RUSKIN by Quentin Bell
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Quentin Bell is no lover of Ruskin's ideas--steeped in Victorian moralism, they were narrow, capricious, even ""willfully dishonest."" Yet seldom can such intellectual disapproval have elicited an essay so appreciative of another mind. Bell's sympathy begins in admiration for Ruskin's rhetorical gifts and extends to an affinity of critical vision: Ruskin, he says, teaches two things above all: ""the use of English and the nature of art criticism."" In elaborating upon these themes, Bell brings the reader to see in Ruskin a powerful mind at work within the constraints of a too-demanding moral temperament. Yet, while Bell grows aggravated at Ruskin's blindness to the merits of many works of art (e.g., Constable and Whistler), and points out derivative qualities in Ruskin's art criticism, he praises Ruskin's descriptive genius and his sensitivity to interrelations among painting, architecture, culture, and society. Ruskin's devotion to Gothic, for example, might have been wrong-headed in its exclusivity but still yielded some sound ways of evaluating Gothic, ways which, Bell observes, Ruskin's contemporaries ignored in imitating Gothic architecture and design. Although Bell makes few excursions into biography, he suggests the sources of Ruskin's troubled spirit (notably, fear of his own aggressive nature), concluding that his anxiety may have energized his fierce criticism, enabling him to become ""the first art critic to create one masterpiece in praising another."" Just so, this slim 'introduction: it is a work of art about an artist, and perfectly suited in tone; grace, and seriousness to its subject.

Pub Date: June 12th, 1978
Publisher: Braziller