Boy are you in for a treat today!!! Recently I have been researching some Pre Raphaelite art as a favour to a fellow crafter, and in pursuing said research , I was distracted by a fabulous volume written by the critic John Ruskin, ‘Stones of Venice’ in which he praises the achievements of the massive numbers of common workers who laboured with skill, patience, and reverence on the great Gothic structures of medieval Europe. This treatise on architecture has been described not simply in terms of scholarship, but also as a work of art in itself.
I havn’t indulged to the degree of now being versed in the history or topography of archtitecture – I barely slipped over the surface- but the passages I have read can be understood as deeper messages than understanding that area of interest. I will admit to having to overlook his many allusions to a Victorian God, but he was of his time and I am of mine. Although I confess to a more agnostic outlook, I can see the virtue in believing in a connecting thread through time and space (albeit not Ruskins vision).
I hope you see value in the passages I have recorded below – ( a labour of love since I couldn’t copy and paste and had to type it out!) It shouts loudly to me about ignoring the clarion call to give yourself a brand identity and express yourself in all endeavour simply with integrity, for the satisfaction that brings of itself. Oh Ruskin!! I hear you!!!
…for it is necessary first to teach men to speak out, and say what they like, truly; and in the second place, to teach them which of their likings are ill set, and which justly. If a man is cold in his likings and dislikings, or if he will not tell you what he likes, you can make nothing of him. Only get him to feel quickly and to speak plainly, and you may set him right. And the fact is, that the great evil of all recent architectural effort has not been that men liked wrong things; but that they either cared nothing about any, or pretended to like what they did not. Do you suppose that any modern architect
likes what he builds or enjoys it? Not in the least. He builds it because he has been told that such and such things are fine, and that he should like them. He pretends to like them, and gives them a false relish of vanity. Do you seriously imagine, reader, that any living soul in London likes triglyphs? – or gets any hearty enjoyment out of pediments? You are much mistaken. Greeks did: English people never did,never will. …Very few faults of architecture are mistakes of honest choice; they are almost always hypocrisies.
So then the first thing we have to ask of the decoration is that it should indicate strong liking, and that honestly. It matters not so much what the thing is, as that the builder should really love it and enjoy it, and say so plainly. The architect of Bourges Cathedral liked hawthorns ; so he has covered his porch with hawthorn,- it is a perfect Niobe of May. Never was such hawthorn ; you would try
to gather it forthwith, but for fear of being pricked. The old Lombard architects liked hunting ; so they covered their work with horses and hounds, and men blowing trumpets two yards long. the base Renaissance architects of Venice liked masquing and fiddling ; so they covered their work with comic masks and musical instruments. Even that was better than our English way of liking nothing and professing to liking triglyphs….
..Half the evil in this world comes from people not knowing what they do like ; -not deliberately setting themselves to find out what the really enjoy. All people enjoy giving away money , for instance ‘ they don’t know that,they rather think they like keeping it; and they do keep it, under this false impression, often to their great discomfort. Everybody likes to do good, but not one in a hundred finds this out. Multitudes think they like to do evil ; yet no man ever really enjoyed doing evil since God made the world.
So in this lesser matter of ornament. It needs some little care to try experiments upon yourself; it needs deliberate question and upright answer. But there is no difficulty to be overcome, not abstruse be gone into ; only a little watchfulness needed, and thoughtfulness, ans so much honesty as will enable you to confess to yourself, and to all men, that you enjoy things, though great authorities say you should not.
This looks somewhat like pride, but it is true humility, a trust that you have been so created as to enjoy what is fitting for you, and a willingness to be pleased, as it was intended you should be. It is the child’s spirit, which we are most happy when we most recover’ remaining wiser than children in our gratitude that we can still be pleased with a fair colour, or a dancing light. And, above all, do not try to make all these pleasures reasonable, not to connect the delight which you take in ornament witht hat which you take in construction or usefulness. They have no connection; and every effort that you make to reason from one to the other will blunt your sense of beauty, or confuse it with sensation altogether inferior to it. You were made for enjoyment, and the world was filled with things which you will enjoy, unless you are too proud to be pleased by them, or too grasping to care for what you cannot turn to other account than mere delight. Remember the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless; peacocks and lilies for instance….
We won’t be alone admiring it ; it became one of the most influential books of the 19th century, inspiring William Morriss to re publish the chapter ‘The Nature of Gothic’ and prompting the narrator of Marcel Proust’s ‘Recherce’ to visit Venice with his mother enthused with Ruskin like spirit.
“To banish imperfection is to destroy expression, to check exertion, to paralyze vitality.”
See the whole book here http://ebook.lib.hku.hk/CADAL/B31390055V1/