Monday, 7 March 2011

...tell what it is plainly

The greatest things a human soul ever does is to see something and tell what it is plainly.
John Ruskin 1856

I copied this into my journal in February 2009, whilst visiting Sheffield. I'd spent a week in silent retreat in a cottage in the peak district. That February we had heavy snow, and as I boarded the train I didn't know if I'd be able to make it to the cottage.

Sundari, who owned the cottage, and I took as bus as far as it would go and then walked for about a mile. It was already very dark. She said goodbye at the door, and I got the wood burner going.

This was before I'd met Fiona, and I hadn't heard of a small stone. Each day I'd go out into the winter and walk for about three hours. I carried my journal with me, and my camera, and noticed how the light caught the side of the stone buildings, the sound snow made when it hit the ground, sloughing of a roof, and the contrast between the natural world and the iron and steel of working farms.

On my way home from the retreat I visited the Millennium Gallery and their exhibition about Ruskin. I don't ally myself with him completely, I appreciate expressionism much more than he ever did, but there is something about his philosophy I find striking.

What Ruskin championed was artists going out in to nature (rather than re-creating a scene in their studio, and then painting it) and finding the truth of what is really there. The image on the left is his study of Gneiss Rock.

Go out in to the world, and find the truth of the rocks, of the clouds the rain and the sun, and tell it plainly.


  1. Well put. I also would welcome Ruskin's desire for clearity through plain language but also recognize that in expressing subjective experience it is much like the diverse makeup and sounds of snow and wind, respectively.

    Love, Gneiss Rock and what it says to me.

  2. Thanks nene. I didn't say much about that, because our ideas about what plain language is are always changing I think, like the wind in different seasons.

  3. A "wild desk" on a rock or under a tree fits me and my work much better than the kind with legs!

    Also wanted to let you and Fiona know, the postman just delivered my copy of "pay attention: a river of stones" and I think it's lovely. Thanks again for all your hard work and for bringing so many people together into such a fascinating project. Annie x

  4. Wow I am happy to come across your blog this post made me pause and think. Ruskin philosophy is worthy.

  5. Well I'm pleased it made you pause. Thanks for dropping by.