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Art & Ecoonomics

The Ruskin Centre (Lancaster University) and the Guild of St George

John Ruskin and the Modern World:
Art and Economics 1860-2010
A Symposium

The Art Workers' Guild,
6 Queen Square, Bloomsbury, London WC1N 3AT
11.00 -  4.00, Saturday 6 February 2010

Our economic system was in trouble. The recent credit crunch had been the worst disaster to hit capitalism since the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression. As the critics and commentators surveyed the wreckage, the name John Ruskin had several times come to their lips. Not Ruskin as art critic or the master of purple prose, but Ruskin as political economist.

The year 2010 witnessed a double 150th anniversary for students and followers of Ruskin. 1860 saw the publication of the final volume of Modern Painters, the book in which Ruskin had championed J.M.W. Turner as the supreme interpreter of nature and humanity. It also saw a radical change of direction in his work with the serialization of his ‘Four Essays on Political Economy’. Unto This Last, as the essays came to be called, is the fiercest and most cogent of all Victorian attacks on laissez-faire capitalism. It is that book and the writings that follow from it that had been in the minds of recent commentators amid their talk of ‘ethical capitalism’.

The Ruskin Centre at Lancaster combined with Ruskin’s charity the Guild of St George to bring this debate into public focus and stimulate interest outside the University. There were addresses from Frank Field MP, from an academic economist (Christopher May). There was a panel discussion and participation from the audience.

Read Stuart Eagles's account of the symposium in The Companion.

The Symposium included:

Frank Field MP: Introduction [Download Frank Field's account of speaking at the event.]

Clive Wilmer (Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge), editor of Unto This Last (Penguin edition, 1997): ' "Can There Be An Ethical Economics? Ruskin's Unto this Last, Then and Now".
[Download the text of his address.]

Christopher May (Lecturer in Economics, Lancaster University) (or other suggested speaker): "John Ruskin Political Economy: There is No Wealth but Life".

Panel discussion introduced by Andrew Hill (Financial Times), and involving Howard Hull, Stephen Wildman, Robin Holt and the speakers.

The symposium was held at the Art Workers' Guild.

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