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  • Writer's pictureRae Story

Reading Ruskin

As part of the workshops that we are running with Elizabeth Gaskell's House as part of their Bicentenary of Ruskin's birth I wanted to read some Ruskin's original texts.

This year Ruskin and elements of his thought and writing are being discussed and responded to as part of the celebrations that are seeing many of the cities cultural institutions putting on events :

Apparently Ruskin was not fond of Manchester - in the mid 19th Century Manchester was a place of massive industrial revolution, with extremes of poverty, exploitation and child labour as a few people made a lot of wealth. In this process presumably previous farm and rural land will have been taken and converted into mills and factories, and slum living. So From Ruskin's view point Manchester was not a place of natural beauty and as he believed that art was only healthy if it reflected a true image of nature - without the artist's distortion. If there is no nature there is no art. Hence the quote of him saying “I perceive that Manchester can produce no good art and no good literature”... (this will be discussed in one of the upcoming events at The Portico: Manchester: Ruskin-Free-City).

I found reading Ruskin hard work, but certainly rewarding. I requested three books during my afternoon at The Porico including: The Political Economy of Art (which is also the basis of the two lecturers that will be re-enacted at The Portico and City Art Gallery), Modern Painters Volume II, Part 3 Sections 1&2 and The Eagles Nest. He wrote over 250 books (including collected essays and articles) so it is not easy to go directly to his quotes on Nature, Art and Society. However, these themes do seem to be present in a lot of what he wrote. I am trying to find quotes from his original texts that reflect these themes for our project. What I realised when I spent the afternoon at the Portico Library reading his work is that people wrote very differently in the nineteenth century than they do today! We are so used to easy to digest writing, sound bytes, skim-reading online text etc. With Ruskin you are forced to work harder to get to the essence of what he thought. That is a good challenge and I did enjoy my afternoon and have reflected on it a lot since. I have more work to do to be able to bring together some excerpts that meaningfully reflect his themes of art, nature and well-being and relate to our project.

Many thanks to The Portico Library for giving me the opportunity to work as a researcher and access to the collection. I look forward to returning very soon,

When I stepped out of The Portico onto the streets of Central Manchester I was immediately struck by the concrete and stone and the lack of plant life. The only plant life to be seen was on The Portico Building itself, the rest of the streets looking down the four streets of the cross roads were barren of any trees or plants for as far as the eye could see:

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