Morality and Christian Art
John Ruskin once proclaimed, ‘I wholly deny that the impressions of beauty are in any way sensual; they are neither sensual nor intellectual but moral’ (Clark 1967: 132). It was a characteristically dogmatic hyperbola and in due time, with the whimsicality of the poet and the frailty of mind that beset him in February 1878, he was to contradict it. In this chapter we aim to recover something of the value of Ruskin’s original position. We look at the relationship of the artists’ reputations and personal lives to the value of the sacred art they produce. We reckon that the connection of artist with product may diminish the devotional value of the art. The argument here, therefore, is contrary to that of Immanuel Kant, for whom disinterestedness is an axiom of aesthetic appreciation: he would ask that we set aside all moral judgement. This may more easily be done if the information on which they are based is not available. The advantage of anonymity, as practised in the early Middle Ages and in the sacred art of the Eastern churches, is demonstrable from problematic cases such as that of the unconventional life of Eric Gill.