Much is made of the link between drawing to an internal wandering of the mind; the idea of precognitive mark making, spontaneous exploration from brain through to arm to hand and sometimes body, physical visual thinking etc. that this in some way gives drawing more of a tangible link to an academic idea of ‘research’. I’m not so sure. John Ruskin’s drawings however, always scream research they are often fragments of things, bits of architecture, a part of a view, botanical analysis, partial figures. They are like snapshots of things he’s involved in at any particular time, indexed and indicative of his wide travels spanning continents, functioning as a visual diary of his activities like a Facebook update, or an Instagram feed/blog. The drawings have an unfinished quality and only carry enough detail to recollect the subject or scene, they are notes and observations. Like this drawing,’ Stone pines of Sestri,’ graphite, pen and washes on paper, 442 x 334mm, 1845, he is identifying a particular tree in a particular location. He’s also saying he’s been there, look how cosmopolitan and well-travelled he is.
Personally, I have always avoided Ruskin, or rather distrusted him. A man with such irrational phobias can’t possibly have anything interesting to offer me. I also resent the power he had over artists, the ability to make or break careers is something surely only artists themselves should be capable of. Thinking about Ruskin makes me more aware of a self-proclaimed cosmopolitan elite colonising the North, patronising the regions, making it better, bringing civilisation to those assumed less fortunate. As if the beauty of the surroundings and the gentle pace of life in the English Lakes was somehow deficient in providing the basis for a fulfilled life. Preaching from the capital, as if there is only one version of art. It is still like this now.
I went to a talk given by a young curator/artist/practitioner/grower, fresh from the Royal Collage curating MA and quickly despatched to the regions in the time honoured tradition. She thought that metropolitan artisan culture had a lot to offer the art world. She talked about curating a team of Southwark Market bakers to the Lake District to engage in a community arts project where the locals were taught how to make a sourdough bloomer. She was curating Turner Prize winning jam. She talked about an honesty stall as if it was radical art. I despaired.