Visiting The John Ruskin Exhibition

“The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way.  Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands think for one who can see.” – John Ruskin (Modern Painters vIII, 1856).

John Ruskin was a reknowned art critic, outspoken advocate for art that reflected nature, a proponent of hand-craftsmanship in the face of the industrial age, a curmudgeon, a prolific writer, and by many accounts,  something of a mental case.  I ignore this last attribute of his character as it’s a facet of his life that approximates my own.

Well, there is another.  Ruskin never considered himself an “artist.”  He was in the business, he said, of creating “documentation”, often of nature but also of architecture that he was, at times, fighting to preserve.

National Gallery of Canada

National Gallery of Canada

2014-03-22ElementsOfDrawingAnd by some luck and good fortune I had a very good excuse to get myself to Ottawa to see the exhibition of 140 examples of “documentation” created by his hand.  It was a mind-bending experience to see what Ruskin could do with pen and ink, though I don’t want to short-change his watercolor/gouache works a bit.   The exhibit runs through May 2014 and if you can, I recommend it to anyone who lifts a pointy device and puts it to paper.  More info is available at their website here.  Words cannot begin to describe Ruskin’s art so I won’t even try.

If you are someone who draws, and haven’t already done so, Ruskin’s book, Elements of Drawing is an excellent text – better than most in my opinion.

And my new prized possession is this volume – a compilation of the exhibition drawings/paintings with historical commentary associated with each one.  It is prefaced by what appear to be substantive essays on Ruskin, his influences, and those he influenced.  I wish I could say that I have read them but I just got back from Ottawa a few hours ago (grin).


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