellow thinker. T.S. Eliot, W. B Yeats and Ezra Pound all felt his influence, and Gandhi was so impressed by his work ‘Unto This Last’ that he wrote a version in Gujurati (The SarvdayaThis is a very brief glimpse into the work and influence of two remarkable Victorians, who I consider to be preoccupied with the same considerations that still test us all, How to live a purposeful and meaningful life, how to bring our own sense of creativity to our own lives, and more critically, how to maintain our humanity within a technologically driven economic context. Ruskin would have been blogging today, he had alot to say over a myraid of subjects. HIs verbose style is perhaps anachronistic in our era, but the message is as true now as ever. I will however give William Morris the last words. Just because I can. ( I love his wallpapers too).
So I will say that I believe there are two virtues much needed i in modern life, if it is ever to become sweet; and I am quite sure thatthey are absolutely necessary in the sowing the seed of an ART WHICH IS TO BE MADE BY THE PEOPLE AND FOR THE PEOPLE, AS A HAPPINESS TO THE MAKER AND THE USER. These virtues are honesty, and simplicity of life. To make my meaning clearer I will name the opposing vice of the second of these–luxury to wit. Also I mean by honesty, the careful and eager giving his due to every man, the determination not to gain by any man’s loss, which in my experience is not a common virtue.
And in all I have been saying, what I have been really urging on you
is this–Reverence for the life of Man upon the Earth: let the past
be past, every whit of it that is not still living in us: let the
dead bury their dead, but let us turn to the living, and with
boundless courage and what hope we may, refuse to let the Earth be
joyless in the days to come.