Sunday, November 14, 2010

“No great art ever yet rose upon earth but among a nation of soldiers.” Discuss the views of Ruskin on the relation between art and war.

According to Ruskin, there is a close relationship between art and war. All great arts have been created by nations of soldiers and warriors. It may seem paradoxical, because soldiers have been seen to destroy the work of art during the course of war. But it is a historical fact that art has been cultivated and produced in those countries which engaged, themselves in great battles.

Ruskin tells that great art started in Egypt. The Egyptians-were war-like people. In their social system, the ruling, caste were priests and the second, soldiers. But the themes of their famous sculptures and the exploits of warrior kings, going to battle or receiving the homage of conquered armies. Even the priests were not merely occupied with theology but played a vital role in the government and laws of the country.
The next nation to develop art is Greece, All Greek poetry and all painting are nothing else than the description, praise or dramatic representation of wars and battles. All Greek institutions accorded greatest respect to war. It is evident from the Greek images. Apollo is the god of all wisdom, but he bears the arrow and the bow before he bears the lyre. Athena is the goddess of all wisdom in conduct. But she is distinguished from other deities by means of the helmet and the shield and not by the shuttle.
However, there are two great differences in principle between the Greek and the Egyptian theories of policy. In Greece, there was no soldier caste, every citizen was necessarily a soldier. Again while the Greeks rightly despised mechanical arts as much as the Egyptians, they did not make the fatal mistake of despising agricultural and pastoral life, but perfectly honoured both. These two advantages raised them to- the highest rank of wise manhood. That has yet been reached. No wonder that modern Europe’s all great arts and all great thoughts have been borrowed or derived from the Greeks. If they are taken away from the Europeans, they stand nowhere.
Ruskin says that war is not the only thing for the development of art. Art-instinct is equally necessary. He takes the example of the Romans, who were great fighters, but art-instinct was wholly wanting in them. Ruskin feels that though the Roman boasted of being born of Mars and suckled by the wolf, he was at heart more of a farmer than soldier. He went to war with some practical purpose and so his poetry was in domestic life only. The stage was of Gothic chivalry and the romantic knights before whom was a passion and with that passion came the revival of the arts which reached its zenith in the great valleys of Lombardy and Tuscany which witnessed fierce battles. Likewise, the art reached its culmination in Venice which gave to European history the heroic feats of king Dandolo.
Ruskin, lastly, says that art in Europe declined with the decline of martial spirit. Art is also associated with luxury and degeneration. Whenever, the faculties of men are at the highest, they must express themselves by art. So a state without such an expression is at the lowest level of human nature. So when the author says that war is the foundation of all the arts, he means also that it is the foundation of all the high virtues and faculties of men.

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