Ruskin: Museum of the Near Future

Look closely, see clearly, imagine freely: parables and places to encounter our world

Installation photograph of 'Ruskin: Museum of the Near Future' (2019/2020)The Ruskin

Ruskin: Museum of the Near Future

'Ruskin: Museum of the Near Future' explores the relevance of John Ruskin’s thinking today. Inviting us to look closely, see clearly and imagine freely, Ruskin's works take us into the nature of seeing and into the multidimensional nature of knowledge itself. Parables and places for imaginative encounters, they reflect our relationship, both modest and magnificent, to the world in which we live.

Installation photograph of 'Ruskin: Museum of the Near Future' (2019-09-26/2020-02-28)The Ruskin

Lessons of the Peacock Feather

John Ruskin (1819 - 1900) sought to encounter the world by close looking, examining the interplay between past, present and future. He conveyed his insights through a blend of images and words, cutting across science, religion, art, literature, economics and social sciences. He always connected knowledge to the intimacy of personal experience. This is what made Ruskin one of the greatest thinkers of all time.

Installation photograph of 'Ruskin: Museum of the Near Future' (2019-09-26/2020-02-28)The Ruskin

1. To see clearly

'There is no wealth but life'

Ruskin’s large-scale lecture diagrams, produced as visual aids for his popular public lectures, are seen alongside closely observed studies of form in nature, from the filament of a thistle or barb of a peacock’s feather, to the branch of a tree or bird’s wing.

Sketches, paintings and diagrams reveal his playful but informative oscillation between micro and macro scales of perception.

Milk Thistle (1874-05-29) by John RuskinThe Ruskin

Studies of Thistles (1880) by John RuskinThe Ruskin

'...and in all things that live there are certain irregularities ... which are not only signs of life, but sources of beauty.'

Teazle Leaves (1854) by John RuskinThe Ruskin

Installation photograph of 'Ruskin: Museum of the Near Future' (2019-09-26/2020-02-28)The Ruskin

2. Understand the nature of things

'The really precious things are thought and sight, not pace.'

Ruskin was a renowned teacher, lecturer and public intellectual, and he campaigned for education for all. His social project, The Guild of St George, and the teaching collections he established at Sheffield, Oxford and Coniston are testaments to Ruskin’s vision for beauty and learning within the pulse of everyday life.

Buttercup Leaf by School of Ruskin and John RuskinThe Ruskin

Installation photograph of 'Ruskin: Museum of the Near Future' (2019-09-26/2020-02-28)The Ruskin

‘That you should be able to ask a question clearly, is two-thirds of the way to getting it answered.’

'First Tree' in 'First Sketchbook' (1829) by John RuskinThe Ruskin

Installation photograph of 'Ruskin: Museum of the Near Future' (2019-09-26/2020-02-28)The Ruskin

3. Know the part things play

‘Science does its duty, not in telling us the causes of the spots in the sun; but in explaining to us the laws of our own life, and the consequences of their violation.’

Ruskin's motto was ‘Today’.

He believed that the way we see things now will shape the way we think and behave in the future. His concerns about the impact of industrialisation on the health of the planet speak powerfully to our own era.

The Works of John Ruskin (London: Cook & Wedderburn) by John RuskinThe Ruskin

Shell: a spiral by John RuskinThe Ruskin

'...to preserve something like a true image of beautiful things that pass away, or which you must yourself leave.'

Peacock and Falcon Feathers (1873) by John RuskinThe Ruskin

Ruskin: Museum of the Near FutureThe Ruskin

Installation photograph of 'Ruskin: Museum of the Near Future' (2019-09-26/2020-02-28)The Ruskin

Ethics of the Dust

From minerals to mountains, cornices to cathedrals, Ruskin’s work was aided by the most advanced technologies of the day. He aimed to understand nature’s forces of transformation, which could teach us ‘laws for life’: what Ruskin called ‘The Ethics of the Dust’.

Through their focus on the fundamental building blocks of nature, Ruskin’s works act as catalysts for ideas and imaginaries. At the same time, they warn us that forms of both action and inaction can have devastating effect on our stewardship of life and our care for each other.

Installation photograph of 'Ruskin: Museum of the Near Future' (2019-09-26/2020-02-28)The Ruskin

1. Let nature be your teacher

‘The artist is a telescope – very marvellous in himself, as an instrument. But I think, on the whole, the stars are the principal part of the affair.’

We are instinctively drawn to those geological transformations of the earth which reflect our values. The clearer we see the world, the greater our empathy and the clearer we see that life itself and human happiness arise when processes of disintegration give way to periods of composition.

Cloud Study over Coniston Water (1880) by John RuskinThe Ruskin

Cloud Study by John RuskinThe Ruskin

'...the chief masters of the human imagination owed, and confessed that they owed, the force of their noblest thoughts, ... to the flying cloud.'

Cloud perspective: curvilinear (1860) by John RuskinThe Ruskin

Storm Clouds, Mont Cenis (1857) by John RuskinThe Ruskin

Installation photograph of 'Ruskin: Museum of the Near Future' (2019-09-26/2020-02-28)The Ruskin

2. Think with enduring values, not of enduring things

‘When we build, let us think that we build for ever.’

Architecture is a social question. The same energy and material wealth creates a Venice or a Manchester. Different values create different results.

Stones of Venice, Cornice Decoration by John RuskinThe Ruskin

The Stones of Venice worksheet: Upper arcade of Doge’s Palace, November 1849 (1849) by John Ruskin (1819-1900)The Ruskin

'To banish imperfection is to destroy expression, to check exertion, to paralyze vitality.'

Edinburgh Lecture Diagram: decorated cusped Gothic window by John Ruskin, John Everett Millais, and Euphemia MillaisThe Ruskin

Installation Photograph 'Ruskin: Museum of the Near Future' (2019-09-26/2020-02-28)The Ruskin

3. Take heart

‘What is best to be done, do you ask me? The answer is plain. Whether you can affect the signs of the sky or not, you can the signs of the times.’

Ours is a great responsibility. In both knowledge and ignorance lie life-giving choices. What lies in our hearts is everything. We give value to life.

Above Baveno (1845) by John RuskinThe Ruskin

Above Baveno and the entrance to the Domodossola valley (1846) by John RuskinThe Ruskin

Aiguille Blaitaire, Chamonix by John RuskinThe Ruskin

Diary Notebook 1856-1859 by John RuskinThe Ruskin

'… these drawings of mine, …are entirely right …, with absolutely correct outline of all that is useful for geological science or landscape art.'

'A new road on which the world should travel'  

William Morris (1834-1896)

Credits: Story

Ruskin: Museum of the Near Future
26 September 2019 - 28 February 2020

Curated by Professor Sandra Kemp, Director, The Ruskin and Howard Hull, Director, Brantwood

Assistant Curator: Harriet Hill-Payne

Design: Margot Lombaert Studio
Fabrication: Arciform with vPPR

Thanks to lending artists, Abbot Hall, the Guild of St George, Peter Scott Gallery Charitable Trust and Museums Sheffield.

Made possible by John Murray.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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