Saturday, 22 January 2011

John Ruskin & the Peasants

John Ruskin (1819-1900) appears to have been the chief influence on the Peasant Arts movement.  As both an art critic and social thinker, being an inspiration to the wider Arts and Crafts movement and to Christian socialism, his ideas informed those of the movement.  Ruskin is quoted on the back of a ‘Handicrafts of Haslemere’ exhibition paper.   In his biography, Greville MacDonald reveals that “my own emancipation owed more to him (Ruskin) than it is possible to surmise” (MacDonald, Reminiscences of a Specialist, 1932).  It is possible to link the individual members of the movement to their appreciation of Ruskin.

Ruskin in the 1850s, Life Archive

In Unto This Last (Cornhill Magazine, 1860) Ruskin declared views heavily critical of capitalist economies.  Ruskin states that “THERE IS NO WEALTH BUT LIFE.  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 who, having perfected the functions of his own life to the utmost, has also the widest helpful influence, both personal, and by means of his possessions, over the lives of others.”  In the same publication Ruskin at one point states that his  “differ from the common writing of political economists in admitting some value in the aspect of nature, and expressing regret at the probability of the destruction of natural scenery”
from 1904, Haslemere Educational Museum

The ‘Handicrafts of Haslemere’ exhibition leaflet has Ruskin quoted on the back as the first of three quotes, above William Morris and Plato. The beginning of the quote is a famous Ruskin quote The Stones of Venice second volume ‘The Nature of Gothic’: “The great cry that rises from all our manufacturing cities, louder than their furnace blast, is all in very deed for this, - that we manufacture everything there except men; we blanch cotton, and strengthen steel, and refine sugar, and shape pottery; but to brighten, to strengthen, to refine, or to form a single living spirit, never enters into our estimate of advantages.  And all the evil to which that cry is urging our myriads can be met only in one way: not by teaching nor preaching, for to teach them is but to show them their misery, and to preach to them, is to mock at it.  It can be met only by a right understanding, on the part of all classes, of what kinds of labour are good for men, raising them, and making them happy; by a determined sacrifice of such convenience, or beauty, or cheapness as is to be got only by the degradation of the workman; and by equally determined demand for the products and results of healthy and ennobling labour.”

Carpet factory, Glasgow c. 1890s

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