decorated initial'R' uskin champions an artist's allegiance to firsthand perceptions, and he dismisses generalizations into which the hand and the mind's eye easily fall. He demands that an artist examine nature in order to see the nuances, imperfections, and changes in a single wave of water, a fluttering leaf, or the expanse of sky. An artist must capture these details so that his painting may come together as truth.

A mass of mountain seen against the light, may at first appear all of one blue; and so it is, blue as a whole, by comparison with other parts of the landscape. But look how that blue is made up. There are black shadows in it under the crags, there are green shadows along the turf, there are grey half-light upon the rocks, there are faint touches of stealthy warmth and cautious light along their edges; every bush, every stone, every tuft of moss has its voice in the matter, and joins with individual character in the universal will. . . . [165]

Hence, wherever in a painting we have unvaried colour extended even over a small space, there is falsehood. [166]

Ruskin's requirements do not just cover the breadth of a painting's surface, but also extend into the depth of the painting. He wants the work to be layers of meaning, just just layers of paint, and in this way, he has given the artist direction in subject and theme, as well as technique.

Nothing can be natural which is monotonous; nothing true which only tells one story. [166]

The hue is a beautiful auxiliary in working out the great impression to be conveyed, but it is not the source or the essence of that impression; it is little more than a visible melody, given to raise and assist the mind in the reception of nobler ideas — as sacred passages of sweet sound, to prepare the feelings for the reading of the mysteries of God. [170]


1. How would English culture receive Ruskin's ideas about visual and spiritual insight? How were his assertions challenges to conventional approaches of the Royal Academy paintings?

2. How can the artist reconcile painting the essence and individual characteristics of a subject with finding his own vision of what is emotionally or spiritually resonant about the subject?

3. Can idealized or generalized forms convey spiritual truths? If Ruskins's highest ideal for art is spiritual truth, why does it matter to him how that truth is conveyed? How is the "the reception of nobler ideas" easier or more possible through Ruskin's standards of technique?

4. How does Ruskin's own writing set an example of his standards for poets and artists?

Last modified 12 September 2004

6 May 2019