DON RAKOW: I'm Don Rakow, the Elizabeth Newman Wilds director of Cornell Plantations. And we are so pleased to welcome all of you this evening to this, the 16th Annual William H. and Jane Torrence Harder Lecture and Garden Party.
When Torry Harder-- who I'm going to recognize now-- Torry, if you would stand up. When Torry stood with me out in the FR Newman Arboretum what must have been 17 years ago and said you know, I have an idea. My undergraduate degree from Cornell was in English, and yet my family has always loved Cornell Plantations. What if we were to combine those two interests and create a lecture that annually would focus on the intersection between nature and literature? And I thought, what a brilliant idea.
So with Torry's support, we were able to create this lecture series and have been able to populate it with an incredible diversity of fascinating faculty members and alumni from the Department of English, each speaking from their own perspective, about this incredible intersection between the literary world and the natural world.
At this time, I would like to introduce Andrew Galloway, chair of the Department of English to introduce tonight's speaker, Andrew.
ANDREW GALLOWAY: Thank you, Don. In a recent essay, Paul Sawyer, the George Reed Professor of Writing and Rhetoric, defined himself as an American critic, a specialist in Victorian literature, who's taught and read George Eliot's novels for years. In that essay, he mentions that in part as a point of modesty. For he is there offering a comparison between Eliot's novel Middlemarch and a work far from Paul's expertise by the 20th century Indian writer and activist Fakir Mohan Senapti.
But the analysis is an excellent example of how Paul expands our frameworks for understanding 19th and 20th century realist prose. He does so not just by comparing and finding curious similarities in that case between a novel by a politically invisible woman from Paul's own familiar territory of Victorian England with a novel by an activist in British India half a century and half the globe away. He also expands our view there by showing how both novels' authorial voices fluently adapt to the world views of the social levels they're describing, even while both authors are explicit about their own social positions. Such malleable sympathies and such ethical self-consciousness about one's own social and professional perspective is, of course, what Paul is emulating in his modest comments about himself.
Paul's description of himself, though, might have gone on quite a bit further. For he has expanded our views of writing and its social meanings from Victorian England to the present in many other ways, he could, for example, have called himself an American critic, a specialist in Victorian literature whose career began with a major study of the 19th century artist, art critic, and social thinker John Ruskin. And who has for decades taught the most popular class that the English department offers, the Culture of the '60s, with an enrollment at times approaching 300. Thus, our equivalent of the wine tasting course that the hotel school offers. Who has been a central figure in the Cornell Prison Education Program teaching English classes at Auburn Correctional Facility, perhaps the most important educational outreach program that Cornell University has created. Who has won several teaching awards and is now Weiss Lifetime Fellow in recognition of his teaching.
Who for the past five years directed the John S. Knight Institute for writing in the disciplines, which is a beacon to the rest of the academic world in teaching college writing. Where he's forged numerous outreach programs, putting the university in touch with the wider world. Who has followed some of his 19th and 20th century figures in learning for himself medieval music and literature, including recently learning old English language and literature. Who remains an inspiration, if not a must see to the thousands of Cornell students he's taught since his arrival here in 1975.
Paul, of course, would never say any of those things. He's a very modest intellectual and teacher almost to a fault. He doesn't, for instance, list his Weiss Fellowship on any resume that I can find, which would make the introduction I'm trying to offer rather difficult for a colleague who hadn't been here for a while.
Paul's long interest in Ruskin, hardly a modest man, might, therefore seem curious. But Ruskin's gradually sharpening and increasingly radical social views, from what Paul has shown is the Christian typology of Ruskin's massive architectural history, The Stones of Venice, to the blunter social criticism of Ruskin's later addresses to workmen, along with Ruskin's increasing commitment to a clear and universally understandable writing style, as well as to the kind of early environmentalism that Paul's title announces for today may, may help explain that affinity, to some extent. Equally relevant to Paul's interest, I suspect, is some affinity, certainly not an uncritical one, with Ruskin's enormous breath of endeavors, ambitions, and talents through all of which Ruskin's cultivation of the art of expository prose and what Paul and his book on Ruskin calls, "the poetic argument of that prose" serves as a unifying center, as well as the mere tool of other purposes.
What other sympathies or differences there might be between Ruskin and Paul or between Ruskin and any of us ecologists or writers or artists today, I leave us to discover in his talk for today-- The First Ecologist, John Ruskin and the Futures of Landscape. Professor Paul Sawyer.
PAUL SAWYER: Hi, thank you.
Folks, if it's turning on a switch, turning on or off a switch, that takes me a while. Can you hear me now? Yeah? Can you hear me? Oh, I hear myself.
Thank you, thank you, Andy. I wouldn't have said a lot of those things about myself because they're not true. Or well, it was nicely written out. Thanks, thanks very much.
And thank you for actually introducing the subject. And so folks, I'd like to start out today just briefly saying why John Ruskin. And I'll start with the conversation I had with Don Rakow last year when I told him that Ruskin would be the perfect topic for a Harder lecture.
Well, I had to be honest and say Ruskin would be the second perfect topic. The most perfect person would be Wordsworth, I'd admit that. But the second one would be Ruskin.
And why is that? Because precisely Ruskin was concerned about the intersection of nature and poetic artistic expression. And he was-- well, let me tell you how he started out.
As a boy, he imagined he would be a geologist, a poet, a painter, a bishop, maybe a bishop. His parents were very ambitious for him. And those were all things that they would have loved him to be. He didn't become a great any of those things. But in a way, he becomes all of them at once through the medium of prose, OK.
His first publication was an account of the color of the Rhone, which is a glacial run off river that flows through Geneva. So it was an essay on geology. But the book that made his reputation is about art criticism. And it revealed a precocious eye for art and the dazzling gift for purple prose, OK. And that book is called Modern Painters. That is to say about modern landscape painters.
Now as you know, he also believed that the scientific study of nature and the poetry of nature were religious acts, right. The more your knew about nature, the more you knew about God. Now this combination of interests, OK, is not unusual for the period that he grew up in, the early Victorian period, 1830s, '40s when he grew up.
You may know, some of you, that Darwin himself almost became a clergyman. There was that moment when he wasn't sure what his career was going to be and he ended up going to the Beagle and the church lost one of its future antagonists, in a way, OK. Somebody has said that in a fit of self-destruction, providence denied him being a clergyman, OK.
But the other connection is of course, Darwin, like many of his contemporaries, was a gentleman amateur. Many advances in biology were done by amateurs. Darwin educed evidence for evolution from looking at the plants and species in his own backyard, right.
So when I look at Ruskin in his period, I'm talking about a time when it was really possible to think of religion and science, the study of science, the study of nature, study of poetry, all of those as really being aspects of the same enterprise. Now Torry, you actually seem to believe they should continue to be aspects of the same enterprise, don't you? Although, of course, great divisions and tensions have occurred since then. So in a way, this talk is a walk back in memory lane to this earlier vision of a kind of a unity.
But however, Ruskin's interest, as Andy just said, doesn't end there, OK, with writing about landscape painting and writing about landscape as nature. His Modern Painters series he interrupted by the longest publishing digression, sorry, by the longest digression of publishing history for books on architecture. Somebody said Ruskin learns a subject by writing a book about it. And that's true, it's exactly what he did.
In the middle of writing about architecture, there's a long chapter called "The Nature of Gothic," right, as in Gothic style. But in the middle of that chapter on the nature of Gothic is his probably his most famous single work, which is an attack on contemporary machine production. And then about six years later he writes a book called Unto This Last, which scandalizes his readers, including his father, because it's a radical work of economics.
So suddenly there's Ruskin the art critic is now a radical and controversial. I say the word "radical" for the time. For us today, it would seem very familiar. Maybe still radical, but in a good sense.
OK, then after Unto This Last, the following decades, the books just poured out. The books, articles, lectures, topics such as Greek myth, geology, botany, ornithology, numismatics, engraving, and war. Including a series of monthly public letters in which he wrote about anything that came into his mind. Which is a great, great idea, OK.
All right, now how to telescope such a person in a lecture like this? And of course, I'm not going to do it. It's too various and too grating. And Andy is correct that this is one of the things about Ruskin that interested me the most.
But Ruskin believed quite that at the bottom his subjects were really deeply related. And one of the best explanations of why Ruskin is so self-consistent is the great critic Northrop Frye, who mentions in his work that the whole of Ruskin's social criticism can be seen telescoped in a fairy tale he wrote when he was 20 years old, The King of the Golden River. It's a bit of an exaggeration, but not too much of one. A fairy tale, The King of the Golden River which he wrote for the girl who became his wife. It really contains his social criticism, mature social criticism in germ.
When I was six or seven or so, my parents took me to see a play in downtown Detroit. And that's what it was, The King of the Golden River. And if anybody is curious about the plot of that, I'll tell you more about it later.
All right, so now but just to speak about Ruskin's unity. OK, first of all, a way of seeing, all right, a way of seeing. Whatever his subject, he tended to see the world in the same way. And here's a brief description of that.
He believed that a close scrutiny of surface phenomenon would disclose or express the indwelling nature or spirit of something, OK. And this habit of seeing derives, in part, from the method of biblical interpretation on his typology, which Andy mentioned. And so I'm going to define typology now, because it's going to run right through the rest of my remarks today.
Some of you obviously know what typology is and others it may be a new term. Typology goes like this. It's a form of biblical criticism, as I just said, such that any event in the Old Testament can be seen as a type or prefiguration of Christ, OK.
So a common example is Moses, the law giver who leads his people from the captivity of Egypt across the Jordan into the Promised Land. Moses is a type of Christ, because Christ leads people from the bondage of sin into the promised land of salvation, OK. And yet Moses is not a mere, mere type, just the mere prefiguration. He is a person in his own right, OK.
So then a type is it can be any object that discloses a spiritual reality behind it. In other words, very close to a symbol. So for Ruskin, the whole world is really a set of symbols, all right.
Some of the symbols don't look like what they see. And then in other times what you see is simply a set of facts that disclose a unity beneath. And I'm going to call type all of those things.
So are you folks with me now? Right, OK. So it means then that the whole world can be read through the eyes, right. And of course, if you're a Christian in his time, the most important things to read are God's two books, right, the Bible and nature.
God writes his personality into the Bible and he writes his personality into nature. So that brings us back to what the purpose of science, OK. To know more about the secrets of the [? ulta ?] as Einstein puts it. OK, that's for Ruskin, OK.
OK, and then the second briefly unity is the following, the way of unifying his career. The second is the following, that he tended to see things as ecologies. I'm giving that word. It's not his word. But I'm giving that word to systems and interrelated organic entities.
So if he is studying, for example, alpine landscapes, the paintings of Turner, the sculpture of a Gothic cathedral, or the industrial economy, or the proliferation of myths, they're all ecologies. So what I'm going to try to suggest that as even one Ruskin goes into such apparently far flung areas as industrial society, then in a sense, he is always talking about nature, about an ecology.
All right, so there you go. That's sort of an introduction. To see rightly-- and this is the way he put his life's work quite often in one sentence. To see rightly is poetry, prophecy, and religion all at once. Right, if you see into the details of something, you'll see something, a transcendent reality behind that thing, OK.
And I want to also point out now that Ruskin lost his religious faith about halfway through his career, became an agnostic. But he still is interested in the possibility of some transcendent unity out there, OK. So all right.
There's the man at about age 35 painted by his friend John Everett Millais, standing characteristically by waterfalls in I think this is Scotland. And I know at least one lady here is from Scotland and several folks have been to Scotland lately. The Ruskin Scottish heritage was very important to him, by the way. His family, I said, is from Scotland.
But his parents, he was actually born in London to parents who were upwardly mobile, who over-controlled him, over disciplined him, who coddled him, and who pinned all their hopes on him all at once. You may have encountered this before.
Their religion, evangelicalism. OK, what we would today call something like Puritanism or fundamentalism. OK, not the same thing. But obviously a very strict attitude to self-indulgence and the pleasures of the body, right. And yet the father was a prosperous wine merchant, OK.
So as the father is making more and more money, he's beginning to buy paintings, by for example, the greatest of all living painters, in their opinion, William Mallard Turner, William Mallard Joseph Turner, OK. As the father is buying paintings, OK, the family displays the paintings six days a week. On the seventh day, they turn the painting to the wall, because that's the Sabbath, right.
Now the paintings would be of what? Ooh. The alps, Mont Blanc, right, Venice. And then guess what they did? When John was a teenager, they actually went and saw those places. And they hired a carriage. They made the grand tour into Switzerland and this thing. And so you can see how this really begins John's career.
He was never happier, by the way, than when he was sketching. And what I want to do now is just want to briefly, although this lectures is about Ruskin as a writer, I want to show you his own-- that's him about I'd say around, how old does he look to you? I think about 50, 45. Mid-career or so.
All right, when he was 19 he did that sketch. It's very beautiful, right. But if you say, well, is this done by a scientist or is it done by an artist, you would maybe be making a false division, right. Because the boy is keen keen, keen to get the details just right.
And I think one of the things that attracts me to this early part of Ruskin's career, the early part of his career, that is to say when he's writing books about landscape painting, I think one of the things that attracts me so much is I've done that. Not very often, but just enough to know the ecstasy of drawing. And the self-forgetfulness, the loss of self and other. And you just sort of disappear, and the intensity is unbelievable, at least was for him.
So you also, again, notice his attention to the shape of the rocks, right, as if the rocks were bodies or sculptures. Now this is just the study of a stream, right. So anything, no matter how humble, could be a subject for his pen, right. Just rubble and so forth there. It's not an outstanding, distinguished scene or anything like that.
This is called Stone Pines at Sestri. He's got the species just right. He insisted that people should have the correct species. A good landscape painter does that. You have to recognize what kind of leaf it is.
This is Fragment of Alps, right. See what he's doing, just painting a single rock? So you can imagine, even if it was a piece of rubble on the street, he could probably have gotten interested in reproducing its minute texture. Well, that's Ruskin.
Now the occasion of his book was an attack on Turner by a critic who couldn't get the late Turner paintings because they were so abstract. All right, so that's, by the way, of course, is Ruskin doing Budding Sycamore that's called.
OK, this is Turner. Turner is aging in this picture. And he's aging at about time he was attacked by the British critic who said, he's throwing a pot of paint in the face of the British public. And there's the caricature, OK. We'll see some paintings of that type later on. If you know anything about Turner, you know what that person means.
Well, Ruskin is outraged. Because of course, the Turner that the Ruskin family knew is extremely accurate, right. So he sets out to defend Turner's reputation in the book called Modern Painters.
And the chapter titles of that book, Modern Painters, include "Of the Open Sky," "Of Truth of Clouds, First of the Region of the Cirrus," "Of the Central Mountains," "Of Truth of Vegetation," "Of Truth of Space," and so forth. So you wouldn't know if that were a book on nature or a book on art. It turns out to be a book on both, OK.
In his conclusion, Turner produced the complete transcript of the system of nature. And he also called Turner an archangel revealing the works of God to man. I mean, just embarrassed Turner. Ruskin was a young guy who was a bit extravagant.
So now I want to show you that's a Turner watercolor, right. Turner watercolor, sort of calligraphic, right. Just a few brush strokes and you get the exact sense of those trees growing up.
This is an amazing-- it's an engraving. But you see, I don't know how it can be an engraving, but it is. You can see the spume in the background, the sense of immensity. OK, this is not a large work, OK. So when Ruskin says something like, Turner got the complete transcript of nature in his work.
Now you see Turner also had a great attention to rock form. And this is called The St. Gotthard Pass. Now usually in paintings of this type, this is called sublime, a sublime view, right. A sublime view is when you're looking at something like Niagara Falls and you're sort of deliciously scared.
You're ooh, ooh. You know, you don't want to fall into it, but you're safe, right. So the feeling is kind of the power kind of transfers into you and you sort of exult from this. Well, Ruskin would call that a type of God's power.
Well, look what happened here with Turner. Normally in a sublime painting, you have a stable stage to sit on. In the foreground you'd have people kind of happily sitting. Well imagine-- oh, look at that. Right. Turner's sublime.
PAUL SAWYER: Yeah?
AUDIENCE: Are these from the period when Turner's work was being criticized by--
PAUL SAWYER: No. No, no. I'll show you a couple of those later on. Turner had a long career. He died 1851. All an immense variety of styles as well subjects. But no, this was not a [INAUDIBLE].
OK, now this painting right here is called The Upper Fall of the Tees, OK. And I'm going to use this example. We're going to linger on that for a moment, because I'm going to show you how Ruskin wrote about it, OK.
The first thing Ruskin's says about this, The Upper Fall of Tees, Yorkshire, all right, you might look and you think, well, what do you say about it? It's beautiful, but what would you actually say? So Ruskin's says, well "with this drawing before him, a geologist could give a lecture upon the whole system of aqueous erosion and speculate it safely upon the past and future states of this very spot as if we were standing and getting wet with the spray." And then Ruskin gives you a geological account of that.
Ironically, of course, it's exactly the discovery of geology that caused Ruskin to lose his religious faith, right. But all his life, he saw himself in some sense as a geologist. Fascinated in rocks. I think he loved rocks as much as anything in the world.
OK, so now here's how Ruskin directs the eye of his reader. And I'm not going to hand out yet-- I'll get to the hand out in a moment. But here's the 24-year-old Ruskin.
He says, "you will find nothing in the waterfalls even of our best painters but springing lines of parabolic descent and splashing, shapeless foam. And in consequence, they may make you understand the swiftness of the water, but they never let you feel the weight of it. The stream in their hands looks active, not supine. As if at leaped, not as if it fell.
Now water will leap a little way. It will leap down a weir or over a stone, but it tumbles over a high fall like this. And it is when we have lost the parabolic line and arrived at the catenary that we have really to feel its weight and wildness. Where water takes its first leap from the top it is cool and collected and uninteresting and mathematical. But it is when it finds that it has got into a scrape and has farther to go than it thought that its character comes out. It is then that it begins to writhe and twist and sweep out zone after zone. And while the stretching is--" and so forth, right.
So you'll notice what he has done. First of all, he's taken a word like character, which, OK, quality. And then he's turned it into a personality. Pathetic fallacy, right. Ruskin gave the name pathetic fallacy to the fanciful animation of nature. But of course, ultimately Ruskin thought pathetic fallacy was limited, because the point is to see the truth. But here in this case, he's having fun. And he's turning water into a naughty kid.
And then notice the second thing. Now he makes a big deal of this. You can't see in this version, but in the engraving version, the waterfall back there falls in little zigzags. And geometrists, any geometers in the room can tell me what a catenary curve is. But Ruskin says, see, it's not parabolic, it's catenary. He's really showing off there, right. A bad landscape gives you the parabolic. But Turner sees it's catenary. And that allows you to feel, right. And then suddenly you're feeling a painting, you're just not observing it.
So right now, scientists aren't supposed to feel. Right? Artists aren't supposed to just be accurate. For Ruskin, accuracy produces a sensation of the energy of that water. Is that making sense?
OK. Some more Turners now just the show you. Look at this, ah, this roaring. You see? And Ruskin also loved reading a Turner painting or drawing in geological terms. You know, here the water flows and it breaks something down and the wind bends back. OK, so it really is God's handiwork, right. It's God's creation.
This is the same scene, Llanthony, it's in Wales, Llanthony Abbey it's called. You can hardly see the abbey right there in that mist. The Great Falls of the Reichenbach, could also see some of the same things about this painting that he did about--
All right, now 1840. The name of this painting is The Slave Ship. I started out talking about typology, that is to say the ability to read the world as symbols. But so far, I've only been talking about realistic, right, realistic reading. Get as close as you can to what your eye literally sees, the literal vision of something.
But as Ruskin sort of looks and looks and looks, right, the world tends to turn into a force of symbols. This is very characteristic of him and also of Turner. Because now your hand out, and look how he describes this.
This is an actual incident, OK. This is a case where the captain of a slave ship threw living slaves overboard because the storm is coming on, right. So you see the legs. Can you see the legs of the slaves disappearing and the sharks and manacles up front? It's a horrifying scene, right.
But you think well, this is mainly still just a landscape. So your hand out, which I won't read all the way through. Please enjoy Ruskin's prose more than my reading of it on your own, but I'll read parts of it.
"It is sunset on the Atlantic after prolonged storm." Two ridges, he describes. "Between these two ridges, the fire of the sunset falls along the trough of the sea, dyeing with an awful but glorious light, the intense and lurid splendor of which burns like gold and bathes like the blood. The waves do not rise everywhere, but three or four together in wild groups, fitfully and furiously, as the under-strength of the swell compels or permits them. Leading between them treacherous spaces of level and whirling water, now lighted with green and lamp-like fire, now flashing back the gold of the declining sun now fearfully dyed from above with the indistinguishable image of the burning clouds which fall upon them in flakes of crimson and scarlet and give to the reckless waves the added motion of their own fiery flying.
Purple and blue, the lurid shadows of the hollow breakers are cast upon the mist of the night, which gathers cold and low advancing like the shadow of death upon the guilty ship. As it labors, the ship labors, amidst the lightning of the sea, its thin mast written upon the sky in lines of blood girded with condemnation in that fearful hue--" red, right-- "which signs the sky with horror and mixes its flaming flood, mixes its flaming flood with the sunlight and cast far along the desolate heave of this sepulchral waves, incarnadines the multitudinous sea."
This was the passage in the first volume that people really swooned over, and so did Ruskin. You can imagine how proud he was. Let me point out, I mean, the effects of it are very complex but obvious. But nevertheless, you see now how Ruskin has turned it into an allegory. It's an allegory of divine judgment, isn't it?
Red and gold-- well red in Ruskin's account has a meaning, right. Red stands for blood. It's an allegory of divine judgment. Even though we don't see God literally, we can tell that the judgment of God is on this ship.
The memory of Lady Macbeth, what an inspiration. Lady Macbeth looking at her hands and she says the blood. There's so much blood on her hand she'll never wash it off, right.
It will incarnadine the multitudinous sea, turning the green one red. Incarnadine, dying red. Only multitudinous, Ruskin's got his allusion, right, multitudinous with dying human beings.
Did Ruskin make this all up? In fact, Turner was painting a series of allegorical works called The Fallacies of Hope. Turner was actually quite a radical critic. And this was an attack on really empire in general, OK.
And the poem that Turner wrote to accompany-- Turner now wrote to accompany this makes clear that red does stand for blood and gold stands for what? Gold.
So now that. Throwing the paint into the air. There are lots of paintings at this later stage I could show you. But very briefly, now Ruskin doesn't talk about this painting. It's called Light and Colour, The Morning After the Deluge, Moses Writing the Book of Genesis.
The morning after the deluge, right. So it's a universal flood. No human beings left. But notice, what is that circle coming from? Turner called this the vortex, his favorite form of composition in his later years. This is departing from Ruskin now. Ruskin doesn't talk about this.
But the vortex is not only the destructive power of nature, but it's the shape of the human eye. So the lens opens and closes. The lens of the eye opens and closes. And here the eye is sort of opening up on the scene of the deluge. And you can see faintly-- well, it's just so much water, right. Oh, it's just-- OK.
Well now I'm going to depart from Turner and move on to the next phase of Ruskin's career, which was his architecture. And here I have to make the first of my cases that when Ruskin changes subject, in a sense, he really does not change subject.
So he loved to draw buildings. And the drawings will speak as loudly as the words because the drawings communicate what he loved about. So this is called Holyrood Chapel. That would be in Edinburgh, wouldn't it?
He was a quite gifted draftsman. And this was looking over Venice. He got to spend-- in order to do the second volume of Modern Painters, his parents let him go by himself to Europe. And you say, so what? He was, you know, already 25.
Now wait a minute, excuse me. What religion is Italy? You got it, Catholic. So the parents were freaked that John was going to go to Catholic Italy. You know, you can always get converted there by the gorgeous. Well, Ruskin got converted by the architecture.
And here is his favorite city in the world. This is actually Turner's sketch of the Grand Canal in Venice. Notice what Turner does with what looks like just shadowy little scribbles. You know, but it's actually quite precise. This is how he's got the buildings up there. And you can get a sense of space too, can't you? Grand Canal Venice by Turner.
This is Ruskin's drawing of the Ca' d'Oro, which is one of the famous palaces. And the detail, Ruskin as a drawer almost like an obsessive detailer. I've already made that point. But look how beautiful. Do you guys think this is beautiful? I know, it's a beauty. So no detail too small, OK.
Now Ruskin's interest in architecture was as decoration. All right, so in a way it's a misnomer to say he is an architectural critic. What he really always wrote about was the decoration. In other words, the sculpture.
And in his immense work, The Stones of Venice, it's a three volume book on the history of Venice in which this young Protestant guy, no longer young, tries to prove that if you read the sculpture of the capitals and the churches and the palaces, you will find the date at which Venice turns corrupt. Is that a Puritan project or not? So you think, oh, this is really a prudish. Gee, this must be a really prudish work.
Well, take a look at the next handout. Because part of Ruskin's project in this book is to champion medieval architecture, which had fallen in disfavor among critics in the 1830s and '40s. And particularly St. Mark. Well not particularly, but St. Mark's Cathedral was often dismissed as being glum and dull. I don't-- unfortunately I couldn't get an image of St. Mark's. It's so beautiful. But I hope many of you have the picture in your mind.
So here's Ruskin now looking at the front of a cathedral, OK, not a natural scene, not the Alps. So here it's says "there rises." You see that? Number two.
"There rises a vision out of the earth and all the great square--" that's the square of St. Mark-- "seems to have opened from in a kind of awe that we may see it far away. A multitude of pillars and white domes clustered into a long low pyramid of colored light. A treasure heap, it seems, partly of gold and partly of opal and mother of pearl.
Hallowed beneath into five great vaulted porches veiled with fair mosaic and beset with sculpture of alabaster, clear as amber and delicate as ivory, sculpture ivory, sculpture fantastic and involved of palm leaves and lilies and grapes and pomegranate and birds clinging and fluttering among the branches all twined together into an endless network of buds and plumes. And in the midst of it, the solemn forms of angel sceptered and robed to the feet. And leaning to each other across the gates, their figures indistinct among the gleaming of the golden ground through the leaves beside them interrupted in dim like the morning light does it faded back among the branches of Eden when first its gates were angel guarded long ago.
And around the wall--" And I won't read the rest. "along the walls of the porches there are set pillars." You can't stop actually reading it, right. And what actually goes. "Rooted knots of herbage and drifting leaves and angels and signs. And above these, another range of glittering pinnacles, a confusion. And the St. Mark's lion lifted on of blue field covered with stars.
Until at last, as if it ecstasy, the crests of the arches break into a marble foam and lose themselves far into the blue sky and flashes and wreaths of sculpture spray as if the breakers on the Lido shore had been frost bound before they fell and the sea nymphs had inlaid them coral and amethyst."
Now if you look at St. Mark's today, it's not quite like that, right.
That's Ruskin, not me.
Now OK. Remember I told you that God wrote two books, nature and the Bible. And so the chain of language and of life connects both books. Ruskin said that while the medieval cathedral builders gave a Bible to their illiterate people so that people could read the walls and the whole revelation of the Bible, but also the whole revelation of nature would be there.
Ruskin also thought that when the medievals came out of the forests, that their buildings, they recreated the forest in stone, right. Because you know, they had lost the life of nature. So they recreated the forest in stone with acanthus leaves. No, it isn't all that much vegetation, but from Ruskin, right, it's an ecology, as I said at the beginning of the lecture. A great building is an ecological system, right.
And then the second thing you notice, of course, is as Ruskin's eye, the eye goes up. You know, is he describing his own excitement or is he describing the building? You can't separate it, can you? So the eye moves up and up and up. And then you have this orgasmic-- and I'm using this word deliberately-- an orgasmic pitch of excitement with the foaming and cresting waves, right.
All right, so this is one way that he defended medieval architecture to the tastes of Great Britain. Actually, what Ruskin said was we are living in the dark ages today, not back then. And I'll tell you in a moment why he said that.
A poignant note, and I'm sure some folks may want to ask a question about this afterwards. Ruskin was on his honeymoon at this time. His honeymoon was protracted while he studied the Venetian rocks for three years. They weren't there for three years, but for a long time while he studied the buildings, it took him a second. And then in 1854, the marriage was annulled on the grounds of non-consummation.
Think about it, the struggle with sensuous pleasure, is it good or is it bad? And he's turning the animated treasure heap into I would say sexual energy. But also, well, I'm going to come back. Very briefly remember that the dominant impression there is of arrested energy, energy that's jewel-like. It's glittering, but it's also energetic.
It's Edenic. You can have your cake and eat it too, right. It's a treasure, but it doesn't stop. I mean, it's passion, but it doesn't run out.
In the same book, The Stones of Venice, Ruskin writes the great attack on machine manufacture called, well, it's called the "Nature of Gothic." And you think, well how does Ruskin attack machine manufacture under the title of "Nature of Gothic?" Well, what he does, and this is very brief, OK, this is how risk attacks the industrial production of his only time. He does it by this way.
He says Gothic sculpture-- sorry, architecture expresses what? Architecture does, of course, depict the work of God. But it expresses the spirit of the society that builds the buildings, OK, its piety, its joy, its whatever. Not only that, but he believed that in Gothic every workman got to do his own thing, like a gargoyle. and you can sort of see personality there.
So although the labor structure is hierarchical, nevertheless, individuality speaks out all the time. This was his theory of Gothic. As opposed to modern assembly line production, right, where the workman is called a hand and everything is perfect, exact, repetitious.
So then he moves on to like a diatribe against machine production. So Gothic where the individual can flourish. Gothic, which you can read, right. Because you can read the people in there. Does that make sense? As opposed to machine production.
So I know, you all are thinking about Cornell buildings right, You're thinking about the Milstein Center. And gee, where is the work of that particular workman? Milstein Center came out of the brain of only one individual, one individual. OK.
Now so Ruskin turns to the study of society. How does an art critic, again, get to the study of society? Well, first of all, pollution is ugly. That's the simplest explanation. But secondly, Ruskin invents a type to explain how you can read a corrupt state of mind in a polluted environment.
He invents a type. And the type is the crystal. He wrote and essay. Now this sounds fantastic, but this is his way of seeing things. He says carbon atoms when they're intensely bonded, when they're really closely bond they create a diamond. When they're not, when the bonds are loosening, you get mud, but it's still carbon.
He call this the law of help. He says the law of help, cooperate parts produce crystals, produce great art, it's the composition, and great societies. But when the co-operative bonds turn into competition, and at then it becomes wage slavery and exploitation, and the war of all against all, right, then you have the equivalent of mud. And you can see it in the form of pollution.
So what he would say when he was looking at industrial pollution, and for him, unregulated capitalism led inevitably to the destruction of the environment, unregulated capitalism led to the destruction of the environment because of the smoke and so forth. But also on a symbolic level, for him, the labor system represents the collapse from an organic society to an inorganic one. That is to say, where there are no longer connections between human beings, no longer affective connections. It's just the cash nexus as the great writer Thomas Carlyle says.
So OK, see what that looks like, now we're going to give you the opposite of St. Mark's. Imagine St. Mark's, which is really creative crystalline forms, right. Porphyry and jasper, precious stones are crystalline, isn't that right? That's my argument is that St. Mark's also represents a kind of a perfect society in its form.
All right, so modern manufacturing design. And Ruskin, of course, as all his contemporaries could tell, could see how the factory system was devouring the English countryside by converting the countryside into polluted streams, belching factories, huge spreading slums. So Modern Manufacture and Design from 1859 tells us what he sees, OK.
"So just outside of town I came upon an old English cottage or mansion, I hardly know which to call it, with mullioned windows and a low arched porch, round which in the little triangular garden, one can imagine a family as they used to sit in old summer times. The ripple of the river heard faintly through the sweetbrier hedge. And the sheep on the far off wolds shining in the evening sunlight.
There, uninhabited for many and many a year, it had been left in unregarded havoc of ruin. The garden gate still swung loose to it's latch. The garden blighted utterly into a field of ashes. Not even a weed taking root there. The roof torn into shapeless rents. And shutters hanging about the windows and rags of rotten wood. Before its gate, the stream, which had gladdened it now so soaking slowly by, black as ebony and think with curdling scum, the bank above it trodden."
Look at how he describes slime-- "unctuous, sooty slime." "Far in front, between it and the old hills, the furnace of the city foaming forth perpetual plague of sulfurous darkness, the volumes of their storm clouds coiling over a waste of grassless fields. Fenced from each other not by hedges, but by slabs of square stone, like gravestones."
This seems like a straightforward description. But I am going-- there is at least one Dante scholar in the audience today. You heard him a couple years ago. And he has confirmed to me that Dante can be interpreted on four levels and so can Ruskin.
And here are the four levels. You ready for it? And the first level is literal. Right, where you see green fields or whatever disintegrating into mud and slime. The first level is sort of biological, carboniferous.
And then the second level would be social. Because he's giving you a social history. And then the third level is going to be typological. Because all this muck and mud this is symbolizing to the viewer that can see it, symbolizing the dissolution of social bonds.
And then finally it's biblical typological. Did you get the type that was in? Did you get the types? Anybody get the biblical types in that passage?
The garden is one. Coiling volumes, smoke that coils. Milton in Paradise Lost describes the volumes. Is this right? I think that's right. The volumes of the snake as he comes. So the snake in the garden is industrial pollution, the coiling part. So that's how that works, four levels of interpretation.
Folks now I'm going to look at the time. And how much more time? 15? Good. Oh, 15 minutes.
Now this is a bit a prelude, OK. This is prelude to well, what was for Ruskin a prelude to the book Unto This Last. And folks, give me a moment because I'm going to-- oh yeah, yeah.
Until This Last is Ruskin's attack. It's attack at once at laissez faire capitalism, on industrial pollution, and the extremes of poverty and wealth in British society, OK. This is his attack and his argument.
It's a very complicated book. I'm not going to summarize the argument for it. I mean, I'm not going to summarize the book except to say that Ruskin believed that with a fair and just distribution of wealth and labor, that England had the abundance to wipe out poverty. But that it was a concentration of wealth at the top in the form of greed that was impoverishing the whole country. So that while individuals got wealthy, there was no social wealth in England. And he makes a distinction, social wealth, OK.
And then he says production should not be for more production. Production shouldn't be for the sake of accumulating gold or accumulating iron implements or building weapons. Production should be for the mouth, literally. That is to say grain, food, nourishment. An ideal society is always nourishing. An ideal society produces food and fresh water, clear skies, and children, right, children.
So Ruskin actually summarizes his argument in six words. The six words are "there is no wealth but life." In the final chapter of this book he italicizes those words. "There is no wealth but life."
In other words, you can get the-- first of all, the easy point. That real wealth isn't gold. Real wealth is happy people, OK. There is no wealth but life, including all its powers of love, of joy, and of admiration. That country is the richest which nourishes the greatest number of noble and happy human beings. That man is richest too, having perfected the functions of his own life to the utmost has also the widest helpful influence.
Now if you take that notion well, there is no wealth but life. How do you get wealth? How do you get life? Well, more wealth produces more life if you are looking at true wealth, true life by circulation, right, not by hoarding. Ruskin's depiction of hoarding is very-- it's really fecal. It's hoarding, it's dark and it's filthy and it's solipsistic. But then when the energy is released, you have like water.
So wait a moment, I'm close to a pastoral scene now, right. There is no wealth but life. Wealth, let's say gold, grain field. Life, let's say the water running through it. Ah, St. Mark's church. An animated treasure heap. The wealth that is life, the treasure that doesn't go away. Combining an energy and possession at once-- King of the Golden River.
And it's called the Gold River. I won't tell you the story, but it's called the Golden River because in this magical valley-- remember that's the fairy tale Ruskin wrote when he was 20. The water fell over the waterfall. It fell over a fall and the setting sun bathed it in gold. So golden water.
And then there is no wealth but life. 20, 30 years later, all right, this is Ruskin's symbolic vision. It is symbolic and an actual vision.
So now as we look at now this next passages is a really interesting one from Unto This Last. It's a little difficult, because it's late in the book and it's quite elusive. But Ruskin draws for us a picture of nature such that you can't tell whether it's society or nature, right. So I'm going to continue to say he's still talking about landscape. He's still talking about nature, even when he's talking about a Utopian social arrangement.
So he starts out, and this is very late in the book. He says, "All England, if it chooses, may become one manufacturing town. An Englishman, sacrificing themselves to the good of general humanity, may live diminished lives in the midst of noise of darkness and of deadly exhalation. But the world cannot become a factory nor a mine. No amount of ingenuity will ever make iron digestible by the millions or substitute hydrogen for wine.
The present--" I'm gonna go past that-- "the presence of a wise population implies the search for felicity as well as for food. Nor can any population reach its maximum but through that wisdom which rejoices in the habitable parts of the earth.
The desert has its appointed place and work. The eternal engine, whose beam is the earth's axle, will still divide imperiously to their desert kingdoms, bound with unfurrowable rock, and swept by unarrested sand, their powers of frost and fire."
Very fancy poetic way of saying you're always going to have the Sahara. You're always going to have the Arctic and the Antarctic. But in the middle, that's where human beings live. For example, this is what England should look like, right.
"The zones and lands between, habitable, will be loveliest in habitation. The desire of the heart is also the light of the eyes. No scene is continually and untiringly loved, but one rich by joyful human labor, smooth in fields, fair in garden, full in orchard, twists, trim, sweet and frequent in homestead, ringing with voices of vivid existence.
No air is sweet that is silent. It only sweet when full of low currents of under sound, triplets of birds and murmur and chirp of insects and deep toned words of men and wayward trebles of childhood. As the art of life is learned, it will be found at last that all lovely things are also necessary."
Now in what interested me about this passage is well, first of all, I thought if you remember the first images I showed you, there weren't many people there. I think one of the things that attracted Ruskin to alpine landscape was its solitude. His subject in his first book is nature and the god of nature.
But here he is saying no. He's saying nature is beautiful only when habitable. And beautiful natural scenes are human scenes. So the sounds of nature are beautiful because there are also children and not just birds, right. So he has this image of call it culture, if you will, the perfect blending of human life and natural life.
At one blush, it can be nostalgic, right. Take it literally and Ruskin seems to be just wishing away factories and wanting to return to an old agrarian order. But I think he's actually saying more than that.
He's trying to give us an image of the wealth that is life. And the wealth that is life is natural. Nature is humanized. Human life is natural. And that's what the ideal ecology will look like. And it depends on social justice. Always for him it depends on social justice.
Now another interesting point is that Ruskin says that wealth comes from sharing and greed creates, you know, greed is what? An obsession with vain desires like gold. And you can't eat gold, right.
So one of the implications here is that greed is ascetic. Greed is actually pleasure denying. Greedy people don't really like pleasure.
And if you've read the A Christmas Carol, you'll know this is a common idea actually in Victorian Britain, right. Scrooge is getting more and more money, but he has no pleasures, right. The stock type of the miser very popular in Victorian Britain social critics, OK.
Ruskin is saying, nevertheless, that the art of life-- "until the art of life is learned--" and I'm going to quote now from Karl Marx. And Ruskin would have been aghast at some of Marx's theories. But in 1844, Karl Marx, in an unpublished manuscript, depicted capitalism as the repression of the sensuous. Capitalism, the repression of the sensuous. You get the point?
This is that before consumerism. That all died, right, in 1945 when my generation was born. But no, before then. Capitalism not sensuous for Marx and for Ruskin. Marx wrote, to restore the sensuous relation to nature, the sensuous relationship, "to restore the sensuous relationship to nature is the work of human history." That's Marx. That could have been Ruskin.
So the lover of nature, the lover of art now predicts a pleasurable life. But doesn't just predict the pleasure of life. Because remember that Puritan, that young Puritan kid? He's now saying pleasure is not just something left over. Pleasure is essential to human existence. So when we imagine a good society, we have to imagine pleasure for everybody, not just subsistence. All right, so it's a remarkable-- it's really a remarkable performance.
Ruskin, by this time, incidentally, now I'm going to quickly segue to the end of the talk. That's 1860. From my point of view, this is kind of the high point of Ruskin's career. Unto This Last, by the way, as I said, it was attacked by the British public. They thought it was outrageous.
We will recognize in some, you know, the welfare state, social democracy, the New Deal. A lot of those innovations are really predicted in Ruskin's thinking back then. And also, by the way, Mahatma Gandhi as a young man read this book and it changed his life.
And I actually lectured on Ruskin and Gandhi in January in India. It was a wonderful experience. I hardly repeated anything there that I am today, Ruskin is so many faceted.
So this sort of selfish, spoiled, young brat writing, you know, purple prose about how cool it is that his father can afford to send him to the Alps in the summer ends up being a very compassionate social critic.
Now I almost forgot about the slide. I have a couple more. Oh, these are Ruskins. Sorry guys. Illustrations of Stones of Venice. Again, you can see. For Ruskin, no detail is too small to be interesting, right.
Now Ruskin lost his faith, became an agnostic, an atheist, I'm not sure. He tended to speak publicly in religious terms. This is a private unconversion.
But this is when he turns more to the human subjects. And you see, this is Turner depicting people who make their living by scraping muscles out of the sand. Actually, there's a lot of Turner paintings about labor toil and poverty that Ruskin really missed when he was younger.
And this last thing is a Swiss village. You see how decrepit it is? This is actually, I think, my favorite Ruskin drawing. I discovered in an art store, never seen it before. It's from about 1859. Just about the time he wrote Unto This Last.
All right, now the rest of Ruskin's career-- now I'm going to stop. That's the last image, a bird. Because we're going to look at a bird now at the end.
So the rest the Ruskin's career, remember I said that after 1860 he began writing about everything under the sun, literally. Meteorology, and he returned to geology. And he said oh, I could have been one of the first geologists in Europe if only, if only. And then he writes this strange book. And then he never tried to refute Darwinism, because he understood the power of Darwinian thought.
So but if you can't refute Darwinism and you've always believed that human value comes from the ability to encounter nature spiritually and to get spiritual sustenance from nature, then the Darwinian universe can't do that. So what do you do, right?
So one of the things he did was he wrote a book called Proserpina. In which he said, well, we should rename all the plant species names of little girls. And this is the Lewis Carroll part of Ruskin. You may know that he became obsessed with little girls.
I mean, it's really regressive. Because at the same time that Ruskin's writing this kind of childish book, Proserpina, and visiting and teaching at a girls academy and being terribly in love with a young girl also. At the same time as he's writing this kind of childlike stuff and engaging in young girls, he also writes something called well, for an example, he also writes something called The Storm Cloud of the Nineteenth Century.
And this ferocious set of lectures, it sounds like classic Victorian ranting and raving. He says there's a double cloud, a cloud of insanity, a poison cloud spreading across. And you think OK, the guy's going nuts. And he was.
Because his mind was breaking down. He had a condition that I don't think that exists anymore. We don't have it any more-- psychotic attacks. They would come suddenly. And the last one did destroy his mind, OK.
And he knew that his mind was wavering. So he writes The Storm Cloud of the Nineteenth Century. But if you think it's pure projection, he actually noticed that the snows are melting on the Alps. He measured it and he was right, apparently. He counted the hours that you could see the sun in January in London in 1875, I think it was, and he came up with 40 minutes because of the smog. So again, you combine this emotional wildness with that detail accuracy, OK.
All right, so Ruskin floundering in his later works. His own life floundering. The pressures of sort of unbelief really, really difficult for him.
But there's one more moment in his career that I want to share with you. You know, Ruskin is no longer a dogmatic Christian. He no longer thinks that you can get the biblical lessons by reading nature.
But then he kind of retreats and he rethinks the world. And he says, well suppose this new study, and suppose I study mythology. Because mythology is the history of the human encounters with nature.
And he interpreted Greek mythology this way. He said, well, the Greeks, first of all, beheld nature. They saw the sun. And from their beholden to the sun comes the idea of Apollo. From their experience of the air come with the idea of Athena, the god of air. Athena also means mind, right. Also signifies the mind.
At root, the Greek myths are natural. This is Ruskin, OK. And he also then came to view species, plant and animal species, as partly human and partly biological. Because really to understand the species, like a plant, animal species, you have to understand how humans have used it. So this is some, I mean, really strange and interesting stuff.
1869 he writes one of his most religious books, The Queen of the Air. It's an ode to Athena, OK. And in the second chapter of The Queen of the Air he says, OK. I'm going to consider two animals living hieroglyphs, right. Types, natural types.
The bird, where the air power is the greatest. And then guess what animal where the air power is the least and the earth power is the greatest. Can anyone guess which animal that is?
The most amazing description of snake that I have ever seen in English prose, at any rate. But we're not reading that one, we're reading the bird. Oh, you can-- so Ruskin, and I won't read all of it because you're going to take it home with you and read it. But here's how he writes.
This is not an ode to Athena, this is the ode to a bird, which is sort of Athena's element, right. "We will take the bird first. It is little more than a drift of the air brought into form by plumes. The air is in all its quills." My typing.
"It breathes through its whole frame and flesh and glows with air. Its flying like a blown flame. It rests upon the air, subdues, it surpasses, it outraces. It is the air. Conscious of itself, conquering itself, looms.
Also onto the throat of the bird is given the voice of the air. All that in the wind itself is weak, wild, useless in sweetness, is knit together in its song. As we may imagine the wild form of the cloud closed into the perfect form of the bird's wings so the wild voice of the cloud into its ordered and commanded voice, unwearied, rippling through the clear heaven in its gladness, interpreting all intense passion through the soft spring nights, bursting into acclaim, rapture of choir at daybreak, or lisping and twittering among the bows and hedges through heat of day, like little wings that on only make the cowslip bell shake and the petal of the wild rose. Also, upon the plumes of the bird are put the colors of the air."
It goes on. And then finally, and so, skipping down to the bottom now. "And so the spirit of the air is put into and upon this created form. And it becomes through twenty centuries the symbol of divine help, descending, as the fire, to speak but as the dove to bless."
What's going on there? Well, he's now comparing the bird to the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Ghost, also called the comfort of the Holy Ghost, symbolized by a bird. Christ ascended and he left the Holy Ghost, the bird, the comforter in his place.
And also, the first time the bird descended, he descended as flames so that the Apostles spoke in tongues of fire. Those are biblical references. So what are biblical references doing in pen to Athena, right? Well, Ruskin is now combining Greek myth and Christian myth through the idea of the word air, which in Old Testament language is spirit. Spirit, air, breath are the same word, right.
So Athena is really herself also the Holy Spirit, but she is also the Greek Athena. So Ruskin is really weaving together mythological tradition. This is no longer dogmatic Christianity. But he's still seeing the world in religious humanized terms.
All right, did that make-- that's just a little bit of what he was doing in that final book. All right, I'm at an end now and I want to raise with you this question. Or answering, answer the question. Maybe you guys will have a different answer for me. But the question I'm going to raise and answer is, what would Ruskin say to us today if he came back in a lucid moment?
Because all his moments weren't lucid. Complicated person, a difficult life. Moments of nuttiness, moments of magnificence. I've never known anybody like that except for him. No. So OK.
If Ruskin were to reappear in our century in a lucid moment, what would you notice about our century as a writer and ecologist? And this is what I would think. Remember, Ruskin's is fierce, he was fierce, right, in one of his moods.
I think he would notice, certainly he would notice pollution. He would get really frank with you guys. But maybe particularly pollution of the airwaves.
By confuses of fact, false scientists, mendacious shills, wealthy despoilers of our planetary future and our airwaves. Sounding like scientists, telling us one skeptical thing after another. He would notice lots of pollution, but that I think would be this distortion of thought, of imagination would be one thing he would notice.
I think he would also tell us that now more than ever, than even his own time, human destiny lies in the hands of good science. He would say that all of us, humanists, botanists, whatever we are, must become literate about the fragile structure of the world that surrounds us. While our naturalists must more and more become social scientists, learning new ways to speak truth to power as they continue to explore truths of nature.
My advice to scientists out there. It's happening already. It's not my advice, it's happening already. Scientists becoming social scientists because that's where we're moving.
More generally, he might remind us that humans belong to nature, but their nature already comes to us humanized both as our habitat and as a partial product of the cultural imagination working through history. In turn, the human imagination is neither sovereign or solipsistic, but depends on nature, on encounters with the not-self, with what is greater than us and will outlive us and outlast us and will exceed our understanding, but will never stop fueling our creativity or our curiosity. And will never stop requiring our care and our cherishing until the time when we pass your legacy on to those who come after us.
All right, so I'm trying to bring Ruskin up til today. My own thoughts were not projected at all into that last sentence. So thank you very much, guys.
DON RAKOW: And we're thankful for that magnificent lecture. I think we have time for a couple of questions and their attended answers. After which, I will have a few announcements, so please don't leave.
PAUL SAWYER: Any questions? Yes, Lyle.
AUDIENCE: Do you come from a family of preachers?
PAUL SAWYER: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, my father was a clergyman. But I didn't go into-- like Darwin, I did not go into that profession, I went into teaching or something.
Yeah, you could say-- I mean, Ruskin, as I said at the beginning, he wanted-- Ruskin said well, I could have been-- he was the original I could have been a champion, right. I mean, just never, never, never satisfied. But he could have been a great geologist. He could have been a great poet. He could have been a great painter or a bishop, right. And as I said at the beginning, he didn't become any of those things, but he became all of them, in a way, through the meeting of prose.
And this preaching, sometimes the preaching style of Ruskin can sometimes drive you crazy. It all depends on what passage. But there are other moments, of course, where the preaching, if you will, can light up into a moral passion that's really a beautiful.
DON RAKOW: One more question.
PAUL SAWYER: OK. Just one more, OK.
PAUL SAWYER: Ruskin was open to a lot of influences. But then he also had a lot of peculiar shutdowns. So you know, he blinkered himself. So as he got older, he actually does a turn around. And he deplores-- right, I mean modern historians think that with art historians will say Turner's move towards abstraction is his great move towards the rest of our history, for example, Cezanne, right, Monet, and so forth.
Ruskin was very anxious about abstraction. And he actually attacked a British Impressionist later in life. And the impressionist defended himself in court and Ruskin was found guilty and he had to pay a farthing damage because he said why. Well, he said something really close to this painter is throwing paint in the face [? of this. ?] It's not quite that he's echoing, right.
But I mean, you know, some of the traditional rigidity and conservatism Ruskin is lay in his insistence that you know, if you let go of the physical connection moving to abstraction you're going to just lose all self-control or whatever.
So no, French Impressionism he couldn't stand. What he did develop, of course, was his love of Italian art. And I didn't cover any of that. A great, great rich love of especially early pre-Renaissance Italian painters, but not Impressionists. Yeah. Was that your question, Pete?
DON RAKOW: So I want to again--
PAUL SAWYER: Thank you.
DON RAKOW: --thank Paul for just a wonderful lecture.
PAUL SAWYER: It was a pleasure to be here. Pleasure to be here. Thank you so much.
DON RAKOW: [INAUDIBLE]
PAUL SAWYER: Oh, yes.
We've received your request
You will be notified by email when the transcript and captions are available. The process may take up to 5 business days. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about this request.
John Ruskin--art critic, amateur scientist, utopian socialist, and one of the greatest prose stylists in English--founded modern art criticism in Britain by conceiving landscape painting as an art, a branch of science, and a religious act all at once.
His five-volume series Modern Painters (1842-1860), with its famous word paintings, was as much a primer of the system of nature as a history of art; his succeeding books on architecture saw in the decoration of Gothic cathedrals--the twisted vines, flowers, columns, and sculptured saints and angels--an emblem in stone of the unity of God, nature, and social life. But when he became obsessed by the damage wrought by rampant industrialism on both landscape and human welfare, he became a radical social critic, becoming in effect Europe's first great environmentalist.
This lecture traces Ruskin's dramatic and contradictory career from his exquisitely precise drawings of clouds, rocks, leaves, and sculptured walls and niches, into his storm-driven middle years, when his despair over the deterioration of landscape matched his fierce belief that science, art, and writing were but differing routes to the same truth: Nature as the source of the greatest art and the ultimate guarantor of human values. In his tragic final years, he waged a struggle against insanity by recapturing in prose the glittering landscapes of his lost youth.
This was part of the 2012 Cornell Plantations Lecture Series.