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Two of Ruskin's famous essays: "The Nature of the Gothic" and "The Work of Iron" from his book The Stones of Venice.


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Two of Ruskin's famous essays: "The Nature of the Gothic" and "The Work of Iron" from his book The Stones of Venice.

30 review for On Art and Life

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Fuller

    Nietzsche said that with the death of the sacred, Beauty would continue, albeit accidentally. Mr. John Ruskin, however, set his sights on an earlier age, developing six principles that could be applied to gothic beauty, and in so doing, in my eyes, set down the principles for Beauty in general. The principles are: Rudeness, Changefulness, Naturalness, Grotesqueness, Rigidity and Redundancy. In our post-industrial age, perhaps the most telling is the first, Rudeness. Mr. Ruskin defines Rudeness as t Nietzsche said that with the death of the sacred, Beauty would continue, albeit accidentally. Mr. John Ruskin, however, set his sights on an earlier age, developing six principles that could be applied to gothic beauty, and in so doing, in my eyes, set down the principles for Beauty in general. The principles are: Rudeness, Changefulness, Naturalness, Grotesqueness, Rigidity and Redundancy. In our post-industrial age, perhaps the most telling is the first, Rudeness. Mr. Ruskin defines Rudeness as the introduction of originality into a work at the expense of a polished, finished product. What, you may ask? That's not how I do it at work! Me either brother, but it's nice to know why nothing I produce is beautiful. Which leads me to my next point concerning this little gem of a book. These principles can be applied, in my view, to Beauty in general, not just gothic. And it provides an interesting point of view with which to look at life. Suddenly, many of the 'best things' in life truly are free. I had no real education in aesthetics before reading this book, and have now delved deeper into the subject because of it. Maybe you will too.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Zanna

    Extracts from Ruskin's book The Stones of Venice in which he examines architecture as a way of understanding the political economy, social structure and cultural framework of Britain and other countries he has experienced. Ruskin is radical, humanitarian, visionary. His insight is profound and he champions freedom and creativity as the foundation of artistic work. He refuses to divorce aesthetics from ethics. I completely changed my view of buildings when I read this. In every made thing I now lo Extracts from Ruskin's book The Stones of Venice in which he examines architecture as a way of understanding the political economy, social structure and cultural framework of Britain and other countries he has experienced. Ruskin is radical, humanitarian, visionary. His insight is profound and he champions freedom and creativity as the foundation of artistic work. He refuses to divorce aesthetics from ethics. I completely changed my view of buildings when I read this. In every made thing I now look for the maker's soul. I wish I could raise Ruskin from the dead to comment on architecture and design today. "You must either make a tool of the creature, or a man of him. You cannot make both."

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    "The law of nature is, that a certain quantity of work is necessary to produce a certain quantity of good, of any kind whatever. If you want knowledge, you must toil for it: if food, you must toil for it: and if pleasure, you must toil for it. But men do not acknowledge this law; or strive to evade it, hoping to get their knowledge, and food, and pleasure for nothing: and in this effort they either fail of getting them, and remain ignorant and miserable, or they obtain them by making other men w "The law of nature is, that a certain quantity of work is necessary to produce a certain quantity of good, of any kind whatever. If you want knowledge, you must toil for it: if food, you must toil for it: and if pleasure, you must toil for it. But men do not acknowledge this law; or strive to evade it, hoping to get their knowledge, and food, and pleasure for nothing: and in this effort they either fail of getting them, and remain ignorant and miserable, or they obtain them by making other men work for their benefit; and then they are tyrants and robbers."

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

    I will never look at fences in the same way again! John Ruskin was the original anti-WalMart guy, it would seem, and his ideas on responsible consumerism and dignity will stay with me forever. His ideas on jewels have even prompted me to get a different wedding band--that's some influence from beyond the grave!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Zeineb Nouira

    When one mentions John Ruskin, a certain image of a rigid and moralist stance should be unearthed. As the proponent of Theoria in art and its role in making art a meaningful field of life, John Ruskin while talking about Gothic architecture and the uses of iron really does not stray away from his teleological stance when dealing with whatever topic. Indeed, Ruskin in his essay “The Nature of Gothic” explores the features of Gothic architecture and debunks the prejudice that originate from the gr When one mentions John Ruskin, a certain image of a rigid and moralist stance should be unearthed. As the proponent of Theoria in art and its role in making art a meaningful field of life, John Ruskin while talking about Gothic architecture and the uses of iron really does not stray away from his teleological stance when dealing with whatever topic. Indeed, Ruskin in his essay “The Nature of Gothic” explores the features of Gothic architecture and debunks the prejudice that originate from the grotesque and “imperfect” visual renderings (gargoyles and extravagant arches and vaulted roofs were seen as unappealing when compared to the Roman counterpart). He enumerates and thoroughly explains each feature as to prove that this kind of architecture is not a non-aesthetic deviation, but a continuation of it. Yet, aestheticism for Ruskin can NEVER exist without a dash of morality. In his analysis, he brings forth the questions of freedom, slavery, Humanism and tradition. Architecture in this sense is a substantiation of a set of values and a representation of a mindset (again art is stripped from its artistry). In the second essay entitled “The Work of Iron”, Ruskin employs his skill of smooth transitioning to include his stances vis à vis the uses of Iron in family, society, and politics. He argues that the complementary use of iron in the hands of women (needles=clothes) and those of men (plough and swords=food and security) make up a “happy nation”. He then indulges into a tirade about the necessity of using iron as a means of smiting and punishment as to assert the part of exemplum in this essay…and so on and so forth. At some point, this has become a sermon about Sin disguised under a supposed guidebook on the uses of iron. In summation, I did not expect a less holier-than-thou attitude from such an author. His writings are so drenched in preaching tones that it becomes forcefully far-fetched.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Liz Polding

    A passionate and beautifully written book which says a great deal about the author as well as it's subject matter. Ruskin's aesthetic views and high-mindedness might imply impracticality and a view of human beings as stereotypes, distinguished, in Ruskin's day, by class. Not so. I am always struck by Ruskin's thoughts on fair trade and the value that he placed on actual physical work, arguing that ideas and the work which is needed to bring ideas into physical existence have equal value. He depl A passionate and beautifully written book which says a great deal about the author as well as it's subject matter. Ruskin's aesthetic views and high-mindedness might imply impracticality and a view of human beings as stereotypes, distinguished, in Ruskin's day, by class. Not so. I am always struck by Ruskin's thoughts on fair trade and the value that he placed on actual physical work, arguing that ideas and the work which is needed to bring ideas into physical existence have equal value. He deplores the demeaning of craftsmanship by manufacturing and is unequivocal about his views on fair trade. Anything less than paying someone a fair price for their labour is stealing. I can't comment on his views on whether leaves should be rendered in marble, wood or iron in sculpture, but in this, I completely agree with him.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Alan

    Can't say I disagree with anything in this book except, maybe, Ruskin's love for run on sentences. This collection of two influential chapters from his older books highlights the importance of aesthetics and labor in life. Despite being hundreds of years old, Ruskin's critique on the role of buildings & fences, and the human cost of making them, remains as relevant (if not more) today as it was when he wrote it. Can't say I disagree with anything in this book except, maybe, Ruskin's love for run on sentences. This collection of two influential chapters from his older books highlights the importance of aesthetics and labor in life. Despite being hundreds of years old, Ruskin's critique on the role of buildings & fences, and the human cost of making them, remains as relevant (if not more) today as it was when he wrote it.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Gastjäle

    3.5 / 5.0 As an inclusion in the "Great Ideas" series, On Art and Life falls a bit short, at least from the imaginary standard I've set for such a project. Essentially, Ruskin is espousing humane causes in the face of estranging practices that were burgeoning as a result of industrialisation. He rues the fact that artisanship was on the decline - the loss of unevenness in the surfaces of visual arts, as emblematic of artistic vision and emotion - and that the new capitalist system deprives the fr 3.5 / 5.0 As an inclusion in the "Great Ideas" series, On Art and Life falls a bit short, at least from the imaginary standard I've set for such a project. Essentially, Ruskin is espousing humane causes in the face of estranging practices that were burgeoning as a result of industrialisation. He rues the fact that artisanship was on the decline - the loss of unevenness in the surfaces of visual arts, as emblematic of artistic vision and emotion - and that the new capitalist system deprives the fruit of labour from labourers and gives them to those who never sweated by plying the plough. His ideas are noble, and like all things concerning nobility, they are dimmed the more they become to relics of the past. Personally, I believe Ruskin's ideas about placing imperfection on the pedestal is still applicable and even healthy today, but the problem with it lies in its vagueness: Ruskin uses another, un-told metric when he weighs various perfections. [It appears that he is attacking the use of machinery and how it influences the employers' and consumers' ideas of what man should be, and thus his bad perfection seems to have to do with outlines, more or less. But I'm sure he wouldn't have had anything against an artist who strove to perfect their own vision, provided such things could be finished (since Ruskin seemed to sneer a bit at Leonardo's dilatory perfectionism)! As long as the perfection wasn't of a sterile, visual sort.] Be that as it may, "perfection" on the whole is a dangerous and literally medieval idea, which can ruin the aesthetic glimmer in a person's eye, and hence it should be scrapped in its purely superficial sense. The inferences Ruskin draws from the imperfections of Gothic masonry etc. are purely personal, yet as such they should inspire rather than instruct the reader. However, his somewhat Marxist idea about labour is not really applicable on the whole anymore. Machinery has been placed under the yoke of man, and no longer can such a shocking picture of reality drawn as Ruskin has, with sweaty, undernourished labourers beavering away while top-hatted tycoons grow fat on their crops. Contracts are made, and farmers do not need to grumble as much if they are well rewarded for their efforts. Even this little fact makes Ruskin's declamations simply dated, though there are other problems with capitalism that still exist today. Ruskin also stressed the importance of duty, peaceful governance and the fact that social life is based on restraint, not on absolute freedom. Good ideas, yet seem like truisms these days. But what really makes this little book is the way Ruskin weaves his narrative. He may start talking about Gothic blocks of stone, and suddenly we find that they have acted merely as metaphorical foundations for Ruskin's moral philosophy and his ideas about humanity. His aesthetics are prominent, alluring and rich - I mean, anyone who can draw such beautiful data from unevenly hewn masonry and, well, basically anything uneven! is a perspicacious visionary in my books. In the latter text, he starts out as a scientist holding forth on the merits (and poetic pleasantness) of iron, and soon the reader is awoken by the realisation that Ruskin has donned the clerical collar and is waxing grand about a metaphorical iron oppression. What happened? Just a moment ago, he was talking about the aesthetic nullity of iron fences and how he dislikes black and grey hues, and all of a sudden we're soaring above humankind, with our Dickensian Marx pointing out the great injustices of his time. I'm not wondering at all that Ruskin influenced the likes of Tolstoy and Proust. He had an eye for burrowed beauty, a brain for courageous cogitations and a heart that beat like a blacksmith. And he writes like an inspired genius - or perhaps he is one. That's something I'll definitely need to find out!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jake

    This small book is comprised of a chapter (from another book) on Gothic architecture and a lecture on ironwork. Ruskin had a fine way of making these topics about humanity. It reads very smoothly considering it's from the mid-19th century. Some fine insights mixed with a bit of boredom.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lorraine

    Part Intro to historical architecture, part socialist critique of Victorian industrialism, part long digression on the nature of iron and rust.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Gyula Papp

    A must read, beautifully written, perfectly poignant and informative.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Elvan

    “...the demand for perfection is always a sign of a misunderstanding of the ends of art. No great man ever stops working till he has reached his point of failure: that is to say, his mind is always far in advance of his powers of execution...”

  13. 4 out of 5

    Michael Percy

    This book consists of two sections, "The Nature of Gothic" from Vol. 2 of The Stones of Venice(1853), and "The Work of Iron", originally given as a lecture at Tunbridge Wells, and later published in The Two Paths(1859). I learnt of the importance of Ruskin's influence only recently when watching the movie Mr Turner(2014), starring one of my favourite actors, Timothy Spall, in the lead role. Ruskin was a supporter of the work of J.M.W. Turner and apparently played a role in elevating landscape pa This book consists of two sections, "The Nature of Gothic" from Vol. 2 of The Stones of Venice(1853), and "The Work of Iron", originally given as a lecture at Tunbridge Wells, and later published in The Two Paths(1859). I learnt of the importance of Ruskin's influence only recently when watching the movie Mr Turner(2014), starring one of my favourite actors, Timothy Spall, in the lead role. Ruskin was a supporter of the work of J.M.W. Turner and apparently played a role in elevating landscape painting as a major genre. I enjoy Turner's work immensely, and Ruskin's influence encouraged me to read some of his work. I have not been disappointed and I have discovered other works that I intend to read, which coincide with a particular publisher's series. I find the Dover Thrift Editions of great works easy to read in terms of size of print and page, and Dover also has a series on architecture (I have read the work of Le Corbusier from this series). Ruskin's The Seven Lamps of Architecture is presented in the Dover series, so this will be a welcome addition to my library. I find architecture fascinating, and while I recently designed and built my own chook pen, I stand in awe of the great architectural and engineering miracles we use every day, often without giving a thought for the magnificence of the outcome of thought and practice. There is something about architecture that stirs the soul. I am reminded of Lord Kenneth Clark's 1960s book and BBC TV series, Civilisation, where Clark tells the audience that his personal view of the history of civilisation focuses on art and architecture, and he does not care whether others should think him a fuddy-duddy or not. I went off in search of the precise words, and was struck that Clark's first words are Ruskin's! "Ruskin said":Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts—the book of their deeds, the book of their words, and the book of their art. Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the two others; but of the three, the only quite trustworthy one is the last.However, in this book, Ruskin first focuses on the nature of Gothic architecture, and presents an interesting view of workmanship and the worker: if one wants a consistent product, much like a machine would produce, then the man becomes a tool - if one wants a creative man, then the outcome will be inconsistent, but of a finer nature. As the subtitle reads:You must either make a tool of the creature, or a man of him. You cannot make both.Ruskin uses the example of Venetian glass and its artisanal qualities compared with the precisely uniform production glass of his time. I am pleased to learn that my own thoughts on the standardisation of education echo Ruskin's. Ruskin's idea of truth is:...that great art, whether expressing itself in words, colours, or stones, does not say the same thing over and over again... Yet... this is... only hidden from us... by false teaching. Nothing is a great work of art, for the production of which rules or models can be given.I have the same argument against marking rubrics for essays - if it were possible to produce a perfect marking rubric, there would be no need to teach essay writing; yet marking rubrics are somehow seen as "fairer"! More likely, as Lord Kenneth Clark said, the ancient civilisations ended because they were "exhausted". Moreover, the next time I hear someone mention coining a phrase like "change fatigue", my scepticism will know no bounds! Ruskin (p. 36) basically outlines all we need to know about change, and more eloquently than any recent airport-read management guru book. The trouble with reading classic texts is one realises how much written today is a rip-off of the past, but presents itself as something new, without a hint of an acknowledgement. And this is not because it is plagiarised, but that the contemporary author has simply not done her or his homework, and has independently thought up something that had already been thought before. Imagine how much further we might advance if we did not have to reinvent the wheel every time we began to apply our thought-forces to a problem? Hence the literature review. But what if one could be original. Being original is more difficult than one might think. In the second section of the book, Ruskin discusses the importance of iron in its many forms. Here I learn more about geography, and the chalybeate spring (a natural mineral spring containing iron salts) at Tunbridge Well, and the importance of this site to so many great artists. Ruskin was addressing a general audience and arriving at turning "swords into ploughshares" (Isaiah 2:4) from a mineral spring is a fascinating journey that is captivating, if a little bewildering, as if caught up in some 1960s psychological experiment. There are several messages in this book, but most prominent is the belief that forcing labourers to work as machines in order to reduce the price of goods was STEALING (capitalised in the original) from the workers. (Ruskin believed that "the architect [should] work in the mason's yard with his men", p. 25) Moreover, love of order (or the standardisation aesthetic, as I would call it) is useful in "practical matters": ...but love of order has no more to do with our right enjoyment of architecture or painting, than love of punctuality with the appreciation of an opera.I daresay that Ruskin, if he were writing today, would be regarded as "discursive". But I like his style. There is so much that underpins his work, a depth of reading that is obvious, yet creates the scaffolding for his originality; political, yet not radical; radical, yet not revolutionary; revolutionary, yet not wanting to overthrow the status quo; accepting of change, or more importantly for my own thinking, of the punctuated equilibrium of living and civilisation, but all moving toward an end where men (sic) no longer wage war, having learnt to live peacefully (much like the literal truth-speaking "long-livers" in George Bernard Shaw's Back to Methuselah). I must admit that the portrayal of John Ruskin in Mr Turner influenced my reading mind, and I pictured a lisping flatterer who was socially-tolerated. But now having read Ruskin "in the flesh", I am inspired, and I just may have found the source of so many other things I enjoy (landscape painting, Clark's Civilisation, Turner's art, etc), and a new appreciation for the role of the critic.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Xinyu

    This is brilliant, and full of compassion and humanity, so the best kind of book to me. When I read first several pages, I thought okay, this is going to be a dull and difficult book with all the architectural terms, but the more into it, the more I am attracted by the perceptible enthusiasm Ruskin felt to the subjects of his writing - the prose is beautiful and sometime magnificent, and his wisdom toward life. The second essay is about iron, the rusty iron; I am just amazed by his standpoints - This is brilliant, and full of compassion and humanity, so the best kind of book to me. When I read first several pages, I thought okay, this is going to be a dull and difficult book with all the architectural terms, but the more into it, the more I am attracted by the perceptible enthusiasm Ruskin felt to the subjects of his writing - the prose is beautiful and sometime magnificent, and his wisdom toward life. The second essay is about iron, the rusty iron; I am just amazed by his standpoints - how could one be so brilliant to make such a dull topic so interesting and thought-provoking? When my to-read shelf is a little bit clearer, I look forward to reading him more. "It is a law of this universe, that the best things shall be seldomest seen in their best form." "On the other hand, if you will make a man of a working creature [a thinking being], you cannot make a tool. Let him but begin to imagine, to think, to try to do anything worth doing; and the engine-turned precision is lost at once. Out come all his roughness, all his dulness, all his incapability; shame upon shame, failure upon failure, pause after pause: but out comes the whole of majesty of him also: and we know the height of it only when we see the clouds settling upon him."

  15. 4 out of 5

    David Williamson

    After initial getting over my preconceptions of Ruskin (as a niave, god lovin', lets return to the tree's type), I found the first essay beautifully insightful. After what I perceived as a few contradictions, he goes on to correct/absolve his intitial statements by his views on art as imperfect, art as a pursuit of failure, or at least ending in failure. His attitide to life was inspiring in the essay on Gothic art/architecture, his essay on iron I found a little over the top, although at times After initial getting over my preconceptions of Ruskin (as a niave, god lovin', lets return to the tree's type), I found the first essay beautifully insightful. After what I perceived as a few contradictions, he goes on to correct/absolve his intitial statements by his views on art as imperfect, art as a pursuit of failure, or at least ending in failure. His attitide to life was inspiring in the essay on Gothic art/architecture, his essay on iron I found a little over the top, although at times prophetic. Also his comments on the act of creation/artistry or the artist are wonderfully good. After being very sceptical, I am now interested in reading further works by Ruskin. But the essay on Iron really did start to grate. (iron gate) nevermind!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    Loved it. I felt like I was reading Shakespeare for the first time. Like when you think he wasn't that great because you've heard it all before, but then you realize you've heard it all before because he said it first. Really fun.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Robert Gebhardt

    The first essay "Nature of Gothic" was excellent. He specifies what constitutes 'Gothic' and, in doing so, discusses many other details. Some quotes: "Its elements are certain mental tendencies of the builders, legibly expressed in it; as fancifulness, love of variety, love of richness, and such others. Its external forms are pointed arches, vaulted roofs, etc. And unless both the elements and the forms are there, we have no right to call the style Gothic." "Understand this clearly: You can teach The first essay "Nature of Gothic" was excellent. He specifies what constitutes 'Gothic' and, in doing so, discusses many other details. Some quotes: "Its elements are certain mental tendencies of the builders, legibly expressed in it; as fancifulness, love of variety, love of richness, and such others. Its external forms are pointed arches, vaulted roofs, etc. And unless both the elements and the forms are there, we have no right to call the style Gothic." "Understand this clearly: You can teach a man to draw a straight line, and to cut one; to strike a curved line, and to carve it; and to copy and carve any number of given lines or forms, with admirable speed and perfect precision; and you find his work perfect of its kind: but if you ask him to think about any of those forms, to consider if he cannot find any better in his own head, he stops; his execution becomes hesitating; he thinks, and ten to one he thinks wrong; ten to one he makes a mistake in the first touch he gives to his work as a thinking being. But you have made a man of him for all that. He was only a machine before, an animated tool." "if, as in Greek work, all the capitals are alike, and all the mouldings unvaried, then the degradation is complete; if, as in Egyptian or Ninevite work, though the manner of executing certain figures is always the same, the order of design is perpetually varied, the degradation is less total; if, as in Gothic work, there is perpetual change both in design and execution, the workman must have been altogether set free." "A picture or poem is often little more than a feeble utterance of man’s admiration of something out of himself; but architecture approaches more to a creation of his own,..." The second essay, however (The Work of Iron) seemed a bit odd, especially toward the end where he stopped talking about iron altogether but about how the poor are being oppressed.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Francisco

    This little volume collects two works from Ruskin, The Nature of Gothic and The Work of Iron. These are both work of art history and criticism but maybe more importantly they are works of deep social exploration of the effects of art on labourers and how art and architecture has direct influence on the life of people. Clearly a direct attack on mass manufacturing Ruskin presents alternatives to mass manufacturing, and brings to light the evils of factory work and the division of labour. Written a This little volume collects two works from Ruskin, The Nature of Gothic and The Work of Iron. These are both work of art history and criticism but maybe more importantly they are works of deep social exploration of the effects of art on labourers and how art and architecture has direct influence on the life of people. Clearly a direct attack on mass manufacturing Ruskin presents alternatives to mass manufacturing, and brings to light the evils of factory work and the division of labour. Written as they were in the context of the British mechanized factory system just after the industrial revolution, Ruskin sees this type of work as dehumanizing and the great cause of civil and political unrest of his day. Workers have been made into tools being forced to put aside their creative instincts and therefore any satisfaction that can be taken from work. Ruskin's defence of Gothic architecture is particularly enlightening in this respect. For Ruskin Gothic art gave workers the opportunity to express themselves, to feel a personal stake in their work, from the lowest of the stone carvers to the architects, putting something of themselves in what they did. He contrasts this to modern factory work where one person makes a head of the pin and the other the tip without ever even making a whole pin. He sees this type of dehumanizing work as a horrible oppression of workers comparing their status as that of slaves, who if they want to eat have to sell their time to supremely unsatisfying activities or risk death. Some greatly enlightening and influential work. It's no surprise that Ruskin was as influential if not more so on the British labour movement as Marx, for example.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rose

    There were a few interesting ideas in here... buried among a pile of illogical and often classist, racist and sexist assumptions which go completely unquestioned throughout the book. The arguments are full of inconsistencies (often produced by the writer trying to contort his thoughts to fit in with his prejudices, rather than examine them) - for instance, it is argued at one point that workmen should have freedom of artistic expression, then later a list of completely arbitrary rules around wha There were a few interesting ideas in here... buried among a pile of illogical and often classist, racist and sexist assumptions which go completely unquestioned throughout the book. The arguments are full of inconsistencies (often produced by the writer trying to contort his thoughts to fit in with his prejudices, rather than examine them) - for instance, it is argued at one point that workmen should have freedom of artistic expression, then later a list of completely arbitrary rules around what materials should be employed to what end is given. To top it all off, the writing style is stuffy and deathly boring to read. Thankfully, the book is a short one and having read it, I am now protected from the temptation to pick up anything produced by the same person.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth (Miss Eliza)

    *Special Content only on my blog, Strange and Random Happenstance during "This" Summer: A Lauren Willig Theme Month for the release of That Summer (May 2014) The world around us should be our inspiration for art. There is a reason why art and architecture varies by climate. The materials available and the surrounding environment should feed art and make it of it's place, not attempting and hence forcing it to being something it's not. Yet if the labourer who is to create these masterpieces doesn' *Special Content only on my blog, Strange and Random Happenstance during "This" Summer: A Lauren Willig Theme Month for the release of That Summer (May 2014) The world around us should be our inspiration for art. There is a reason why art and architecture varies by climate. The materials available and the surrounding environment should feed art and make it of it's place, not attempting and hence forcing it to being something it's not. Yet if the labourer who is to create these masterpieces doesn't have any artistic freedom his work is just that of another cog in the industrial revolution. Man can either be a tool or a man. To make a truly great society there needs to be expression allowed in each and every man's work, otherwise society is failing. There needs to be heart in work. Hand, heart, material working in harmony will bring about the artistic revolution that is needed to offset the industrial revolution. This slim volume contains the chapter "The Nature of Gothic" from Ruskin's The Stones of Venice and a talk he gave on "The Work of Iron, in Nature, Art, and Policy" in Tunbridge Wells in 1858. This book is part of the Penguin Books series of "Great Ideas." Penguin has always been an innovator when it comes to reissuing books of note. As the blurb on the back says "Throughout history, some books have changed the world. They have transformed the way we see ourselves - and each other. They have inspired debate, dissent, war and revolution. They have enlightened, outraged, provoked and comforted. They have enriched lives - and destroyed them." With the way Ruskin's writing fed the Pre-Raphaelites and their Brotherhood, I think we can safely say that this is one of the books that have enlightened and enriched our lives. Given that art is a difficult and nebulous topic to write on, Ruskin's clarity of vision shines through in such a way that anyone interested in art should pick this up if they can... the Brotherhood certainly did, in more ways then one. Who knows if without Ruskin's vocalization of his beliefs if the Brotherhood would have been able to settle on a cohesive ideology and change the face of art. But more then that, his support of them gave the movement credibility. Ruskin has such a way with words you can see why the Pre-Raphaelites took him and his writing to heart. He has a way of illuminating the everyday and rising it above the mundane. Through his words you can see a Utopian society for the betterment of man is possible. Yes, these ideals might be romantic, but that is what the Pre-Raphaelites where all about. Ruskin easily breaks down what is wrong with Victorian society. Art and craft are moving towards the mass produced, cookie cutter houses where the decoration in the homes are done by rote, not by feeling, one wonders what he would make of today's subdivisions. A society enslaved by their industrialized homes with the same wallpaper and the identical rosettes lining the walls and ceilings. That is why Ruskin embraces Gothic Architecture. In the Gothic he sees aspects that show the originality of the craftsman. He believes that there is a Gothic Heart that needs whimsy and naturalism among other things in order succeed. Of course the Utopian aspect (ie unrealistic) is where he believes that a society would move away from convenience and back to this time of buying custom objects wherein the maker was able to express themselves and therefore break free of being just a tool, a slave of modern industrialization. Ruskin's beliefs are impractical but worthy. Ruskin needed the Pre-Raphaelites as much as they needed him. Without someone to latch onto his treatises there was no way to see if they were feasible, even on a small scale. The early doctrine of the Brotherhood believed in genuine ideas, naturalism, empathy, and quality. This tailors so well to all that Ruskin has written. In his talk at Tunbridge Wells he said that hand, heart, and material needed to work together in harmony. Add in Ruskin's belief in this Gothic (literally Northern from "Goths") Heart that believes in changeableness and naturalism and truth, ie, truth to nature, and it's a perfect fit. This naturalism/truth to nature of listening to ourselves as well as our abilities that feeds into our choice of medium aligns the man and the Brotherhood into one. The nature of your location and the environment creates how you express yourself, but some things can only be done in certain materials. Don't ever try to use a material in a way that is not conducive to what you want to do. If something is light and airy, don't use marble. Each man must believe in truth and beauty. Truth to the world, the materials, the subject, and himself. Each to his own means and own thoughts, the master to perfection, the average man to imperfection, but take joy in both and look for nothing less. The artist shall use his skill to make everything to the best of his abilities, even down to making his own paint. You read these tenets and everything clicks. This is what the Pre-Raphaelites believed. This was their code like the Musketeers, "One for all and all for one." Ruskin was the chronicler and inspiration for them... a little bit ironic though when you realize that Ruskin thought all art should be of it's time, whereas the Pre-Raphaelites loved to paint classic allegorical subjects using real artifacts... but not everyone can agree all the time.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Savanna Rhodes

    This was my introduction to John Ruskin and I fell in love with him immediately. His thoughts on labor, wealth, and nature are well-worded and modern. Only reason this book doesn't get five stars is because Ruskin does at one point argue that laborers of the industrial revolution suffered more than actual slaves in the Americas, which is dicey at best. Outside of this, his point regarding treating workers as human beings and paying them fairly for their efforts was insightful during the time it This was my introduction to John Ruskin and I fell in love with him immediately. His thoughts on labor, wealth, and nature are well-worded and modern. Only reason this book doesn't get five stars is because Ruskin does at one point argue that laborers of the industrial revolution suffered more than actual slaves in the Americas, which is dicey at best. Outside of this, his point regarding treating workers as human beings and paying them fairly for their efforts was insightful during the time it was written and is still an important issue today.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mary Koepke

    READ THIS! It can sometimes drag on a little as the book speaks of some very theoretical concepts and Ruskin uses a 19th-century style that might seem long-winded and digressive to us, but it is ultimately very worthwhile to read this. It is beautifully written and beguiles furthermore by its unwavering topicality for today's world as well as, I am afraid, probably for tomorrow's.

  23. 5 out of 5

    John Gillespie

    I'm learning to be unsurprised when words from over a century ago reveal wisdom we currently need and have perennially ignored. This is the first of Ruskin's works I've read, but it will certainly not be the last. I recommend this for anyone interested in art and ethics. This beautifully embossed Penguin Books Great Ideas edition is also a gorgeous piece of art in its own right.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ana

    Divided into "The Nature of Gothic" and "The Work of Iron", I would have not finished this book had I not found the audiobook on Librivox (The Stones of Venice, Volume 2 and The Two Paths). These are verbose lectures on gothic arhitecture and iron are interesting, but far too much like sermons.

  25. 5 out of 5

    vittore paleni

    A fine meditation that beautifully interweaves and interpenetrates the themes of dignity, aesthetics, the environment, justice and labor. Certainly to whet the appetite to the reader to dive into deeper Ruskin waters. A much neglected voice for our age.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Michal Paszkiewicz

    A cry out against industrialisation and all its trappings. Ruskin makes us all want to be artists when we read this book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mary Sanche

    Luscious descriptions and a sensible view of the evils of capitalism. Too bad it didn't fix any of the problems huh?

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bee

    Beautiful imagery and powerful thoughts.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    Man's got a thing against iron fences

  30. 4 out of 5

    Dario

    Some nice Ruskin excerpts presented in an altogether slightly muddled fashion. The first of two chapters focuses on an identification of the Gothic, or rather a demarcation of gothicness. The chapter is quite compelling; he places an emphasis on the beauty of changefulness and what amounts to a sort of philosophy of authenticity, manifested by an admiration of grotesqueness, naturalism and rudeness, all of which seem to me different facets of a generalized appreciation of that which is, de facto Some nice Ruskin excerpts presented in an altogether slightly muddled fashion. The first of two chapters focuses on an identification of the Gothic, or rather a demarcation of gothicness. The chapter is quite compelling; he places an emphasis on the beauty of changefulness and what amounts to a sort of philosophy of authenticity, manifested by an admiration of grotesqueness, naturalism and rudeness, all of which seem to me different facets of a generalized appreciation of that which is, de facto. His style of writing is pleasant and gentle. The chapter on iron is less cogent, and is in fact a transcribed lecture. His lines of focus in this chapter are less clear, less strong, and don't bear much relation to each other let alone the earlier section of the book. I did enjoy his quasi-socialist tirade on labour, however, the rest of the chapter seems unimportant at best. The book did nonetheless succeed in piquing my desire to read some of his more formidable works!

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