Watch: Black or white? Ruskin in Manchester divides opinion

John Ruskin remains a devisive figure, even 200 years his birth.

This summer Manchester celebrates the life of the artist, art critic and social thinker with a jam-packed festival, funded and supported by Manchester Metropolitan University and Ruskin’s Guild of St George.

Manchester Metropolitan University Special Collections, The Holden Gallery and Elizabeth Gaskell’s House are some of the places holding exhibitions and events allowing the public to learn about a man who is just as relevant today as he was then.

Dr Rachel Dickinson, a Principal Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University and Director of Education for Ruskin’s Guild of St George, is also curating the Ruskin in Manchester.

“When Ruskin’s birthday was celebrated in 2000 there was an interest in Ruskin but there wasn’t really that much of people getting really excited about it,” she said.

“But this time when we are celebrating the bi-centenary 19 years later, suddenly we have huge exhibitions being launched. I think it’s because of what Ruskin has to say about trying to make the world less polluted, more environmentally friendly, working co-operatively together.

“He matters to me as he makes us think about who we are and how we relate to the world around us,” she added.

The celebration has already seen an exhibition at the Whitworth, ‘The Joy For Ever’ exhibit featured the contemporary instalments, a cast of the wall of Westminster Hall along with the Whitworth’s own illustrious collection.

This exhibition brought together art and politics, showing the interlinking nature of how politics shapes art.

Manchester Metropolitan University Special Collections will exhibit objects and artworks including books, drawings, pottery and textiles from its extensive collections and loans from Ruskin-related collections.

The exhibition titled ‘Devils Darkness’ to Beacon City’ runs from Monday 24 June to Friday 23 August.

The John Ruskin Prize 2019: Agent of Change, is being hosted by the Holden Gallery (Thursday 11 July to Saturday 24 August). The title reflecting the idea of artists responding to change, being facilitators in making a world a better place, a central theme within Ruskinian thought.

However, Ruskin still divides opinion. Jenny Daggers, who was visiting the Whitworth, held the view that he has such a “contradictory influence, some say he was an early feminist yet he had fixed ideas on what women could do.”

Elsie Loades, who was also at the Whitworth, said: “He was a sex pest which is conveniently not mentioned. However, I do find the view on the function of art pretty interesting, the idea of it being for people.”

Other events include an exhibition at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House “My Dear Mr Ruskin…” Friendship, Inspiration and Scandal (Wednesday 17 July 2019 to Monday 1 June 2020).

There will also be family friendly workshops each Wednesday during the school summer holidays (24 July to 28 August). Actor Paul O’Keeffe will recreate one of Ruskin’s lectures on the very date that Ruskin gave it at Manchester Art Gallery’s Athenaeum in 1857 (Saturday 13 July).

Regardless of the views held on Ruskin, he was an important figure and his ideals have seen a resurgence, with the focus on ethical consumerism, climate change and the radical disparity between rich and poor at the forefront of most people’s minds.

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