John Ruskin on eyes, hands, and hearts

John Ruskin might have roared like the movies' Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lion if he were encircled with the same motto: ''Ars Gratia Artis.'' For he deplored ''art for art's sake'' as he pursued moral and practical goals for the arts in celebrated works such as ''The Stones of Venice'' and ''Sesame and Lilies.'' Here, in an address at the opening of Britain's Cambridge School of Art (1858), Ruskin tries to get the young started off right.

It is certain that our immediate business, in such a school as this, will prosper more by attending to eyes than to hands; we shall always do most good by simply endeavoring to enable the student to see natural objects clearly and truly. We ought not even to try too strenuously to give him the power of representing them. That power may be acquired, more or less, by exercises which are no wise conducive to accuracy of sight: and, vice versa, accuracy of sight may be gained by exercises which in no wise conduce to ease of representation. For instance, it very much assists the power of drawing to spend many hours in the practice of washing in flat tints; but all this manual practice does not in the least increase the student's power of determining what the tint of a given object actually is. He would be more advanced in the knowledge of the facts by a single hour of well-directed and well-corrected effort, rubbing out and putting in again, lightening and darkening, and scratching, and blotching, in patient endeavours to obtain concordance with fact, issuing perhaps, after all, in total destruction or unpresentability of the drawing; but also in acute perception of the things he has been attempting to copy in it. Of course, there is always a vast temptation, felt both by the master and student, to struggle toward visible results, and obtain something beautiful, creditable, or saleable, in way of actual drawing: but the more I see of schools, the more reason I see to look with doubt upon those which produce too many showy and complete works by pupils. A showy work will always be found, on stern examination of it, to have been done by some conventional rule - some servile compliance with directions which the student does not see the reason for; and representation of truths which he has not himself perceived; the execution of such drawings will be found monotonous and lifeless; their light and shade specious and formal, but false. A drawing which the pupil has learned much in doing, is nearly always full of blunders and mishaps, and it is highly necessary for the formation of a truly public or universal school of art, that the masters should not try to conceal or anticipate such blunders, but only seek to employ the pupil's time so as to get the most precious results for his understanding and his heart, not for his hand.

For, observe, the best you can do in the production of drawing, or of draughtsmanship, must always be nothing in itself, unless the whole life be given to it.

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...