“Beautiful art can only be produced by people who have beautiful things about them, and leisure to look at them.”
Beauty has a unique place in human life. One of the most fascinating aspects of beauty is how there are different kinds of it.
There is the beauty of nature, the beauty of fine arts, and the beauty of products of other crafts. There are beautiful faces, and beautiful places. Perhaps most of all there are beautiful actions and beautiful characters.
One thing of which Plato was confident is this: all different kinds and instances of beauty have a real inner connection and similarity. Just what the connections are is a question that can be as difficult as it is important.
Here John Ruskin makes an assertion that has much intuitive force. To become capable of producing beautiful things—more specifically beautiful art—people must be formed by contact with beautiful things.
Ruskin has perhaps hit on a fundamental truth: beauty is self-diffusive. It tends to bring about more beauty.
I know a mother who would say: “I want my children at least to have seen and heard great things of beauty.” She had confidence that exposure to truly great art, architecture, and music, not to mention the natural world, has a profound even while mysterious effect on a person.
Ruskin is reflecting on what makes a soul capable of producing beautiful art. A case can be made that in surrounding ourselves with beautiful things even more is at stake than forming our ability to produce art. Or another angle to consider is: perhaps more is going on in forming the ability to produce beautiful art than we have realized.
The choice to try to surround ourselves with beautiful things, of various kinds, should not be a flight from reality. Indeed, it might just be the hidden path to finding it.
John Ruskin (1819-1900) became the leading art critic of Victorian England. Moved by the ravages of the Industrial Revolution he shifted his focus later in life to social and economic issues. A controversial and insightful thinker, his way with words has an enduring power.
I am currently doing research in his works, and I plan to share more quotations from them.
Image: the Cathedral at Chartres, France. It is interesting to ponder: what kind of culture formed the people from whom came such art?
Bethany Update: While the July Bethany Weekend on Virtue and the Moral Life is full, there are spaces in the August weekend on the same topic: Bethany Weekends
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