"Inquiry is human, blind obedience brutal. Truth never loses by the one, but often suffers by the other.
The most useful truths are plainest; and while we keep to them, our differences cannot rise high.
There may be a wantonness in search, as well as stupidity in trusting. It is great wisdom equally to avoid the extremes." William Penn.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
John Ruskin (8 February 1819 – 20 January 1900) was the leading English art critic of the Victorian era, also an art patron, draughtsman, watercolourist, a prominent social thinker and philanthropist. In the following few quotes from his book titled Precious Thoughts, he takes a hard look at life in the 1800s. Not much has changed and if he were to see how far we have come down the road he reproaches, he would doubtless roll over in his grave.
"The vain and haughty projects of youth for future life; the giddy reveries of insatiable self-exaltation; the discontented dreams of what might have been or should be, instead of the thankful understanding of what is; the casting about for sources of interest in senseless fiction, instead of the real human histories of the people round us; the prolongation from age to age of romantic historical deceptions instead of sifted truth; the pleasures taken in fanciful portraits of rural or romantic life in poetry and on the stage, without the smallest effort to rescue the living rural population of the world from its ignorance or misery; the excitement of the feelings by labored imagination of spirits, fairies, monsters, and demons, issuing in total blindness of heart and sight to the true presences of beneficent or destructive spiritual powers around us; in short, the constant abandonment of all the straightforward paths of sense and duty, for fear of losing some of the enticement of ghostly joys, all these various forms of false idealism have so entangled the modern mind, often called, I suppose ironically, practical, that truly I believe there never yet was idolatry of stock or staff so utterly unholy as this our idolatry of shadows; nor can I think that, of those who burnt incense under oaks, and poplars, and elms, because “the shadow thereof was good,” it could in any wise be more justly or sternly declared than of us –“The wind hath bound them up in her wing, and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices.” John Ruskin.
We all have a general and sufficient idea of imagination, and of its work with our hands and in our hearts: we understand it, I suppose, as the imaging or picturing of new things in our thoughts; and we always show an involuntary respect for this power, wherever we can recognize it, acknowledging it to be a greater power than manipulation, or calculation, or observation, or any other human faculty. For example; if we see an old woman spinning at the fireside, and distributing her thread dexterously from the distaff, we respect her for her manipulation – if we ask her how much she expects to make in a year, and she answers quickly, we respect her for her calculation – if she is watching at the same time that none of her grandchildren fall into the fire, we respect her for her observation – yet for all this she may still be a commonplace old woman enough. But if she is all the time telling her grandchildren a fairy tale out of her head, we praise her for her imagination, and say, she must be a rather remarkable old woman.” John Ruskin.
In the following piece, Ruskin is critiquing the art of the world and how little is devoted to inspirational venues.
How far beneath these two ranks of men shall we place, in the scale of being, those whose pleasure is only in sin or in suffering; who habitually contemplate humanity in poverty or decrepitude, fury or sensuality; whose works are either temptations to its weakness, or triumphs over its ruin, and recognize no other subjects for thought or admiration than the subtlety of the robber, the rage of the soldier, or the joy of the person devoted only to luxury or pleasure. It seems strange, when thus definitely stated, that such a school should exist. Yet consider for a moment what gaps and blanks would disfigure our gallery and chamber walls, in places that we have long approached with reverence, if every picture, every statue, were removed from them, of which the subject was either the vice or the misery of mankind, portrayed without any moral purpose: consider the innumerable groups having reference merely to various forms of passion, low or high, drunken revels and brawls among peasants, gambling or fighting scenes among soldiers, illicit love affairs and intrigues among every class, brutal battle-pieces, outlaws, gluts of torture and death in famine, wreck, or slaughter, for the sake merely of the excitement, -- that quickening and easy influence of the dull spirit that cannot be gained for it but by bathing it in blood, afterward to wither back into stained and stiffened apathy; and then that whole vast false heaven of sensual passion, full of nymphs, satyrs, graces, goddesses, and I know not what, from its high seventh circle in Correggio’s Antiope, down to the Grecized ballet dancers and smirking Cupids of the Parisian upholsterer. Sweep away all this, remorselessly, and see how much art we should have left.” John Ruskin, painting of Jupiter and Antiope.