Paying attention

The Doge's Palace, John Ruskin

The Doge’s Palace, John Ruskin

There’s an interesting overview of how John Ruskin took the perception of beauty as a foundation for social reform here. His drawings are exceptional; the ones of Venice remind me of Canaletto. I’m not sure I share his view of beauty and his passion for reform: the perception of ugliness often means you aren’t seeing what’s actually there. There’s delight in reading Salinger’s catalog of a medicine chest’s contents in Franny and Zooey, but I doubt it would have passed the Ruskin test for beauty. But he seemed to value the act of paying attention as the root of what’s good in life, and art was a way of practicing it.

So Ruskin thought it helpful for us to observe and be inspired by nature (he was a great believer that everyone in the country should learn to draw things in nature). He wrote with astonishing seriousness about the importance of looking at the light in the morning, of taking care to see the different kinds of cloud in the sky and of looking properly at how the branches of a tree intertwine and spread. He took immense delight in the beautiful structures of nests and beavers’ dams.

1 Response to “Paying attention”

  1. Sarah B

    This is great – I’m preparing a slide talk for a nature group – it will be a Hike and Learn. I’m collecting quotes and examples of landscape sketches from throughout the ages. This is PERFECT! Now I just have to read the linked article…. and the idea of beauty as social reform is pretty outdated, but it may be relevant to conservation, which this group is all about. (Friends of the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument, out here in Oregon.)