John Ruskin: “You must either make a tool of the creature, or a man of him”

Self portrait by John Ruskin
Self Portrait
by John Ruskin

John Ruskin had some typically heterodox thoughts on perfection that go well beyond the usual — and often excellent — thought that “the perfect is the enemy of the good.”

. . . no good work whatever can be perfect, and the demand for perfection is always a sign of a misunderstanding of the ends of art. This for two reasons, both based on everlasting laws. The first, that no great man ever stops working till he has reached his point of failure; that is to say, his mind is always far in advance of his powers of execution. . . . The second reason is, that imperfection is in some sort essential to all that we know of life. It is the sign of life in a mortal body, that is to say, of a state of progress and change.

––John Ruskin; The Stones of Venice (II, chapter 6)

In the same book, The Stones of Venice, he makes a different ethical point when he says, rather more directly:

You are put to a stern choice. . . .You must either make a tool of the creature, or a man of him. You cannot make both. Men are not intended to work with the accuracy of tools, to be precise and perfect in all their actions. If you will have that precision out of them, and make their fingers measure degrees like cog-wheels, and their arms strike curves like compasses, you must unhumanize them.

For more about and by John Ruskin, please see
John Ruskin, Giotto, and William Henry Fox Talbot

John Ruskin: “the Great Spirit of nature is as deep and unapproachable in the lowest as in the noblest objects”

This entry was posted in Being human, Ethics, Healthy communities, The arts, Visual arts, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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