Ruskin on Rest

As I continue to rest and recover from concussion, I was reminded of these wise and encouraging words from John Ruskin. 

There is no music in a rest, but there is the making of music in it. And people are always missing that part of the life-melody; and scrambling on without counting.
In our whole life-melody the music is broken off here and there by 'rests,' and we foolishly think we have come to the end of the tune. God sends a time of forced leisure, sickness, disappointed plans, frustrated efforts, and makes a sudden pause in the choral hymn of our lives, and we lament that our voices must be silent, and our part missing in the music which ever goes up to the ear of the Creator.

How does the musician read the rest? See him beat the time with unvarying count, and catch up the next note true and steady, as if no breaking place had come between.

Not without design does God write the music of our lives. But be it ours to learn the tune, and not be dismayed at the 'rests.'
― John Ruskin, writer, teacher, art critic
John Ruskin painted by the Pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais standing at Glenfinlas, Scotland, (1853–54)

John Ruskin painted by the Pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais standing at Glenfinlas, Scotland, (1853–54)

... and Ruskin on Art

And thinking of Ruskin, I've been finding out more about his art school.

Sketching used to be a commonplace activity. However, the growth of inexpensive photography made it easy to move away from observing via a pencil and for some decades the skill went underground. The recent re-emergent trend of sketchbooking is only a fresh tap into that rich vein of thinking from the past. 

That vein runs riot through the pen of Ruskin. In his own personal sketchbooks Ruskin pondered rocks, plants, birds, and landscapes, as well as architectural structures and ornamentation. Among his many accomplishments, in 1871 the illustrious Victorian founded an art school in Oxford, England, for ordinary men and women, not to train as artists but "that they might see greater beauties than they had hitherto seen in nature and in art, and thereby gain more pleasure in life." 


Which is exactly the purpose of this blog. 

Ruskin's instruction was simple and accessible. According to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, Ruskin's method "required the student to master the rudiments of technique—outline, shading, colour—through a carefully directed course of lessons in copying both works of art and natural specimens." He amassed a huge collection of artwork and artifacts from the natural world to use as examples in his lessons.

His teaching model is similar to the one I'm going to use here. Another day I will tell you more about Ruskin's methods and how you can benefit from the rich collection of learning tools he amassed back in the late 1800s.

Journalist Dawn Levesque, commenting on the sensational 2014 exhibition ‘John Ruskin: Artist and Observer,’ explains, "While he was not a professional artist, he sketched as a daily, journalistic exercise. For Ruskin, his drawings and watercolors were restorative. They allowed him to meditate on every facet of the physical world, to scrutinize the smallest details, to assemble data and bolster his knowledge and control of observation. He solely drew to witness and better understand the world around him. ... He stated, 'Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty if only we have the eyes to see them.'"

Here are some pages from his sketchbooks that look delightfully fresh and contemporary. Nature studies. Unfinished images with notations on color. The roofs of a town with the walls beneath them indistinct, the real interest in the roof shapes only. An uneven stool quickly sketched with a fountain pen. A quick, deft watercolor of a mountaintop. These could be the work of an Urban Sketcher.

But they are the work of someone seeing ... over a hundred years ago.

John Ruskin A Cluster of Oak Leaves [drawing] 1977.27 Pierpont Morgan Library Dept. of Drawings and Prints. Pen and black ink, pencil, gray wash, and white tempera, on blue wove paper.

Ruskin From Sairlock looking towards Outer Hebrides 19th c. 1992.34  Pierpont Morgan Library Dept. of Drawings and Prints. Brush and gray wash, blue watercolor, over graphite, on paper. Note at top: "Sky warm grey"

Ruskin From Sairlock looking towards Outer Hebrides 19th c. 1992.34  Pierpont Morgan Library Dept. of Drawings and Prints. The reverse side of the above sketch.

Ruskin View of Brugg [drawing] 1862 1994.11  Pierpont Morgan Library Dept. of Drawings and Prints. Watercolor and gouache, with pen and black ink, over pencil, on paper.

Ruskin Mountain Lake with Boats in the Distance [drawing] 19th c. 1962.4 Pierpont Morgan Library Dept. of Drawings and Prints. Blue, brown and black watercolor, over pencil, on paper.

Ruskin Study of a table and bench [drawing] July 7,1856 2015.41 Pierpont Morgan Library Dept. of Drawings and Prints. Pen and brown ink on wove paper. Originally part of a collection of letters to an artist friend.

Ruskin Mountains with Clouds 19th century 2009.277 The Joseph F. McCrindle Collection. Watercolor on laid paper.