2017 sees the arrival of the fourth annual John Ruskin Prize, which after 3 successful years returns with a £5000 prize fund, an exhibition opportunity for 20 shortlisted artists and a theme to dissolve boundaries between disciplines.
This years theme is Hand & Eye: Master of All Trades in The Age of Jack and it is designed to celebrate the idea of the artist as a polymath. This year The John Ruskin Prize wants to inspire artists and makers from all disciplines - from fine art to craft to design to get involved.
Ruskin himself was famously a Polymath who as well as being an artist and art critic excelled in the fields of geology, architecture, botany, politics, social commentary and many more. His diverse set of expertise enabled him to become one of the most prominent and well respected thinkers of his generation.
(L) John Ruskin sketch of The Ca' d'Oro in Venice and (R) ¹The Ruskin Collection photo: © Andy Brown
In the era before the Industrial Revolution the Polymath was celebrated, figures such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Voltaire & Johann Goethe were seen as masters of many fields and achieved great things across a huge variety of disciplines. At this time, university was a place where you went to get a broad education within numerous subjects, a far cry from the hyper specialised world we live in today.
Without many huge leaps of faith across ideas, disciplines and materials many of today’s greatest inventions would not exist.
As Einstein famously proclaimed: “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”
Leonardo da Vinci's studies of flight (1488 - 1490) : (L-R) 'Study of the Structure of a Wing' , Designs for a flying machine with wings based closely upon the structure of a bat's wings and designs for a Glider.
In years since the Industrial revolution the forces of Capitalism and Industrialisation have forced us down a path of specialisation. The ability to do one thing well and efficiently, which started with the division of labour in factories during the 18th century, has spread to our ideas about education and careers. Young people are being encouraged to specialise earlier and earlier in their lives. Currently in the UK we choose three subjects at 16 and effectively just one a year later. This then translates into the idea that as you get older you get better at a smaller number of things and your career will follow this path.
However, hope is not completely lost. Over the past few years there has been a rethinking of the benefits of having your fingers in more than one pie, so to speak. Companies such as Google are actively encouraging their employees to be more multi-disciplined with initiatives like Talks at Google. These talks were a series of lectures which gave employees the opportunity to learn about diverse subjects such as; US International Policy, The World of Magic and Nordic Cooking. We have also seen the huge success of TED Talks which shows that people are hungry to gain knowledge about a simply vast range of subjects.
This rebirth of the Polymath has been spreading into the arts too, perhaps for even longer. Grayson Perry is a perfect example of the artist as polymath who employs an enormous range of skills in his work. From traditional craft skills such as pottery and tapestry making to fine art techniques, all combined with a wickedly humorous social commentary, Perry’s work is symptomatic of this rebirth.
Grayson Perry (b. 1960), The Upper Class at Bay (2012), Tapestry.
You only have to look at the 2016 Turner Prize nominees to see that these ideas have taken root within the artistic community. From Josephine Pryde’s exploration of objects and almost scientific dissection into the making of images to Michael Dean’s use of writing and social commentary as the starting point for his sculptures.
A year prior, the winners of the 2015 Turner Prize, a design collective called Assemble, emphasise the fact the art world is embracing a more diverse definition of what it means to be an artist and that the lines between art and design are becoming increasingly blurred, with results that are difficult not to get excited about. Assemble are pragmatic, socially aware and creative - possessing a wealth of skills that shake up our expectations of what it means to be an artist, architect or designer in the 21st Century.
Among our 6 invited artists, curators and gallerists on The John Ruskin Prize selection panel this year is Zachary Eastwood-Bloom, Zachary’s work defies easy categorisation but lies in deliberate limbo between the physical worlds of 3D Design, sculpture and the digital realm. After initially studying Ceramics, Zachary began to explore digital modelling software and digital making processes such as 3D printing in relation to traditional materials and making processes. This has led to a fascination in a notion of one’s place both in terms of space and environment, and time and history, explored through sculpture, drawing, video and sound.
Zachary Eastwood-Bloom (L-R): , 'In Translation #1 & #2' (2014) Nylon, Dimensions Variable, 'Mirror' (2015) Cast Ceramic, Aluinium leaf & Plaster, 'Moon' (2016), Plotted pen
drawing - pen on paper.
In 2010, Zachary co-founded Studio Manifold; a collective of nine artists and designers who founded a studio in an east London railway arch, brought together by a shared enjoyment of material and process. The members' individual activities include sculpture, installation, digital art, process-driven product design, drawing, research, teaching, collaborative projects and progressive approaches to age-old ways of making.
Studio Manifold artists: (L-R) Bethan Lloyd Worthington ‘Have you seen this cup? It could be anywhere here, really’', Sam Bakewell 'Imagination Dead Imagine',
Tessa Eastman 'Crystalline Cloud I'.
The idea of Polymath is still alive and well. Perhaps it’s time our education system supported the lateral thinkers, inventors and problem solvers of tomorrow? Until that time comes, we hope to find you under a railway arch somewhere…..
We are looking for today’s polymaths among you. This year’s Ruskin Prize, Hand and Eye: Master of All Trades in the Age of Jack, is exploring the potential of artists as the new polymaths. In celebration we have opened entries this year to include makers, designers, crafters alongside fine artists. A shortlist of 20 will be showcased in the city of making: Sheffield at The Millennium Gallery. Three overall winners will be announced at the private view in June and awarded their share of £5000 to help make those absurd thoughts fly!
Click banner below for more info and to enter The John Ruskin Prize 2017:
Look out for our interviews with #RuskinPrize selection panel coming soon!
About our blog writer: Oscar Moore
Oscar has been working at The Big Draw since August 2016. He graduated from the University of Bristol in 2015 with a degree in History of Art. He has a particular interest in Modern South American Art especially the Arpillera movement in Chile as well as the work of Oscar Munoz. As a lapsed drawer himself he has loved working towards getting as many people involved with drawing in all its’ forms, as well as rediscovering drawing himself. Outside of the The Big Draw Oscar loves playing basketball (badly) and writing about it (quite well), cooking and traveling whenever time and funds allow!
(Edited by: Rachel Price)
Ruskin Prize 2017 Press Release
¹The Ruskin Collection is a physical manifestation of the life work of Ruskin the Polymath. It comprises copies of early Renaissance art, casts of Gothic architecture, geological samples, engravings by Dürer and Turner, mosaic decoration, Japanese cloisonné enamelling, illustrations of birds, flowers, insects and landscapes, medieval illuminated manuscripts, Greek coins and much else. The collection is cared for by Museums Sheffield and on display at the Millennium Gallery.