Ruskin on Anatomy

Mister Ruskin, who is wrong on most things art, elects to downgrade the whole of art to appeal to the common man.  This is an attempt to place visual literacy as the same level of attainment of all art past or present.  Ruskin’s vision of naturalism largely propagates the idea that we draw what we see, this of course disregards all art before photography, and repositions art as craft.  No master artist has ever relied on observation alone to create a work of art. The notion that one can draw or paint something well in the manner of taking a photo of it is about as unartful as it gets.  The creation of a work of art requires knowledge which requires a brain which of course is missing in a camera.  To imply that knowledge gets in the way of drawing, painting or sculpting it naive to say to least.  Show me a work in which knowledge is not present and I will show you a picture of something not a painting of it.  Ruskin was a socialist and as such wished to make art which appealed to and could be done by everyman.  Like all socialist concepts they sound good in theory but never produce the promised results. In order to make Ruskin’s theories on art work one has to rewrite the entire history of art and redefine what art is going to be changed into.  Ruskin for example almost totally disregards the art of the Italian Renaissance.  Ruskin purposed a naturalism that would teach copying the outward appearance of things and that if one could draw things that looked like things they would be creating art. Ruskin very simply was replacing art with craft and aritst with artisan. The following is an excerpt from a book on the art teachings of Ruskin which is a good read the book was written to help one understand Ruskin’s writing which is over wrought prose.  He points out that to much empathizes on anatomy can produce unpleasing results. (Many members of the Atelier movement adhere to Ruskin’s beliefs)  The fallacy here is that to much empathizes on anything will produce unpleasing results. I left a few thoughts of Ruskin’s at the end to the article that really have little to do with anatomy and more to do with the fact that Ruskin with a victorian prude.  His marriage was annulled for non-consummation.  Ruskin’s problem with anatomy seems to have been more than skin deep.  One has to agree that their are a great many drawings where the knowledge of anatomy is poorly implimented.  One also has to admit that drawings that show a lack of anatomical knowledge can be equally bad or worst.  The well traveled adage that ‘ignorance is bliss’ is in play here.

50. Draughtsmanship and Anatomy. — There are four facts which Mr. Ruskin claims to have ascertained, telling against the intentional use of anatomy as a help to figure drawing. In the first place, as already pointed out, anatomy interferes with the sense of beauty and the general effect. The tendency of learning is to justify ugliness; to set the less important truth of structure above the more important truth of the relation of the figure to its surroundings, and it generally results in hard modeling of muscles and wiry lines of contour. In the next place, the habit of mind which concerns itself with forms observed in death is antagonistic to the temper of an artist, whose aim is to paint life. Expression is a more important truth than structure. Thirdly, Art based on anatomy soon exhausts itself (L. F., chap. i. § 4, note). It degenerates into posture-making, and the figure is looked upon as a vehicle for display of Science, and not as the means for exhibiting a poetical idea. Finally, though an artist may have known something of the Science, he paints best when he forgets it ; and those periods when Art began definitely to decline, are those periods when anatomy was studied as an end in itself (S. V., vol. iii. chap, ii.) Scientific knowledge is useful to tell the reasons of shapes and structures, but it is not that which Art requires ; the artist needs imaginative grasp of their expression (L. A, § 42). Some times (in Nature) the anatomy (the structure) is delightful, but it ought to be neither studiously concealed nor studiously displayed (read M. P., vol. ii. sec. 1, chap, xiv.) On this question Ruskin’s teaching has been consistent throughout, but has gathered strength and sometimes vehemence in his later years. I believe that, putting theoretical questions aside, there are few eminent artists who would not more or less admit that anatomy has been of very little practical use in comparison with experience, and observation of the figure entirely from without. Like many other old-fashioned beliefs in education, the theory that students should learn anatomy is kept alive by the feeling that the younger generation ought to be put through the same discipline which has formed, or distorted, the preceding age. The question is not whether anatomy is or is not an interesting and valuable science ; Ruskin simply points out that artists have to unlearn it, at the peril of losing the higher qualities of their Art. In animal painting he would have students ” like better to look at a bird than shoot it ” {L. A., §23). Biographies of plants and animals are what artists should study rather than dissections (L. A., §107). “When we dissect we substitute in our thoughts the neatness of mechanical contrivance for the pleasure of the animal. The moment we reduce enjoyment to ingenuity, and volition to leverage, that instant all sense of beauty ceases ” [M. P., vol. ii. P. 91). 5 1 . The Nude. — With the study of anatomy is connected that of the nude, which Mr. Ruskin regards as part of the interior structure of the figure as seen draped ; and, in the great majority of subjects, not part of the external aspect of the figure any more than the geology of a mountain, which, from an artist’s point of view, is always seen clothed with snow or turf or trees (E. N., Lect. viii.) As a subject of study, however, it is absolutely necessary ; he does not ask artists to refrain from it in the sense in which he teaches that the interior anatomy of the figure is Un necessary and misleading (A. F., p. 257). He points out that the drawing of nude figures, and the subsequent clothing of them with drapery arranged on the lay figure is a fallacy, and holds that drapery ought to be studied from the living model ; and this, when motion is to be expressed, must be done with rapid sketches in the same way in which waves, or other moving objects, are studied. It is not enough guarantee of the correctness of the final result to begin with a well-drawn nude body, and cover it with ideal and impossible, that is to say, not observed, drapery. But if the nude is necessary for study, to what extent ought it to be admitted as a subject of Art ? He considers that it should be shown only as much as in daily life, and that for two reasons. In the first place, the nude is not necessarily beautiful. It is only as a vehicle of high emotional feeling or abstract thought that the human body as such is a beautiful object ; it can become ugly — corruptio optima pessima — when treated with coarse realism or debasing associations. Some of Durer’s engravings and Mulready’s studies are examples of the nude divested of all claims upon the imagination as a beautiful object. In the second place, because scientific know ledge is useless as compared with ethical habit (Z. A., § 42), it is better to be right minded than well informed. An artist may not mean to be sensual, and yet he may be the cause of sensuality in the spectator. The great part of pictures of the nude do practically appeal, in a great number of those who see them, to lower instincts (E. N., Lect. viii.) Even Schopenhauer has pointed out that such works appeal to what he calls the will to live, as opposed to the understanding, the higher faculties which it is the mission of Art to feed and develop at the expense of animal instincts. It is commonly replied that in Greek Art the nude was used as means of high religious teach ing. That was the case only when it was treated severely and in the earlier period ; but as Ruskin acutely remarks, ” In the well-known examples of classical Art, the nude was by no means used with a consistently high moral intent ” (E. N., Lect. viii.) It is said that the Greeks were familiar with the naked human figure in the Gymnasia, though they were not more accustomed to it in daily life than we are ; but no student of antiquity can fail to remember that it was in the Gymnasia that those passions were fed and fanned which are the blot and scandal of Greek civilization. At the present day, from the very fear and doubt with which we approach the nude, it becomes expressive of evil {M. P., vol. ii. P. 123), and it can only be justified by such severity of treatment and obvious moral purpose as very few artists attempt. The function of the artist is therefore to be no scientist, but a seeing and feeling creature ; not to think, judge, argue, know, but to see and feel (S. V., vol. iii. Chap, ii.), and he must learn to see the most important truths. Both Science and Art to be valuable must be true, and they must deal with what is noble ; but Art more especially seeks for beauty in truth. And our next question is — In what does Beauty consist?


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