Ruskin’s Re-evaluation of the Concept of ‘Æsthetic’: Through Clues Found in his Art Lectures

OGINO Hajime

Victorian art critic John Ruskin had initially disregarded the concept of ‘æsthetic’ in Modern Painters, as an inferior animalistic instinct or a sensual pleasure without any appreciation or reverence towards God. However, during a series of Slade lectures called ‘The Æsthetic and Mathematic Schools of Art in Florence’ at Oxford in 1874, Ruskin offered a more favourable evaluation for the aesthetic school, which prioritises impression rather than the accuracy of physical objects, in comparison to the mathematic school. According to Ruskin, the aesthetic school referred to those artists who wished to show things as perceived by themselves, not only as an outward imitation of nature but also in a way that is subjective and impressionable. As opposed to logical thinking stressed by the ‘mathematic’, Ruskin gave more weight to the concept of ‘æsthetic’ as an influencing factor of imagination.
This study examined Ruskin’s criticism of Renaissance intellectualism, which sought to dissect art without relying on ‘perception’, ‘feeling’ or even ‘science of Essence’, and his advocacy of ‘science of Aspects’, that is, the portrayal of an impression but with the same level of observation and attention for details demanded by science. The present study also attempted to reveal the truth behind Ruskin’s theories in terms of the relationship between arts and science by comparing his critiques of both J.M.W. Turner and John Everett Millais. In particular, this study analysed how this change in Ruskin’s evaluation of ‘æsthetic’ led to his diminished opinion of knowledge, which was gradually replaced by an emphasis on primitive senses in his writings during the 1850s.

Keywords: Ruskin, aesthetic, mathematic, science, art lectures