Working Space Revisited: New Genres
It has become the permitted fashion among modern
mathematicians, chemists and apothecaries, to call themselves
“scientific men”, as opposed to theologians, poets and artists.
They know their sphere to be a separate one; but their ridiculous
notion of its being a peculiarly scientific one ought not to be
allowed in our Universities. There is a science of Morals, a
science of History, a science of Grammar, a science of Music and
a science of Painting; and all these are quite beyond comparison
higher fields for human intellect and require accuracies of intenser
observation, than either chemistry, electricity, or geology.
John Ruskin, Ariadne Florentina
Earlier, when discussing the advent of the word scientist in the nineteenth century, I noted extensive dialogue surrounded the entry of the term. One of those who contributed to the heated debate was John Ruskin, an art critic and painter, who made the statement quoted above. Ruskin, I might add, was not simply speaking out against the idea because he was not a man of science himself. Many we now characterize as scientists rejected the term. Equally intriguing is that Ruskin’s contribution to the “scientist” debate barely made a ripple. His authority was (and undoubtedly remains) more visible when we place him into an artistic context. Indeed Ruskin continues to have a remarkable impact on contemporary art fashions.
Many date an important critical trajectory to the libel suit James Abbot McNeil Whistler brought against Ruskin’s evaluation of Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket (c. 1874).58 The case came about after the critic’s now notorious attack on this painting, then on display in the recently opened Grosvenor
58 One of the most intriguing legacies of the Ruskin/Whistler dispute is that people are still fascinated by this infamous libel trial. Some see it as more pertinent to the condition of art today than to the climate of the late nineteenth century (Jones 2003).