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John Ruskin’s Philosophy on Art

With all the talk these days about the “gift of imperfection,” it could be easy to take the idea for granted.

But everyone pursuing art, or even just a satisfying life, must embrace the huge importance of accepting imperfection:

“No good work whatever can be perfect, and the demand for perfection is always a sign of a misunderstanding of the ends of art.” – J. Ruskin

John Ruskin was the top art critic of his time. This guy knew his stuff. In Victorian Era England, he commanded respect as a prominent thinker and defender of the pre-Raphaelite artists. He was no slouch. He wasn’t arguing for laziness or accepting low-quality work or a “good enough” life. He simply understood and believed in the essential beauty of imperfection:

“Imperfection is in some sort essential to all that we know of life. It is the sign of life… Nothing that lives is, or can be, rigidly perfect…there are certain irregularities and deficiencies which are not only signs of life, but sources of beauty. No human face is exactly the same in its lines on each side, no leaf perfect in its lobes, no branch in its symmetry… To banish imperfection is to destroy expression…to paralyze vitality.”

Ruskin’s beliefs about art bled into some of the clearest statements ever made on the nature of human ambition and all our worldly pursuits. He saw behind the veil, so to speak, to the very fiber of what draws us to beauty in the first place:

“All things are literally better, lovelier, and more beloved for the imperfections which have been divinely appointed, that the law of human life may be Effort, and the law of human judgment, Mercy.” 

Ponder that. I’m not going to try to guide your attention or understanding of it right now. But as this acceptance of divinely-appointed imperfections relates to the idea I shared last week on accepting help (link here), I pray you’ll pursue your art this week as a chance to embrace your inadequacies, as John recommends.

This is an essential need, i.e. humility. So see it as the gift it is to help guide your attention as you go.

And may the grace it promotes direct you along your way.

For the higher purpose,


13 Responses to “John Ruskin’s Philosophy on Art”

  1. Jenelle. M says:

    I will make more of an effort to embrace my inadequacies this week. Curious to see how it goes.

  2. Thank you Mick – this is a timely reminder of what God has been showing me lately about my writing – that it is human, it is so imperfect, but when offered to Him, He is glorified through every imperfection according to His divine purpose. Of course I want to give Him my best, but knowing this truth is so liberating!

    • Mick says:

      Thanks, Robin! So glad you can apply it! I’m encouraged too, and love passing it along. – M

  3. Home's Cool! says:

    Holding back, because of fear of making errors, is pride.
    That must be why, when I know it is finally perfect, when I am sure it is time to click send, THEN I discover all the mistakes.
    Yep. Sighs.

  4. Mick,
    Thank you :-) A great reminder in this world of Photoshop.

  5. suzee branch says:

    what a great way to go, then. celebrating imperfections and living out mercy in EVERY situation. judge? shiver shiver. me no judge nobody, me terrified to judge!
    love you OB

    • Mick says:

      Ha! Yes. We should all be so merciful! Celebrating imperfection–such a lovely thought. Thanks, my friend! – OB

  6. […] Read more of Mick Silva’s encouraging post at his blog. […]

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