Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I want to be able to draw clouds

"Indeed I rather want good wishes just now for I am tormented by what I cannot get said, nor done. I want to get all the Titians, Tintorets, Paul Veroneses, Turners, Sir Joshuas in the world into one great fireproof Gothic gallery of marble and serpentine. I want to get them all perfectly engraved. I want to go and draw all the subjects of Turner's 19,000 sketches in Switzerland and Italy, elaborated by myself. I want to get everybody a dinner who hasn't got one. I want to macadamize some new roads to Heaven with broken fools' heads ... I want to play all day long and arrange my cabinet of minerals with new white wool. I want Turner's pictures not to fade - I want to be able to draw clouds ... and I can't do anything and don't understand what I was born for ... ".

Thus John Ruskin in a letter to Charles Eliot Norton, Christmas 1858. Sadly, according to the editor of The Lamp of Beauty volume, this was Ruskin beginning to lose his mind. However, it's pretty much that feeling that arises at the beginning of the summer break and intensifies as the final week evaporates. "I want to ... I want to ... I want to ..." - the list extends: books to read, projects to execute, music to listen to, films to watch, vast fields of ignorance to address ... . What Work (capital W) one might do if one didn't have to work ...

Work that key word for Ruskin and I find it strange to be reading him after all these years (so many ironies here) with a sudden interest and enthusiasm. Something in Rome rubbed off on me? A hankering for someone to educate me in how to look at buildings? The Rilkean imperative to learn to see? An extension of Thoreau's criticism of 19th Century industrialisation and commerce? The prose style which dazzles as it persuades? Or a mind so wide in its enthusiasms and penetrative in its way of looking - creatively perceiving - which is a poetry of its own? Guy Davenport suggests Ruskin as that shadowy figure behind Ezra Pound's massive undertaking in The Cantos (see Mark Scroggins' Blog for further elucidation). He might just be right.

More Ruskin excerpts to follow ...

1 comment:

Keep your Lamp said...

Thanks for the Ruskin quote. You have made him likeable to me for the first time. I saw a show of all his drawings at Tate oh, eight years ago , and felt sorry for him; to want so much to draw and paint, yet be held back strongly by an internal critic. It all looked cramped and cautious , and in need of the thousands of hours of patient practice (allowing oneself to make mistakes) that get you good at it.