Issue 10 T.O.C. – John Ruskin – “Savageness”

This post is part of a blog series revealing the table of contents of upcoming Issue Ten. As is our custom, we’ll be discussing one article per weekday in order to give you a taste of what is come. 

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John Ruskin – “Savageness”

We at M&T believe that the textures left behind in the process of making handmade objects tell a story of freedom and creativity. And so did John Ruskin.

Ruskin’s name features prominently among the great thinkers of the 19th century. His writings were held in high esteem by the likes of Gandhi, Tolstoy, and many others, and changed the way we look at art, labor, and craftsmanship. The BBC recently entertained the idea that Ruskin might have been the most important man who lived in the last 200 years. His thoughts on handcraft were the seeds of the Arts & Crafts Movement, and his outspoken criticism of industrialization and the exploitation of the poor made some enemies but inspired many to make a stand. His influence reverberates to this day.

In Issue Ten, we are featuring an excerpt from Ruskin’s The Stones of Venice, originally published in 1853, in which he discusses the nature of Gothic (often disparaged in his day as “savage”) workmanship. To Ruskin, the term “Gothic” was less connected to a particular cultural tradition than it was an expression of free, creative work. He lays the groundwork for this idea by demonstrating that creative work is always rooted in place; that the coarse but beautiful workmanship of the North draws heavily on the influences of the surrounding natural world. The free, collaborative artisanship he describes is contrasted with what he calls “servile ornament,” or the work of manufacture where the laborer has no creative input into the final object. This system, to John Ruskin, is akin to slavery. 

Ruskin pulled no punches. The forceful nature of his words gave impetus to necessary social changes in his day, but he also wrote in lofty, poetic, and strikingly beautiful prose that is no less stirring or relevant today than when he first put it down. His work deserves another look and a fresh perspective in the 21st century. 

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