Vol. 6, No1 ( September 2001)

van der Plaat


Seeking a Practical Aesthetic.
The Reconciliation of Art and Science in the Architectural Writings of William Richard Lethaby (1857-1931)

Defining art and architecture as ‘the well doing of what needs doing,’ the English architect and theorist William Lethaby (1857-1931) adhered to the Ruskinian theory of making and its associated moral aesthetic.1  Evidence to support this conclusion is found in his thesis that architecture must function as the representation of the subject (the producer or user of the artefact), that this expression must be articulated through the action of making, and that these actions conform to universal moral forces. However, by arguing that architecture must represent both ‘Science’ and ‘Art’ Lethaby developed a conception of architecture which tempered the moral orthodoxy evident in the Ruskinian model. It is in this cultivation of an syncretic and somewhat ambivalent thesis of architecture—one which supports the co-existence of two opposed and conflicting positions—that we witness Lethaby’s subtle but significant departure from the Ruskinian tradition. It is also here that we discover Lethaby’s desire to adapt Ruskin’s thesis to a modern scientific world through the cultivation of a practical aesthetic that reconciled, once ‘again, science with art.’2

The moral aesthetic in John Ruskin’s and William Morris’s theory of making.
Both John Ruskin’s (1819-1900) and William Morris’s (1834-1896) conception of the noble arts, including architecture, was intimately tied to a revival of the crafts and to the idea of making. In his lecture ‘The Lesser Arts’ (1877), Morris attributed a perceived decline in the art of the Western world to the bifurcation of the ‘fine arts of painting and sculpture’ from the ‘lesser or decorative arts.’3 Arguing that in the past ‘handicraftsmen were artists,’ and that it was only in ‘latter times, and under the most intricate conditions of life that they [had] fallen apart from one another,’ Morris concluded that it was only when ‘the thought of man became more intricate, more difficult to express,’ that ‘art grew a heavier thing to deal with’ and ‘labour was…divided among great men, lesser men, and little men.’4 The result, he continued was ‘ill for the Arts altogether.’ The lesser arts became ‘trivial, mechanical, unintelligent, incapable of resisting the changes pressed down on them by fashion or dishonesty.’5 The fine or higher arts, on the other hand, while ‘practiced for a while by great minds and wonder-making hands, unhelped by the lesser’ lost ‘the dignity of popular arts, and [became] nothing but dull adjuncts to unmeaning pomp, or ingenious toys for a few rich and idle men.’6 The sole solution to this decline, Morris argued, was to reinvigorate the ‘lesser arts’ of handicraft and to once again elevate the craftsman to the status of the artist,

The remedy I repeat is plain if it can be applied; the handicraftsmen, left behind by the artist when the arts sundered, must come up with him, must work side by side with him.7

The motive underlying Morris’s revival of making was his belief that the crafts possessed attributes that were lacking in the fine arts. Stating in his essay ‘The Revival of Handicraft’ (1888), that the function of the fine arts was to passively ‘record history,’ Morris also concluded that the ‘lesser arts’ were ‘unconscious and spontaneous,’ and thus capable of functioning as a mechanism through which man’s delight in beauty and pleasure in labour could be expressed.8

These arts, I have said, are part of a great system invented for the expression of man’s delight in beauty: all peoples and times have used them; they have been the joy of free nations, and the solace of the oppressed nations…best of all they are the sweeteners of human labour, both to the handicraftsman, whose life is spent working in them, and to the people in general who are influenced by the sight of them at every turn of the day’s work: they make our toil happy, our rest fruitful.9

Feeling that both pleasure and beauty were absent from the modern life of the common man, he argued for a revival of the crafts in the belief that they would guarantee a return of both.

Furthermore, I feel absolutely certain that handicraft joined to certain other conditions…would produce the beauty and pleasure in work above mentioned; and if that be so…this double pleasure of lovely surroundings and happy work could take the place of the double torment of squalid surroundings and wretched drudgery… .10

‘We are right to long for intelligent handicrafts to come back to the world,’ Morris declared. As ‘it once made [life] tolerable amidst war and turmoil and uncertainty,’ it could only again make man ‘happy’ in an age which had ‘grown so peaceful’ and ‘so considerate of each other’s temporal welfare.’11 In reinstating the happiness and pleasure of man, art, Morris believed, could return to its true function and regain its true value and significance.

That thing which I understand by real art is the expression by man of his pleasure in labour. I do not believe he can be happy in his labour without expressing that happiness; and especially is this so when he is at work at anything in which he specially excels.12

Morris’s conception of art as the pleasure experienced by man when making or viewing hand-made objects was not, as he candidly acknowledged, an original idea.

The pith of what I am going to say on this subject was set forth years ago and for the first time by Mr. Ruskin in that chapter of The Stones of Venice which is entitled, ‘On the Nature of Gothic [1853].’13

In this essay Ruskin asserted the primacy of making and the independence of the artisan within the design process. The liberty and freedom of the workman to invent was, for Ruskin, the essential ingredient of noble design. He demonstrated this by drawing the readers attention to three categories of ornament: the ‘Servile,’ the ‘Constitutional,’ and the ‘Revolutionary.’14 Each, Ruskin argued, represented different levels of independence which were given to the hand, the artisan producing the artefact. When the liberty of the hand was not respected, and the ‘execution or power of the inferior workman [was] entirely subjected to the intellect of the higher power,’ be it the intellect of an overseeing designer or overarching design concept, the ‘thoughtful’ role of the artisan producing the artefact was completely negated. In such constricted conditions, the ornament produced, Ruskin concluded, could only be ‘servile’ and thus ‘ignoble.’15 However, when a more ‘Constitutional’ approach was adopted and the ‘value of every soul acknowledged,’ all elements of slavery, Ruskin concluded, would be eliminated.16 Such a method, he argued, was demonstrated by the ‘medieval’ or ‘Christian system’ of production.17

The value of Ruskin’s conclusions for his successors was summed up by Morris. ‘To some of us when we first read it now many years ago,’ Morris explained, ‘it seemed to point out a new road on which the world would travel.’18 The central idea, which Morris took from this text, was the essential role that the liberated hand played within the production process.

The lesson which Ruskin here teaches is that art is the expression of man’s pleasure in labour; that it is possible for man to rejoice in work, for, strange as it may seem to us to-day, there have been times when he did rejoice in it.19

Like Ruskin before him, Morris established the liberation and independence of the hand as an essential component of the production process of fine or noble art.20 However for Morris this liberation was also equated with the pleasure and joy in labour. As he himself was to point out,

ART IS MAN’S EXPRESSION OF HIS JOY IN LABOUR. If those are not Professor Ruskin’s words they embody at least his teaching on this subject.21

Ruskin’s and Morris’s celebration of the thoughtful worker can be attributed to the Romantic belief that the creative act could only be explained in terms of the ‘imagination’ rather than passive observation and imitation. ‘Art,’ Ruskin reminds us, is ‘not a copy, nor anything done by rule’ but rather ‘a freshly and divinely imagined thing.’22 This adherence to the doctrine of the romantic imagination resulted in the imposition of strict dichotomies onto Ruskin’s conception of art and architecture; the division of knowledge and invention into antagonistic categories of subject and object, action (doing) and contemplation (knowing), universal and relative, and moral and rational. In the Sacred River: Coleridge’s Theory of the Imagination ( 1957), James Volant Baker has demonstrated that the romantic thesis of the imagination was itself based on a ‘tension between polar opposites.’23 ‘Every Power in nature and in spirit,’ the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge concluded, ‘must evolve an opposite, as the sole means and condition of its manifestation… .’24 For Coleridge, and Romantic theorists in general, the role of the imagination was to ‘coalesce’ such opposites.

That synthetic and magical power reveals itself in the balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities: of…idea with the image; the individual with the representative…a more than usual state of emotion, with more than usual order; judgement ever awake and steady self-possession, with enthusiasm and feeling profound or vehement.25

However, recognising the inevitable failure of such a coalescence,26 Ruskin’s exploration of the imagination seeks to establish the viability of a subjective world view as an alternative to the positivistic tendencies of nineteenth century thought.27 Rather than seeking to resolve the tension between opposites evident in man’s relationship with nature, Ruskin demonstrates the unbridgeable gulf that separated subject from object.28 The result; the division of the world and art into clearly defined and diametrically opposed contrasts or poles.

Ruskin’s celebration of the subject and negation of the object.
In the first volume of Modern Painters (1843), Ruskin argued that the most important message to be conveyed by the arts was ‘the perception or conception of the mental or bodily powers by which the work was produced.’29 In ‘The Nature of Gothic’ (1853), he expressed a similar sentiment arguing that the external forms of the Gothic structure were little more than representations of ‘certain mental tendencies of the builders, legibly expressed in it; as fancifulness, love of variety, love of richness, and such others.’30 The ‘ugly goblins…formless monsters, and stern statues, anatomiless and rigid’ adorning the Gothic structure,’ Ruskin argued, functioned as ‘signs of the life and liberty’ and of the ‘freedom of thought’ of the individual ‘workman who struck the stone.’31 With such statements Ruskin established the intrinsic qualities of the artefact (the object) as being bound to and determined by the subject (the user or producer of the artefact).

Ruskin’s belief in the bond between the content of the work and its producer, is an enduring theme in his writings. In ‘The relation of Art to Morality’ (1870), Ruskin confidently stated that ‘with absolute precision, from highest to lowest, the fineness of the possible art is an index of the moral purity and majesty of emotion it expresses.32 In ‘The Nature of Gothic’ he articulated the same sentiment when he argued that ‘the savageness of Gothic architecture’ couldn’t be seen to be ‘merely an expression of its origins among northern nations.’ Rather the ‘higher nobility’ of the Gothic form, he explained, could only be determined ‘when it [was] considered as an index, not of climate, but of religious principle.’33 Ruskin’s use of the term ‘index’ in both instances is significant.

An ‘index,’ was defined in 1875 by the nineteenth century philosopher and semiotician Charles Sanders Peirce, as a sign—a conceptual or physical notation—which ‘is in its individual existence, connected with the individual object’ it denotes.34 A ‘weathercock,’ argued Peirce, ‘is an index of the wind’s direction,’ as is a ‘low barometer indicating moist air’ an ‘index of rain.’35 The index represented for Peirce one of three possible modes of signification, the other two being the symbol and the icon. Unlike the index, which has a ‘natural’ connection to its object, the symbol was explained by Peirce as being an ‘ens rationis;’ the product of a deductive, reasoning, and conscious mind.’36 Peirce based this assumption on the observation that the relationship which bound the symbolic sign—the physical notation that pointed to something outside itself—to its objectthat which the sign referred to—was purely arbitrary, in that it was the product of a ‘general association of ideas’ or the ‘habitual’ linking of a specific sign, meaning and object.37 This reliance on arbitrary associations was in turn the result of the symbol’s lack of ‘natural fitness’ to represent its object. Unlike other sign types, the symbol did not look like, sound like, or resemble in any way its object; nor was it, like the index, ‘existentially’ linked.38 The final sign type identified by Peirce was the icon; a sign that denoted its object through a relationship of similarity. The material form of the icon shared specific physical and qualitative attributes with the object that it represented. ‘Diagrams,’ ‘paintings,’ and ‘statues,’ explained Peirce, are all examples of iconic signs, as they mimic some quality evident within the object.39 ‘Anything whatever,’ argued Peirce, ‘is an icon of anything in so far it is like that thing.’40

Peirce developed his semiotic theory in 1875, some twenty two years after Ruskin’s essay on Gothic architecture.41 However, evidence can be found in Ruskin’s writings which indicate that he possessed a comprehension of the different representational strategies which were available to the artist. These anticipate Peirce’s symbol, icon and index.

In ‘The Relation of Art to Religion’ (1870), Ruskin argued that the image could carry out ‘two distinct operations upon our minds.’42 He labelled these operations ‘realistic’ and ‘symbolic.’43 In his later lectures on ‘The Art of England’ (1883), he explained the nature of each operation in more detail. In his first lecture, which was dedicated to the Pre-Raphaelite painters Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt, Ruskin argued that the realistic condition was demonstrated by the ‘sternly materialistic, though deeply reverent, veracity’ of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.44 Identifying Holman Hunt’s painting The Strayed Sheep45 as one of the ‘best efforts of the times’ he explained that the representational strategy adopted by Hunt was one of accurate imitation.

It showed to us, for the first time in the history of art, the absolutely faithful balances of colour and shade by which actual sunshine might be transposed into a key in which the harmonies possible with material pigments should yet produce the same impressions upon the mind which were caused by the light itself.46

‘Striving to put the facts before the readers eyes as positively as if he had seen the thing come to pass,’ the representational strategy employed by Hunt, like that of the icon, was to carefully imitate what he sought to denote, in this case, the visual qualities of the landscape and the response these qualities evoked in the observer.47

But the pure natural green and tufted gold of the herbage in the hollow of that little sea-cliff must be recognised for true merely by a minutes pause of attention. Standing long before the picture, you were soothed by it, and raised into such peace as you are intended to find in the glory and the stillness of summer, possessing all things.48

In the second lecture of this series, Ruskin claimed that an alternative representational strategy could be found in the images produced by the ‘Mythic School.’ Unlike the realists, whose principal objective was ‘Realisation—Verification—Materialisation,’ the objective of the mythic painter was to represent ‘through symbolic figures…general truths or abstract ideas.’49 In direct contrast to the realistic painter, who accurately imitated the object represented, the mythic painter turned to arbitrary signs which had come to be associated with specific ideas. Ruskin demonstrated this method by drawing the reader’s attention to the personification of the Wheel of Fortune in the figure of Enid. ‘Enid does not herself conceive, or in the least intend the hearers of her song to conceive,’ Ruskin explained, ‘that there stands anywhere in the universe a real woman turning an adamantine wheel whose revolutions have power over human destiny. Rather,

she means only to assert, under that image, more clearly the law of Heaven’s continual dealing with man,—"he hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exulted the humble and the meek."50

Enid—an image of a woman holding a wheel—functioned as a visual notation which had come to be arbitrarily associated with a particular idea or concept; in this case, ‘the laws of heaven’ and their impact on men. Thus the figure of Enid, in Ruskin’s own words, was ‘symbolic’ rather then ‘realistic.’51

In the ‘The Nature of Gothic,’ Ruskin indicated that a third representational mode was available to the artisan; that of the ‘index.’52 As Peirce was to argue, Ruskin suggested that the definitive attribute of the index (in this case the Gothic artefact) was that it represented the workman which produced it by being physically bound to it. This aspect of Ruskin’s argument emerges in his analysis of ‘Gothic imperfection.’ Noting that ‘all things are literally better, lovelier, and more beloved for [their] imperfections’ and ‘that neither architecture, nor any other noble work of man can be good unless it be imperfect,’ Ruskin also explained that such imperfection was a direct response to the artisan’s freedom to think and create.53

Understand this clearly: you can teach a man to draw a straight line and to cut one; to strike a curved line and to carve it; to copy and carve any number of given lines or forms, with admirable speed and perfect precision; and you find his work perfect of its kind: but if you ask him to think about any of those forms, to consider if he cannot find any better in his own head, he stops; his execution becomes hesitating; he thinks, and ten to one he thinks wrong; ten to one he makes a mistake in the first touch he gives to his work as a thinking being. But you have made a man of him for all that. He was only a machine before, an animated tool.’54

As smoke is an index of fire and thus bound to it for its existence, imperfection and thus nobility in architecture is an index of, and thus existentially bound to the artisan’s liberty and freedom in thought. Arguing that it is a mistake to believe ‘that one man’s thoughts can be, or ought to be, executed by another’s hands,’55 Ruskin encouraged a return to creative liberty.

Let him but begin to imagine, to think, to try to do anything worth doing; and the engine-turned precision is lost at once. Out comes all his toughness, his dullness, all his incapability; shame upon shame, failure upon failure, pause after pause: but out comes the whole majesty of him also; and we know the height of it only when we see the clouds setting upon him.’56

The consequence of this bond between subject and object in Ruskin’s thesis ensured that the object had no intrinsic or inherent values outside of the task to signify the subject. Ruskin’s focus on the subject ensured not only the priority of the self over an objective reality but that the empirical world was itself no more than a projection of the perceiving subject.57 Ruskin maintained this Romantic assumption by failing to consider the autonomous value of the object, be it its material qualities, function, or the processes that contributed to the artefact’s construction, as things of value in themselves. Throughout his essay, one which documents the role of the imagination in the medieval world, and one which Ruskin offers to the contemporary reader as a model for modern practice, the primacy of the producing and conceiving subject is constantly asserted. The object itself only has value in that it acts as the medium through which the subject speaks. As Ruskin concluded, ‘it is not the material’ which determined the value of an object, but the presence of ‘human labour.’

a piece of terracotta, or plaster of paris, which has been wrought by the human hand, is worth all the stone in Carrara… .58

For Ruskin, to focus on the independent qualities of the object was both irrelevant and dangerous as such concerns, he argued, were ‘independent of the nature and the worthiness of the object from which they are received.’59

The moral and universal value of making.
The importance Ruskin placed on the subject stems from his belief that it is only through the liberated actions of the artisan that the moral and divine forces directing both man and nature could be represented.

Now listen to me, if I have in these last details lost or burdened your attention; for this is what I chiefly say to you. The art of any country is the exponent of its social and political virtues…accept this as one of the things, and the most important of all things, I can positively declare to you. The art, or general productive and formative energy, of any country, is an exact component of its ethical life.60

The actions he sought to define and associate with a noble art were universal, eternal and ultimately moral. In honouring the subject, Ruskin’s intention was to extract from the flux of every day phenomena ‘laws’ or ‘essential principles’ that were ‘consistent’ and ‘eternal.’61 Arguing that there are ‘certain elementary principles of right, in every picture and design,’62 and that ‘everything which men rightly accomplish is indeed done by Divine help,’ and ‘under a consistent law which is never departed from,’63 Ruskin concluded that both art and architecture must always be,

executed in compliance with constant laws of right, [that they] cannot be singular and must be distinguished only by excellence in what is always desirable.64

The ‘desirable’ in Ruskin’s eyes, was a universal code of ‘morality’ or ‘the law of rightness in human conduct.’65 Thus the highest function of art was,

to relate to us the utmost ascertainable truth respecting visible things and moral feelings: and this pursuit of fact is the vital element of the art power,—that in which alone, it can develop itself to its utmost.66

The single most important aspect of morality for Ruskin was that it transcended the flux of everyday existence and pointed to what was universal and eternal. Noting that there are ‘moral and immoral religions, which differ as much in precepts as in emotion,’ he also claimed that,

there is only one morality, which has been, is, and must be for ever, an instinct in the hearts of all civilised men, as certain and unalterable as their outward bodily form, which receives from religion neither law, nor place; but only hope, and felicity.67

Associating art with ‘morality’ Ruskin was also able to elevate artistic production above the everyday and thus bind the creative production of the present with that of the past and of the future.

I press to the conclusion which I wish to leave with you, that all you can rightly do, or honourably become, depends on the government of these two instincts of order and kindness, by this great Imaginative faculty which gives you inheritance of the past, grasp of the present and authority over the future.68

He was also able to dispel the isolation of the arts by suggesting that they be bound to all industries or human activities. In seeking what was common, one would also find, Ruskin argued, the essential.

I trust we shall together seek, in the laws which regulate the finest industries, the clue to the laws which regulate all industries, and in better obedience to which we shall actually have henceforth to live not merely in compliance with our own sense of what is right, but under the weight of what is a quite literal necessity.69

Contradiction in Ruskin’s conclusions.
However, while Ruskin’s theories on art and architecture generally privileged the subject over the object, the universal over the specific and the moral over the rational, he was not always consistent in his conclusions. Ruskin’s ‘views on the relation between art, religion, and society’ as Wendell Harris ‘Ruskin and Pater—Hebrew and Hellene—Explore the Renaissance,’ has noted, ‘are notoriously subject to modification and redaction from book to book.’70 Nowhere is Ruskin’s inconsistency better demonstrated than in his doctrine on imperfection and the negation of the object. Ruskin’s thesis that imperfection in the execution of the artefact functioned as the most efficient index of the thoughtful worker—a position which resulted in the negation of all properties (the material and aesthetic) which were seen to be autonomous of the subject—is clearly demonstrated in ‘The Nature of Gothic.’ However, this negation of perfection or finish, and thus the object, was not, as Ruskin himself acknowledged, always faithfully maintained. In the fifth volume of Modern Painters (1860), Ruskin writes:

I do not wonder at people sometimes thinking I contradict myself when they come suddenly on any of the scattered passages, in which I am forced to insist on the opposite practical applications of subtle principles… . It would be well if you would first glance over the chapter on Finish in the third volume… The general conclusion reached in that chapter being that finish, for the sake of added truth, or utility, or beauty, is noble; but finish, for the sake of workmanship, neatness, or polish, ignoble—turn to the fourth chapter of The Seven Lamps, where you will find the Campanile of Giotto given as a model and mirror of perfect architecture, just on account of its exquisite completion. Also, in the next chapter, I expressly limit the delightfulness of rough and imperfect work to developing and unformed schools.71

In the same footnote, Ruskin goes on to cite a passage from The Stones of Venice where he writes, ‘the demand for perfection is always a misunderstanding of the end of art.’ He then juxtaposes this comment with a later chapter on the early Renaissance where he argues ‘the profoundest respect [is] paid to completion.’72

 Philipa Davis in her essay ‘Arnold or Ruskin?’(1992), has argued that the development of such contradictory statements by Ruskin was intentional.73 Having set up an apparent maze of contradictions, Ruskin’s tells us that his objective was to bring the reader ‘into a wholesome state of knowing what to think.’

Now all these passages are perfectly true; and, as in much more serious matters, the essential thing for the reader to receive their truth, however little he may be able to see their consistency. If truths of apparently contradictory character are candidly and rightly received, they will fit themselves together in the mind without any trouble. But no truth maliciously received will nourish you or fit with others.74

It was this aspect of Ruskin’s theories—the intentional cultivation of contradictory positions on the theory of making in the hope that ‘they will fit themselves together in the mind’ of the reader ‘without any trouble’—which attracted the attention of William Lethaby. As Lethaby pointed out to his colleague Sir Reginald Blomfield, it was the element of ‘paradox’ in Ruskin which most appealed to him, as it ‘shocked people into thinking,’ and ‘but for that they would have remained wholly indifferent to art.’75 However while Lethaby celebrated the paradox evident in Ruskin, he also sought to resolve it.76 He achieved this by suggesting that architecture must represent both the ‘known’ and the ‘imagined’ or ‘science’ and ‘art.’

Lethaby’s debt to Ruskin.
Lethaby, like Morris before him, openly acknowledged his debt to Ruskin. While Lethaby admitted to having seen Ruskin in person only once—at Ruskin’s 1884 Lecture on Storm Clouds at the London Institute which he attended with his friend Gerald Horsley—he declared Ruskin to be one of the key ‘prophets’ of the age.77 Lethaby’s debt to Ruskin was widely acknowledged by his contemporaries. In his tribute to Lethaby in 1932, his colleague W.S. Weir noted that ‘I think by the time that I knew him [1884] he had read everything that Ruskin had ever written and had absorbed his teachings.’78 Another of Lethaby’s colleagues, Sir Reginald Blomfield, confirmed that Lethaby’s debt to Ruskin was significant. Arguing that Ruskin’s writings ‘were to Lethaby as the words of the Prophet, to be accepted with meekness and reverence, no matter how strange they might seem, or how irrelevant to the Art of Architecture,’ Blomfield affirmed that ‘Ruskin’s teachings coloured all of Lethaby’s views and, indeed, led him to translate architecture and the arts into terms of a generous if quite impossible socialism.’79 Such conclusions are supported by Lethaby’s own comments. In his essay ‘Cast Iron and its Treatment for Artistic Purposes’ (1890), Lethaby described himself as a Ruskinian.80 In an earlier paper he argued that the architect should design in the ‘way the painter told Mr. Ruskin he composed his picture.’81 In ‘Ruskin: Defeat and Victory,’ (1919) Lethaby described Ruskin as a ‘prophet’ who was not only in ‘opposition to his age’ but also ‘represent[ative] of his time.’ He was, Lethaby tells us,

the antidote, the balance, the complement, and his is the voice which awakes all those who are ready to be like minded. If he is wholly successful, and his teaching is absorbed, it may afterwards hardly be understood how any one might ever have believed otherwise. The flashing inspiration becomes a commonplace. It is the prophet’s aim to be thus abolished in absorption; to be lost by diffusion.82

Finally, in a 1924 letter to the Harry Peach, the president of the Design Industries Association (D.I.A.) Lethaby stressed the importance of Ruskin to the practice of contemporary design. However, he also acknowledged that the promotion of Ruskin’s theories was a difficult task. ‘I wish some publisher would produce an essence of Ruskin,’ Lethaby lamented, ‘as the whole is too much in too special a manner to expect it to be read by many.’83

Lethaby’s writings indicate that he was thoroughly acquainted with Ruskin’s theories.84 Like Ruskin before him, Lethaby openly celebrated the active processes of making. As early as 1913, Lethaby defined art as ‘most simply and generally…the well doing of what needs doing.’ 85 Three years later, in the essay ‘Art and Labour,’ the association between art and making was developed more fully. Premising that ‘historically, the word "art" has meant production, making, [and] doing,’ he concluded that ‘beauty is the flowering of labour and service,’ and that ‘Art…is sound and complete human workmanship.’ A work of ‘Art’ he argued, ‘is a well-made boot, a well-made chair, [or] a well-made picture.’ 86In the 1916 lecture ‘Town Tidying,’ Lethaby observed that ‘we have perhaps got into the way of looking on art as a rather remote ornament to life,’ as objects of the ‘concert-room [or] exhibition room.’ Such erroneous beliefs, he continued, must be discarded. ‘Art’ he explained, must be thought of as ‘all worthy productive work.’87 Similar sentiments were expressed in ‘Exhibitionism at the Royal Academy and the Higher Criticism of Art’ (1920). Here he claimed that the ‘proud distinction’ of all ‘artists’ was their ability to ‘make things,’ and to ‘do something with their hands.’88 However for Lethaby, this distinction was not only reserved for the artisan who produced the artefact. In the essay the ‘Arts and the Function of Guilds’ (1896), he suggested that it is only through the active process of making that the general populace could once again gain an understanding of the arts. ‘The safest, widest standing-ground for most of us to deal with art,’ he concluded, is ‘only in relation to the making of necessary things—to deal with it as craftsmen.’89

Lethaby’s writings demonstrate that he also viewed architecture, like art, in terms of making. In Philip Webb and His Work (1925), Lethaby identified ‘two tendencies in the practice of modern [nineteenth and early twentieth century] architecture.’ One, he argued, focused on taste and ‘turn[ed] to imitation, style effects, paper designs and exhibitions.’ The ‘other founds on building, materials…ways of workmanship and proceeds by experiment.’90 He labelled those who adhered to the first approach the ‘Softs,’ those who adopted the practices of the second, the ‘Hards.’ The former he explained, ‘were primarily sketchers and exhibitors of "Designs."’ The second were ‘thinkers and constructors.’91 For Lethaby, individuals such as Philip Webb (1831-1915) and William Butterfield (1814-1900) represented the true architect as both were ‘thinkers and constructors,’ or ‘builder-architects.’ The key attribute of such men, Lethaby explained, was that they were fully conversant with the physical processes of making; with ‘building, materials…and [the] ways of workmanship.’92

Further evidence of Lethaby’s debt to Ruskin is found in his rejection of what Ruskin described as the ‘superior executive power’ within the design process. ‘Design is not abstract power exercised by a genius,’ Lethaby argued in ‘Architecture as Form in Civilisation (1920),’ but ‘simply the arranging [of] how work shall be well done.’93 In ‘The Foundation in Labour’ (1917) Lethaby concluded that the workman should be permitted to ‘labour with his hands.’94 In celebrating the act of making Lethaby also assumed a bond between the content of the work and the producer of the artefact. In a manner which evokes earlier statements made by Ruskin, Lethaby argued on numerous occasions that ‘the outward and the man made must always be exact pictures of the mind of the maker,’95 that ‘Architecture is human skill and feeling shown in the great necessary activity of building,’96 and that ‘indeed our arts and customs are all indexes and pictures of our inner life.’97 Assuming a bond between the subject and content, Lethaby like Ruskin before him, was also forced to argue for the essential presence of the thinking hand and that its removal would be to the detriment of both the worker and the work produced. ‘If we are driven from the traditional Crafts into mere crude labour,’ Lethaby argued in ‘Exhibitionism at the Royal Academy and the Higher Criticism of Art’ (1920), ‘we have become an enslaved nation.’98 In the earlier essay, ‘Art and Workmanship’ (1913), he concluded.

If I were asked for some simple test by which we might hope to know a work of art when we saw one I should suggest something like this: Every work of art shows that it was made by a human being for a human being. Art is the humanity put into workmanship, the rest is slavery.99

Further theoretical parallels between Ruskin and Lethaby can be found in his adherence to the belief that the quality of art was dependent on the morality of the people who produced it, and the conviction that the true function of art was to give representation to universal principles. In a letter to Harry Peach (1921) Lethaby stated the quality of art ‘depends on the quality of the people.’100 In his notebook he writes that ‘one is what one does,’ and that ‘what one does makes the world.’101 In his ‘Lecture on Modern Design’ (1901), he concluded true art ‘is the knowledge of the essential.’102 Somewhat latter he reinforced this position by stating that ‘Art, like poetry and religion is near every one of us. It is universal or it is of little worth.’103

Expanding the Ruskinian paradigm and the development of a practical aesthetic.
Embracing what appears to be Ruskin’s ideal of the universal and his celebration of ‘the hand,’ and thus his idea of the imagination, one would assume that Lethaby, like Ruskin before him, would also reject a consideration of qualities that were deemed to be independent of the subject (the producer of the artefact) and specific to the object (the artefact itself). However, it is difficult to find evidence of this in Lethaby’s writings. While he did acknowledge the need for noble art to conform to universal values, he also felt that the inventive process must respond to the relative flux of everyday phenomena. In ‘Architecture as Form in Civilisation’ (1920), Lethaby explains that ‘Architecture is human skill and feeling shown in the great activity of building,’ a sentiment which evokes earlier statements made by Ruskin. However, in the same essay, he also argued that architecture must accommodate the representation of facts that are autonomous too the object (the artefact itself) and independent of the subject. Architecture, he concludes, ‘must be [a] living, progressive, structural art, always readjusting itself to changing conditions of time and place.’104 If architecture was to be ‘true,’ Lethaby argued, ‘it must [also] be ever new.’105 Attributes which are unique and specific to the object—the ability to fulfil its designated function, maintain structural integrity, exhibit honesty in materials—were equally important to Lethaby’s theory of invention.

While our eyes have been strained on the vacuity of correct style, the weightier matters of construction and efficiency have necessarily been neglected. We need grates which will warm, floors which may readily be cleaned, and ceilings which do not crack. These and such as these are the terms of the modern architectural problem, and in satisfying them we should find the proper ‘style’ for to-day.106

Acknowledging that ‘art…depends on the quality of the people and that is the whole of the prophets (Ruskin and Morris to wit),’ Lethaby also felt that such concerns could not and did not ‘invalidate the "known truth" that art equals work: worthy art equal worthy work, high quality art equals high quality work.’107

To focus on the qualities that were specific to the object was in Ruskin’s eyes a dangerous tendency. In the past, such considerations had encouraged situations in which, he thought, both the workman and the artefact had suffered. While Lethaby sought high quality and perfection, Ruskin argued for ‘imperfection,’ as only the workman free of the need to produce precise and exact work, was free to think, create, invent and consequently, to make mistakes. ‘Pleading that any degree of unskilfulness should be admitted’ so that ‘the labourer’s mind had room for expression,’ Ruskin noted that ‘it seems a fantastic paradox but…nevertheless a most important truth, that no architecture can be truly noble which is not imperfect.’108 For Ruskin, the specific and relative attributes of the object, such as the material it was made of or the quality of its finish, were in themselves, not important. The sole value of such specific qualities were to be found only in the ability of such properties to represent the artisan’s presence, and in turn, the social climate which determined the nature of that presence. To consider the object as a thing of interest and beauty in itself, was for Ruskin, simply a sign of a defunct and morally corrupt culture.

I need scarcely refer, except for the sake of completeness in my statement, to one form of demand for art which is wholly enlightened, and powerful only for evil;—namely, the demand of the classes occupied solely in the pursuit of pleasure, for objects and the modes of art that can amuse indolence or excite passion. There is no need for any discussion of these requirements, or of their forms of influence… . They cannot be checked by blame or guided by instruction; they are merely the necessary result of whatever defects exist in the temper and principles of a luxurious society; and it is only by moral changes, not by art criticism, that their action can be modified.109

Lethaby shared Ruskin’s distaste for an aesthetic appreciation of the artefact. In ‘What Shall We Call Beautiful’ (1918), this disdain is openly expressed. Arguing that aesthetic theory is principally concerned with ‘sense perception’ and ‘contemplation,’ he concluded that the consequence of such an approach to arts was its dislocation from a practical or active life.

We may best get a general statement on aesthetics from the excellent article in the Encyclopedia Britannica. In its original Greek form it means what has to do with sense perception as a source of knowledge. Its limitation to that part of our sense perception which we know as the contemplative enjoyment of beauty is due to A.G. Baumgarten… . By pure contemplation is to be understood that manner of regarding objects of sense perception, and more particularly sights and sound, which is entirely motivated by the pleasure of the act itself… . Aesthetic pleasure is pure enjoyment… . Aesthetic pleasure is clearly marked off from practical life… . It seeks one or more regulative principles which may help us to distinguish a real from an apparent aesthetic value, and to set the higher and more perfect illustrations of beauty above the lower and less perfect.110

To see art solely in terms of contemplation and visual pleasure was in Lethaby’s eyes, inappropriate.

Art is many things—service, record, and stimulus… . Writers on aesthetics have not sufficiently recognised that Art is service before it is delight; it is labour as well as emotion; it is substance as well as expression. What they say here and there is true enough, but it is a way that leads to destruction; it is concerned with appearances rather than conduct.’111

Ruskin’s rejection of an aesthetic approach to art stems from his belief that the artefact cannot be viewed as an autonomous object that exists independently from the subject. The sole function of art was to act as an index of the artisan’s beliefs, thoughts and feelings which in turn organically gives representation to universal and moral laws. The above comment demonstrates that Lethaby clearly embraced this aspect of Ruskin’s critique of aesthetic theory. However, while Lethaby accepted Ruskin’s critical stance, he failed to accept what was for Ruskin the logical conclusion of such a position; the belief that a consideration of attributes which were autonomous to the object and independent of the subject would add anything to the production and appreciation of a noble art. Rather than rejecting such considerations of the object, Lethaby simply sought an alternative foundation for this consideration. He found this alternative in modern science.

A brief survey of Lethaby’s writings quickly reveals the important role that modern science played in his conception of architecture. In a letter to Charles Hadfield he states that it was ‘not fashion’ or ‘taste, that will help us…to become great builders again’ but ‘science.’112 Writing to Sydney Cockerell (1907) he notes,

if I were again to learn to be a modern architect, I would eschew taste and design and all that stuff and learn engineering with plenty of mathematics and hard building experience. Hardness, facts, experiment—that should be architecture, not taste.113

In ‘Housing and Furnishing’ (1920), a similar sentiment is expressed when he argues that only ‘an efficiency style’ can replace the ‘trivial, sketchy, [and] picturesque.’114 In his biography on Webb (1925) he expanded on this theme by concluding the architect must ‘perfect a science of modern building.’115

The contribution of ‘science’ to architecture, Lethaby argued, was that it revealed the time of the artefact’s production and functioned as the catalysts for change which ensured the continual ‘slow change of growth’ that constituted the evolution of architecture.116 Defining ‘science’ as ‘all that had been spied out of the actual facts of the material universe,’ Lethaby acknowledged that the ultimate objective of science was to identify the fixed ‘laws’ underlying such phenomena; ‘to frame from a certain appearance a general theory of explanation, to move from phenomena to generalised law.’117

In the invention of architecture, however, the representation of science—be it through the material used, the tools used to work that material, or the technologies used to construct the artefact—identified attributes which were specific to the time and place of the artefact’s production. Arguing that scientific knowledge of the material universe is accumulative, and thus evolutionary—‘the progress of science is merely the framing and the destruction of a series of hypotheses’118—‘science’ identified in modern architecture the stage man had reached in the evolution of the intellect. Reference to a scientific world view in modern architecture—be they references to scientific theories of knowledge, modes of production, systems of construction, or use of modern materials—allowed the built artefact to speak of its own time and place. Only ‘science,’ Lethaby argued, identified the ‘characteristic note’ of his ‘age.’119 Thus, ‘modern design,’ he concluded, could ‘only be understood in the scientific…sense, as a definite analysis of possibilities.’120 ‘The living stem of building-design,’ the continuing evolution which ensured a new and modern architecture, could only be maintained by ‘following the scientific method.’121

In his lecture on ‘The Relation of Art to Religion’ (1870), Ruskin concluded that science had little to offer the disciplines of art and architecture, as it was concerned solely with the relative flux of everyday phenomena.122 ‘That which you have chiefly to guard against,’ Ruskin warned, was,

the overvaluing of minute though correct discovery; the groundless denial of all that seems to you to have been groundlessly affirmed; and the interesting yourselves too curiously in the progress of some scientific minds, which in their judgement of the universe can be compared to nothing so accurately as to the woodworms in the panel of a picture by some great painter, if we may conceive them as tasting with discrimination of the wood, and with repugnance of the colour, and declaring that even this unlooked-for and undesirable combination is a normal result of the action of molecular forces.123

Such concerns detracted from the true function of the fine arts; the comprehension of the universal. ‘You must not allow your scientific habit of trusting nothing but what you had ascertained’ Ruskin counselled,

to prevent you from appreciating, or at least endeavouring to qualify yourselves to appreciate, the work of the highest faculty of the human mind,—its imagination,—when it is toiling in the presence of things that cannot be dealt with by any other power.124

The sole value of such relative data, Ruskin continued, was that it offered a viable source from which the eternal and universal could be extracted. ‘It is the function of the rightly trained imagination,’ he explained,

to recognise, in these and other such relative aspects, the unity of teaching which impresses, alike on our senses and our conscience, the eternal difference between good and evil: and the rule, over the clouds of heaven and over the creatures in the earth, of the same Spirit which teaches to our own hearts the bitterness of death, and the strength of love.125


In direct contrast to Ruskin, Lethaby did not see the concerns of science as being incompatible with creative invention. For Lethaby, ‘there really is no opposition.’

One of the most sad wastes of power to which men of goodwill are subject is vain strife about words, especially when pairs of words have been allowed to come into opposition—as faith and works, art and science. There really is no opposition between art and science. Show me your art, as St James might have said, and I will show you your science.126

Rather, for Lethaby, the two simply represented different though not necessarily incompatible approaches adopted by man in his attempt to come to terms with the world around him; the scientist extracting knowledge rationally from the relative phenomena of the object world, the artist turning to the inner resources and actions (the imagination) of the subject. For Lethaby, ‘Art’ embraced,

the active side of things, science the contemplative. The most of art is science in operation, and a large part of science is reflection upon art. Properly, only science can be taught, for you cannot teach beyond knowledge, and every fresh activity is a sort of creation.127

To isolate one from the other, as had Ruskin, ‘would only result,’ Lethaby argued, ‘in false’ and misleading polarities.

A false and confusing opposition between science and art has been allowed to arise, and indeed is rather fostered by expert simulators who ‘go in for old-world effects;’ but properly there is no strife between science and art in architecture. It does not matter a bit if we call flying an art or a science: the art of house building is practically one with the science of housing. If we must worry over strict definitions, ‘science’ may stand for codified preliminary knowledge, and ‘art’ for operative skill, experiment and adventure. Science is what you know; art is what you do. The best art is founded on the best science in every given matter. The art of shipbuilding is the science of shipbuilding in operation.128

To propose either discipline as an appropriate model for architecture, Lethaby insisted, was also inappropriate. Architecture, could never be considered purely in terms of the fine arts.

Wordy claims are often made for ‘Architecture’ that it is a ‘Fine Art’ and chief of all the arts… . But the ‘Fine Arts’ are by definition free from the conditions of human need, and architecture was specially ruled out from among them by Aristotle. Even so, this idea of a fine art unconditioned and free for delight was a heresy of the Hellenistic decline. To Plato and the great masters even the ‘musical arts’ were to be not only healthy but health giving; they were to be food for the soul and not aesthetic raptures and intoxications.129

Nor could it be defined purely in the modern and scientific terms of utility and economy.

On the other side of the account it may be objected that bare utility and convenience are not enough to form a base for noble architecture. Of course they are not if ‘bare utility’ is interpreted in a mean and skimping and profiteering way.130

Architecture, rather, must embrace the methodologies and objectives of each as it was a ‘many sided and manifold thing;’ one which accepted both ‘imagination and invention…skilled workmanship and patient record…design and imitation…[and] labour and thought.’131

All work of man bears the stamp of the spirit with which it was done, but this stamp is not necessarily ornament! High utility and liberal convenience for noble life are enough for architecture. We confuse ourselves with these unreal and destructive oppositions between the serviceable and aesthetic, between science and art.132

Architecture, Lethaby concluded, must on the one hand, be ‘art, imaginative, poetic, even mystic and magic.’ ‘Let us go to and build magic buildings’ and ‘be poetic’ he argued.133 However it must also accommodate the concerns of science.

We need first the natural, the obvious, and, if it will not offend to say so, the reasonable, so that to these, which might seem to be under our own control, may be added we know not how or what of gifts and graces.134

Only then,

may we hope to combine the two realities, the reality of the natural necessity and common experience with the reality of the philosophers, which is the ideal, and to reconcile again, Science with Art.135


The synthesis of art and science in Lethaby’s conception of architecture demonstrates his subtle but significant shift away from the moral aesthetic of a Ruskinian position. Assuming that architecture must act as a representation of the subject, that this expression must be articulated through the action of making, and that these actions must conform to universal principles, Lethaby maintained Ruskin’s association between architecture and moral action first established by Ruskin.136 However, in requiring that architecture must also address the relative phenomena of the object world—knowledge which was driven by a or scientific ‘desire to see things as they are’—enabled him to avoid the intolerance inherent to Ruskin’s moral imagination. Embracing both science’ and ‘art’ Lethaby was able to cultivate an ambivalent theory of architecture that avoided the moral orthodoxy of Ruskin’s contrasts by generating a new practical aesthetic where Art, the moral and the universal was tempered by Science, the rational and the specific.


1 Lethaby, ‘Art and Workmanship,’ Imprint, January 1913; reprinted in Lethaby, Form in Civilisation: Collected Papers on Art & Labour, Oxford University Press, 1922, p. 209.

2 William Lethaby, ‘Architecture of Adventure,’ Royal Institute of British Architects, 18th April 1910; reprinted in Lethaby, Form in Civilisation, p. 94.

3 William Morris, ‘The Lesser Arts,’ a lecture given to the Trades’ Guild of Learning in 1877, reprinted in Morris on Art and Design, Christine Poulson (ed), Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield, 1996, p. 157.
4 Morris, ‘The Lesser Arts,’ pp. 157 & 162. Possibly a reference to the earlier thesis developed by James Ferguson who argued that architecture was the result of three distinct types of labour; the mechanical or ‘technic,’ the ‘aesthetic,’ and the ‘phonetic.’ James Fergusson, An Historical Enquiry in the True Principles of Beauty in Art, More Especially with Reference to Architecture, Longman, London, 1849, p. 104. For a discussion of Fergusson see Peter Kohane, Architecture, Labor and the Human Body: Fergusson, Cockerell and Ruskin, Ph.D thesis, University of Pennsylvania, 1993, chapter 5.

5 Morris, ‘The Lesser Arts,’ p. 157.

6 Morris, ‘The Lesser Arts,’ p. 157.

7 Morris, ‘The Lesser Arts,’ p. 166.

8 William Morris, ‘The Revival of Handicraft,’ Fortnightly Review, November, 1888, reprinted in William Morris on Art and Design, pp. 192-3.

9 Morris, ‘The Lesser Arts,’ p. 161.

10 Morris, ‘The Revival of Handicraft,’ p. 193.

11 Morris, ‘The Revival of Handicraft,’ p. 195.

12 William Morris, ‘The Art of the People,’ first delivered to the Birmingham Society of Arts, Birmingham School of Design, 1879, reprinted in William Morris on Art and Design, p. 179.
13 William Morris, ‘The Prospects of Architecture in Civilisation,’ 1888, The Collected Works of William Morris, May Morris (ed), Longman, Green & Co, London, 1910-15, vol 22, p. 140. John Ruskin, ‘The Nature of Gothic,’ The Stones of Venice, vol. II, 1853, The Works of John Ruskin, E.T.Cook & A.Wedderburn (eds), George Allen, London, 1903-12, vol.10, pp. 180-269.

14 Ruskin, ‘The Nature of Gothic,’ Works, vol. 10, p.188.

15 Examples of ‘servile ornament,’ Ruskin explained, could be found in the schools of the ‘Greek, Ninevite, and Egyptian’ as in each system the ‘workman’ was reduced to a ‘slave.’ A substitute for Servile work, Ruskin continued, could be found in the ‘Revolutionary system.’ In this classification, Ruskin presented the artisan as having complete freedom to work in a manner ‘in which no executive inferiority is admitted at all.’ In this system of production the ‘inferior detail becomes principal, the executor of every minor portion [the artisan] being required to exhibit skill and possess knowledge as great as that which is possessed by the master of the design.’ For Ruskin ornament of this kind was little better than the ‘servile’ as it too enslaved the labourer. Not only did the complete independence of the artisan negate the presence of the ‘master designer,’ a greater concern for Ruskin was that it also forced the worker to take on the responsibilities, the ‘skill[s] and knowledge’ which traditionally were the domain of the ‘master of design.’ Such responsibilities, Ruskin concluded, would only ‘overwhelm’ and inhibit the workers inventive and ‘original power,’ reducing the artefact produced to a ‘wearisome exhibition of well-educated imbecility.’ Ruskin noted that examples of this type of ornament were found in the Renaissance. Ruskin, ‘The Nature of Gothic,’ Works, vol. 10, p. 188-89.

16 In the ‘Constitutional’ system the artisan producing the artefact and the ‘master’ responsible for the design received an equal and balanced representation. ‘The executive inferior power,’ Ruskin tells us, ‘is to a certain point, emancipated and independent, having a will of its own.’ However, this independence is not complete, as ‘the executive inferior power’—the artisan—still ‘confess[es] its inferiority and render[s] obedience to [the] higher powers’ of the designer or design ideal. Ruskin, ‘The Nature of Gothic,’ Works, vol. 10, p. 188.

17 Ruskin writes; ‘… in the medieval, or especially Christian, system of ornament, this slavery is done away with altogether; Christianity having recognised, in small things as well as great, the individual value of every soul. But it not only recognises its value; it confesses its imperfection, in only bestowing dignity upon the acknowledgment of unworthiness. That admission of lost power and fallen nature, which the Greek or Ninevite felt to be intensely painful, and, as far as might be, altogether refused, the Christian makes daily and hourly, contemplating the fact of it without fear, as tending, in the end, to God’s greater glory. Therefore, to every spirit which Christianity summons to her service, the exhortation is: Do what you can, and confess frankly what you are unable to do; neither let her effort be shortened for fear and failure, nor your confession silenced for fear of shame. And it is, perhaps, the principal admirableness of the Gothic schools of architecture, that they thus received the results of the labour of inferior minds; and out of fragments full of imperfection, and betraying that imperfection in every touch, indulgently raise up a stately and unaccusable whole.’ Ruskin, ‘The Nature of Gothic,’ Works, vol. 10, pp. 189-90.

18 Mackail, William Morris; cited by Lethaby, Philip Webb and his Work, Raven Oak Press, London, 1979 (1935), p. 19.

19 Mackail, William Morris, cited by Lethaby, Philip Webb and his Work, p. 19. In the ‘Lesser Arts,’ Morris noted that such ideas were first raised by ‘my friend Professor John Ruskin.’ He also stressed the importance of Ruskin’s essay. He writes, ‘On the Nature of Gothic, and the office of Workmen therein, you will read at once the truest and most eloquent words that can possibly be said on the subject. What I have to say upon it, can scarcely be more than an echo of his word, yet I repeat there is some use in reiterating the truth, lest it be forgotten… .’ (Morris, ‘The Lesser Arts,’ pp. 158-59.) Morris published ‘The Nature of Gothic’ as one of first editions to be released by his Kelmscott Press and in the preface to the 1892 edition he described the text as ‘one of the most important things written by the author…[and] one of the very few necessary and inevitable utterances of this century.’ cited by Chris Miele (ed) in William Morris on Architecture, Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield, 1996, p. 2.

20 The proximity of Morris’s views to those of Ruskin’s is demonstrated by his division of Architecture into the ‘Mechanical,’ ‘Intelligent,’ and ‘Individual;’ categories which are clearly indebted to Ruskin’s idea of ‘Servile, Constitutional and Revolutionary’ ornament.(Morris, ‘Architecture in Civilisation,’ pp. 90-9). Morris systems differs in one significant respect to Ruskin’s original essay. Unlike Ruskin, whose ‘Constitutional Ornament’ argues for the equal representation of the creativity of the individual workman as well as the ‘master of design,’ a balance which Morris later described as ‘Intelligent,’ Morris appears to favour what Ruskin described as the ‘Revolutionary,’ the complete independence of the workman which results in ‘imaginative’ and ‘altogether individual’ work.’ Ruskin felt complete independence ultimately enslaved the workman as he was forced to gain skills which were traditionally the responsibility of the master, and as a consequence, his own ‘original power’ of invention would be ‘overwhelmed.’ Ruskin, ‘The Nature of Gothic,’ Works, vol. 10, p. 188n.

21 William Morris, ‘Art under Plutocracy,’ 1883, in Morris, The Collected Works of William Morris, vol. 23, p. 173.

22 Ruskin, Stones of Venice, vol. III, 1853, Works, vol. 11, p. 119. For a discussion of Ruskin’s debt to Victorian theories of the ‘Imagination’ see Deborah van der Plaat, ‘Architecture, Mysticism and Myth (1891): William Lethaby and the Foundation of a Syncretic Modernism, PhD thesis, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 2000, chapter 1.

23 James Volant Baker, The Sacred River: Coleridge’s Theory of the Imagination, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 1957, p. 133.

24 Coleridge, ‘The Friend,’ in The Complete Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Shedd (ed), Harper & Bros, New York, 1853, vol, II, p. 91n.

25 Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, J. Shawcross (ed), Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1907, vol. II, p. 12.

26 While the intention of Coleridge and his Romantic contemporaries was to validate the re-unification of the subject and object—self and nature—subsequent scholars such as Nietszche, Paul de Man, and Sprinker have demonstrated the fallacy of such a position arguing Romantic theory only succeeded in subsuming the object world (nature) with the subjective world of the self. Paul de Man, ‘The Rhetoric of Temporality,’ Interpretation: Theory and Practice, Charles. S. Singleton (ed), John Hopkins University Press, 1969, p. 180. Sprinker, ‘Ruskin on the Imagination,’ Studies in Romanticism, vol. 18, Spring 1979, pp. 116-7.

27 Sprinker, ‘Ruskin on the Imagination,’ p. 139.

28 For a more detailed discussion of this issue, see van der Plaat, ‘Architecture, Mysticism and Myth (1891): William Lethaby and the Foundation of a Syncretic Modernism, chapter 1.

29 Ruskin, ‘Modern Painters,’ vol. I, 1843, Works, vol. 3, p. 93.

30 Ruskin, ‘The Nature of Gothic,’ Works, vol. 10, p. 183.

31 Ruskin, ‘The Nature of Gothic,’ Works, vol. 10, pp. 198-9.

32 Ruskin, ‘The Relation of Art to Morality,’ 1870, Works, vol. 20, p. 74.

33 Ruskin, ‘The Nature of Gothic,’ Works, vol. 10, p. 188.

34 Charles Sanders Peirce, The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Charles Hartshorne, Paul Weiss, & Arthur Burke, (eds), Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1931-35, vol. 4, p. 531.

35 Peirce, The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, vol. 2, p. 286.

36 Peirce, The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, vol. 2, p. 298, vol. 4, p. 531.

37 Peirce, The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, vol. 1, p. 369.

38 Robert Almeder, The Philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce: A Critical Introduction, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1980, p. 25.

39 Peirce, The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, vol. 4, p. 418 & vol. 2, p. 92.

40 Peirce, The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, vol. 2, p. 247.

41 Peirce first explained his theory of the index, icon and symbol in 1875 in a paper entitled ‘On the Algebra of Logic’. He expanded his theory throughout the 1880s. See Christopher Hookway, Peirce, The Argument of a Philosopher, Routledge, London, 1985, pp. 7 & 130.

42 Ruskin, ‘The Relation of Art to Religion,’ 1870, Works, vol. 20, p. 60.

43 Ruskin, ‘The Relation of Art to Religion,’ Works, vol. 20, pp. 60-1.

44 John Ruskin, ‘Realistic Schools of Painting,’ 1883, Works, vol. 33, p. 270.

45 William Holman Hunt, The Strayed Sheep, 1852, oil on canvas, Tate Gallery, London.

46 Ruskin, ‘Realistic Schools of Painting,’ Works, vol. 33, pp. 272-73.

47 Ruskin, ‘Mythic Schools of Painting,’ 1883, Works, vol. 33, p. 288.

48 Ruskin, ‘Realistic Schools of Painting,’ Works, vol. 33, p. 273.

49 Ruskin, ‘Mythic Schools of Painting,’ Works, vol. 33, pp. 291& 293.

50 Ruskin, ‘Mythic Schools of Painting,’ Works, vol. 33, p. 293.

51 Ruskin, ‘Mythic Schools of Painting,’ Works, vol. 33, p. 293.

52 Ruskin, ‘The Nature of Gothic,’ Works, vol. 10, p. 188.

53 Ruskin, ‘The Nature of Gothic,’ Works, vol. 10, p. 204. The importance of liberty emerges from the romantic belief that the element which distinguishes creative genius from an average intelligence is the imposition of the ‘will’ or ‘wilful act.’ Coleridge argued the attribute which separated the secondary imagination—a mental attribute which defined creative genius—from the primary imagination—a faculty common to all men—was the imposition of the ‘will’; the ability to recreate by an autonomous wilful act of the mind. Coleridge, Biographia, vol. I, pp. 193 & 202.

54 Ruskin, ‘The Nature of Gothic,’ Works, vol. 10, pp. 191-192.

55 Ruskin, ‘The Nature of Gothic,’ Works, vol. 10, pp. 198-99.

56 Ruskin, ‘The Nature of Gothic,’ Works, vol. 10, p. 192.

57 See note 26.

58 Ruskin, ‘The Seven Lamps of Architecture,’ 1849, Works, vol. 8, p. 84. Throughout ‘The Nature of Gothic,’ Ruskin’s consideration of such qualities as ‘Savageness,’ ‘Changefulness,’ ‘Naturalism,’ and ‘Grotesqueness,’ appear in the first instance to be a considerations of the material qualities of the object (facts inherent to the object and independent of the subject). However, it soon becomes apparent that Ruskin fails to attribute any of these qualities to values that could be described as being inherent to the object itself such as the hardness of the stone, qualities of the site, or the technologies available. Rather for Ruskin such qualities are always representations of the liberty or lack of liberty given to the worker, and in turn, to society in general.

59 Ruskin, ‘Modern Painters,’ vol. I, 1843, Works, vol. 3, p. 95.
60 Ruskin, ‘Inaugural Lecture on Art,’ Works, vol. 20, p. 39.
61 Ruskin, ‘Inaugural Lecture on Art,’ and ‘The Relation of Art to Religion,’ Works, vol. 20, p. 39 and pp. 53-54.

62 Ruskin, ‘Inaugural Lecture on Art,’ Works, vol. 20, p. 26.

63 Ruskin, ‘The Relation of Art to Religion,’ Works, vol. 20, p. 54.

64 Ruskin, ‘Inaugural Lecture on Art,’ Works, vol. 20, p. 33.

65 Ruskin, ‘The Relation of Art to Religion,’ Works, vol. 20, p. 49.

66 Ruskin, ‘The Relation of Art to Religion,’ Works, vol. 20, p. 46.

67 Ruskin, ‘The Relation of Art to Religion,’ Works, vol. 20, p. 49.

68 Ruskin, ‘The Relation of Art to Morals,’ 1870, Works, vol. 20, p. 93.

69 Ruskin, ‘Inaugural Lecture on Art,’ Works, vol. 20, pp. 39-40.

70 Wendell Harris, ‘Ruskin and Pater—Hebrew and Hellene—Explore the Renaissance,’ CLIO, vol.17, no.2, 1988, p. 177.

71 Ruskin, ‘Modern Painters,’ vol. V, 1860, Works, vol. 7, pp. 356-57n.

72 Ruskin, ‘Modern Painters,’ vol V, Works, vol. 7, pp. 356-57n.

73 Philipa Davis, ‘Arnold or Ruskin?,’ Journal of Literature and Theology, vol. 6, no. 4, December 1992, p. 334. However Davis also argues that these contradictions are of little consequence as they fail to subjugate Ruskin’s principle thesis, that the moral will always indicates the good.

74 Ruskin, ‘Modern Painters, vol. V, Works, vol. 7, p. 358n. Davis, ‘Arnold or Ruskin?,’ pp. 334-45. In Modern Painters, Ruskin argued that it is the imaginative faculty—which enables the mind to comprehend and accept contradictory positions. He writes; ‘This is imagination… . By its operation, two ideas are chosen out of an infinite mass…two ideas which are separately wrong, which together shall be right, and whose unity, therefore, the idea must be formed at the instant they are seized, at it is only in unity that either is good, and therefore only the conception of that unity can prompt the preference. Now what is that prophetic action of mind… ?’ (Ruskin, Works, vol. 4, pp. 234-45).

75 Reginald Blomfield, ‘W.R. Lethaby: An Impression and a Tribute,’ Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects, vol. 39, no. 8, 1932, p. 6.

76 This resolution is never found in Ruskin as his thesis relied, as Kristine Ottesen Garrigan has argued, on fixed contrasts. Thus while Ruskin does fluctuate between a privileging of the subject and the object, as demonstrated by his shifting opinion on finish and roughness, and works on the ‘hope’ that the ‘two’ positions ‘may fit themselves in the mind’ of the reader ‘without any trouble,’ the moral basis of his central thesis, and the suggestion of a singular right and wrong which it facilitates, prevents any such resolution. It is ultimately the subject (the divine principle represented by the imagination) which is given primacy in Ruskin’s system.

77 Lethaby, Notebook, Central St Martin’s Art and Design Archive, B.4783. William Lethaby, ‘Ruskin: Defeat and Victory,’ a paper given to the Arts and Crafts Society, April, 1919, reprinted in Form in Civilisation, pp. 183-87.

78 W. S. Weir, ‘A Paper read out before the Art Workers Guild’, 22 April 1932; typescript held by the Central St Martin’s Art and Design Archive, p. 7.

79 Blomfield, ‘W.R. Lethaby: An Impression and a Tribute,’ pp. 4-6.

80 William Lethaby, ‘Of Cast Iron and its Treatment for Artistic Purposes,’ Journal of the Society of the Arts, vol. 38, 14 February 1890, pp. 272-82.

81 The term "Motive" is also taken from Ruskin and refers to the meaning or idea behind design. William Lethaby, ‘Of the "Motive" in Architectural Design,’ Architectural Association Notes, vol. 4, no. 32, 1889, p. 24.

82 Lethaby, ‘Ruskin: Defeat and Victory,’ pp. 183-84.

83 Letter from Lethaby to Harry Peach, July 16 1924, British Architectural Library, PEH/5/11/7.

84 By 1883 Lethaby was studying the major Ruskinian texts: The Stones of Venice, St Marks Rest, Val d’ Arno. Notes taken directly from these and other Ruskin texts are found throughout Lethaby’s sketchbooks dating from 1883 to 1885. North Devon Athenaeum, Barnstaple, Lethaby Papers, Sketchbook, 1885/1. Sketchbook no. 12 (1883), no. 13 (1884) & no. 16 (1884), Sketchbooks, British Architectural Library, Drawings Collection, Sketchbook cupboard.

85 Lethaby, ‘Art and Workmanship,’ p. 209.

86 William Lethaby, ‘The Foundation in Labour,’ Highway, March 1917; reprinted in Lethaby, Form in Civilisation, pp. 216 & 217.

87 Lethaby, ‘Town Tidying,’ address to the Arts and Crafts Society, Nov. 1916; reprinted in Lethaby, Form in Civilisation, p. 17.

88 William Lethaby, ‘Exhibitionism at the Royal Academy and Higher Criticism of Art,’ Hibbert Journal, June 1920; reprinted in Lethaby, Form in Civilisation, p. 180.

89 Lethaby argued that the ‘arts’ fall into ‘three categories.’ For the first or ‘higher arts, some very distinct gift is required; it may be supreme skill in handling, with only average power of thought but more generally it will be the power of suggesting ideas and stimulating the imagination.’ Without these, Lethaby explained ‘the higher arts fail their chief reason of existence.’ He argued that ‘only a genius should be permitted to follow "fine art" exclusively.’ A second category or type of art, he argued was to be found ‘on a different plane to that of the imaginative arts or design.’ These he explained were the ‘illustrative arts.’ The distinguishing factor of this category was that ‘here there is room for less than genius,’ arguing that ‘the careful drawing from nature’ was enough. However, the ‘safest’ category ‘for most of us’, that is—the general populace who lack the creative facility of genius, is craft—‘the making of necessary things.’ William Lethaby, ‘Arts and the Function of Guilds’, The Quest, Birmingham, 1896 reprinted in Lethaby, Form in Civilisation, pp. 202-3.

90 William Lethaby, Philip Webb and his Work, Raven Oak Press, London, 1979 (1935), p. 69.

91 William Lethaby, Philip Webb p. 69.

92 Lethaby, Philip Webb, p. 69

93 Lethaby, ‘Architecture as Form in Civilisation,’ The London Mercury, 1920; reprinted in Lethaby, Form in Civilisation, p.11.

94 Lethaby, ‘The Foundation in Labour,’ p. 214.

95 William Lethaby, ‘Architecture as Form in Civilisation,’ p. 1.

96 William Lethaby, ‘Architecture as Form in Civilisation,’ p.7.

97 Lethaby, ‘Architecture as Form in Civilisation,’ p. 6. Emphasis mine. Lethaby’s use of the term ‘index’ recalls Ruskin’s use of the same word.

98 William Lethaby, ‘Political Economy or Productive Economy,’ Arts and Crafts Society, November 23 1915; reprinted in Lethaby, Form in Civilisation, p. 196.
99 Lethaby, ‘Art and Workmanship,’ p. 210.

100 Lethaby, letter to Harry Peach, British Architectural Library, 29.1.1921, PEH/5/7/1.
101 Lethaby, notebook, Central St Martin’s Art and Design Archive, London, B. 4783.
102 Lethaby, ‘Lecture on Modern Design,’ Royal College of Art, c. 1901; reprinted in Craft History One, vol. 1, no. 1, 1988, p. 136.
103 Lethaby, ‘The Aphorisms of William Richard Lethaby,’ Grace Crosby (ed) in A.R. Roberts, William Richard Lethaby, 1857-1931, London County Council and Central School of Arts and Crafts, 1957, p. 72.
104 Lethaby, ‘Architecture as Form in Civilisation,’ p. 7.
105 Lethaby, ‘Architecture as Form in Civilisation,’ p. 7.
106 Lethaby, ‘Architecture as Form in Civilisation,’ p. 10.
107 Lethaby, letter to Harry Peach, 29/1/1921, British Architectural Library, PEH/5/7/1.
108 Ruskin, ‘The Nature of Gothic,’ Works, vol. 10, p. 202.
109 Ruskin, ‘Inaugural Lecture on Art,’ 1870, Works, vol. 20, p. 26.
110 Lethaby, ‘What Shall We Call Beautiful: A Practical View to Aesthetics,’ Hibbert Journal, 1918; reprinted in Lethaby, Form in Civilisation, p. 147, note 2.
111 Lethaby, ‘What Shall We Call Beautiful,’ pp. 156-157.
112 Lethaby, letter to Charles Hadfield, British Architectural Library, HAD/1/83
113 Letter from William Lethaby to Cockerell, Oct 7th, 1907 in Friends of a Lifetime: Letters to Sydney Cockerell, Viola Meynell (ed), Jonathen Cape, London, 1940, n.p.
114 Lethaby, ‘Housing and Furnishing,’ The Athenaeum, May 21 1920; reprinted in Lethaby, Form in Civilisation, p. 36.
115 Lethaby, Phillip Webb, p. 63.
116 Lethaby, Architecture, Mysticism and Myth, p. 12.
117 Lethaby, Architecture, Mysticism, and Myth, p. 17.
118 Lethaby, Architecture, Mysticism and Myth, p. 17.
119 Lethaby, Phillip Webb, p. 63.
120 Lethaby, ‘Architecture of Adventure,’ Royal Institute of British Architects, 18th April 1910; reprinted in Lethaby, Form in Civilisation, pp. 94-5.
121 Lethaby, ‘Architecture of Adventure,’ p. 95.
122 A summary of Ruskin’s understanding of ‘science’ is given in a letter written to R. W. L. Brown in 1847. Here, Ruskin asserts that nature can be interpreted in two ways. The first ‘looks’ with ‘coolness and observation of fact’ at the appearance of things and determines that the ‘pines…are of such and such age; that the rocks are slate and of such and such a formation; the soil, thus and thus; the day fine, the sky blue.’ It is this mode of looking which Ruskin identifies with science. While he acknowledges that the scientific mode speaks of ‘all that is necessarily seen’ and thus of the ‘truth,’ he also argues that it can never reveal ‘all the truth.’ ‘There is something else to be seen there, which I cannot see but in a certain condition of mind, nor can I make anyone else see it, but by putting him into that condition…to put my hearer’s mind into the same ferment as my mind.’ For Ruskin, art rather than science, holds the key to this second and greater truth. Ruskin, letter to R. W. L. Brown, September 28, 1847, Works, vol. 36, p. 80.
123 Ruskin, ‘The Relation of Art to Religion,’ 1870, Works, vol. 20, p. 52.
124 Ruskin, ‘The Relation of Art to Religion,’ Works, vol. 20, p. 53. Ruskin associated such relative data with the mental faculty of Fancy, which as shown above, was deemed by Ruskin as being unrelated to the inventive act.
125 Ruskin, ‘The Relation of Art to Religion,’ Works, vol. 20, p. 53.
126 William Lethaby, ‘Education of the Architect,’ Informal conference, Royal Institute of British Architects, 2nd May 1917; reprinted in Lethaby, Form in Civilisation, p. 123.
127 William Lethaby, ‘Education of the Architect,’ p.123.
128 Lethaby, ‘Housing and Furnishing,’ pp. 37-38. In direct contrast to Lethaby, Ruskin argued that shipbuilding could only be considered in terms of ‘science’ rather than ‘art.’ Noting in his ‘Lectures on Architecture and Painting’ (1854), that the ‘…first thing to be required of a building, not observe the highest thing, but the first thing—is that it shall answer it purposes completely, permanently, and at the smallest expense,’ he also concluded; ‘but observe, in doing all this, there is no High, or as it is commonly called, Fine Art, required at all. There may be much science, together with the lower form of art or "handicraft," but there is yet no Fine Art. House building, on these terms, is no higher than shipbuilding.’ Ruskin, ‘Lectures on Architecture & Painting,’ 1854, Works, vol. 12, pp. 83-84.
129 Lethaby, ‘Form in Civilisation,’ p. 8.
130 Lethaby, ‘Form in Civilisation,’ pp. 8-9.
131 Lethaby, Notebook, Central St Martin’s Art and Design Archive, B.4783. Lethaby, ‘Exhibitionism at the Royal Academy and the Higher Criticism of Art,’ pp. 173-5.
132 Lethaby, ‘Form in Civilisation,’ pp. 8-9.
133 Lethaby, ‘Architecture of Adventure,’ p. 92.
134 Lethaby, ‘Architecture of Adventure,’ p. 94.
135 Lethaby, ‘Architecture of Adventure,’ p. 94.
136 It can be argued that Lethaby’s position as a practising architect forced him to move beyond Ruskin’s conception of architecture. Ruskin’s position as a critic of art and architecture enabled him to adopt a more idealistic approach to the problems of architecture. As Gurewitsch has argued, Ruskin approached the reading and definition of architecture in much the same way as he approached a literary text; as a study in the moral temper of the people who had produced it. As Ruskin himself was to argue in the Stones of Venice, ‘the criticism of the building is to be conducted precisely on the same principles as that of a book.’(Ruskin, Works, vol. 10, p. 269.) Ruskin felt that the parallels between reading a book and reading a building had been totally ignored in Victorian England and he encouraged his contemporaries to consider and develop this method. He writes; ‘The idea of reading a building as we would read Milton or Dante, and getting the same kind of delight out of the stone as out of the stanzas, never enters our mind for a moment…it requires a strong effort of common sense to shake ourselves quite of all that we have been taught for the last two centuries, and wake to the perception of a truth just as simple and certain as it is new: that great art, whether expressing itself in words, colours or stones, does not say the same thing over and over again; that the merit of architectural, as of every other art, consists in it saying new and different things; that to repeat itself is no more characteristic of genius than it is of genius in print; and that we may, without offending any laws of good taste, require of architect as we do a novelist, that he should be not only correct, but entertaining.’ (Ruskin, Works, vol. 10, pp. 206-207.) Such an approach to architecture enabled Ruskin to ignore the mechanical processes associated with construction and design. As a practising architect, and later as a teacher of architecture, Lethaby could not ignore such considerations. For Ruskin’s literary approach to the problems of architecture see Susan Gurewitsch, ‘Golgonooza on the Grand Canal: Ruskin’s Stones of Venice and the Romantic Imagination,’ The Arnoldian, Winter 1981, pp. 25-26.