PRINT January 1971

Problems of Criticism IX: Art and Technology

IN HIS INTRODUCTION TO the esthetics and art criticism of John Ruskin, Robert L. Herbert describes Ruskin’s ambivalent feelings towards the usefulness of science:

Any science that adds to the descriptive knowledge of nature, and thus acts as the artist’s servant, is all to the good; any science that deals with analytical knowledge, is only bad.1

Science bred a kind of rational, uniform truth, in opposition to the artist’s far more valuable “imaginative truth.” Herbert goes on to explicate the tension and doubt that lingered in even Ruskin’s mind about the matter. He cites a passage in Ruskin’s Pre-Raphaelitism where the great essayist juxtaposes the “blissful ignorance” of artistic perception with the fragmented unresolvedness of the scientist’s point of view. But then, in a footnote, Ruskin, the archpolemicist against Victorian notions of technicalized “progress,” tries to reconcile “the

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