‘On January 20th, 1900, the British artist, Walter Richard Sickert rushed into a men's club in London brandishing the evening newspaper crying: Ruskin’s dead! Ruskin’s dead! He then collapsed into a chair with the words: Thank God, Ruskin’s dead. Give me a cigarette! It was the end of an era, as well as the end of a century.’*
Sadly, the latter part of John Ruskin’s life was plagued with psychological illness and his colourful, somewhat chequered personal life has since received much speculation and critical comment. In more recent years, John Ruskin’s legacy has been rediscovered with a renewed appreciation for his influence which extends beyond the fields of art and architecture for which he is so well known.
Ruskin was an incredibly insightful social critic and a great advocate for change. Following the industrial revolution he believed that the race for volume was reducing the quality of items and removing any sense of emotional experience. His concerns and ideas anticipated interest in sustainability and he inspired the the Arts & Crafts Movement which sought artistic reform, both in its process and product.
The intention of the Arts & Crafts Movement was to protect and revive traditional skills using natural materials and placed the “master craftsman” at the heart of production and design. Aesthetically, the movement sought simplicity of form without superfluous decoration and recognised the nobility of unrefined objects manufactured by the skill of humans rather than machines.
As we move in to an era of renewed interest in provenance the feeling of history repeating itself is not lost on me. Ruskin’s views on sustainability are in essence the same as those now emerging in relation to our understanding of what ‘luxury’ means to us today. A burgeoning appreciation for honest creativity and artisanal manufacturing marks a return to the traditional values of craftsmanship, heritage, innovation and integrity which Ruskin advocated so passionately for over a hundred years ago. In an interesting article written by Nick Foulkes, for SPHERE Magazine, he points out that: “of course the essence of luxury...is traditionally about how slow rather than how fast things are: the time it takes to master the craft skills; the time it takes to source the rare materials; the time it takes the consumer to acquire the taste to appreciate the subtleties of the rare materials and time-intensive skill acquisition”
In a world where the pace of change is accelerating, its trajectory exponential, I find comfort in the knowledge that a thriving space, a quieter ‘underground’ luxury scene, championing traditional values in design and craftsmanship is once again reemerging. The challenge for this 'scene', of course, is to navigate its way through the cacophony that is the fashion world.
*Art Now and Then, Jim Lane http://art-now-and-then.blogspot.com