7 January 2012

The Leading Motive

All of you have the trial of yourselves in your own power; each may undergo at this instant, before his own judgement seat, the ordeal by fire. Ask yourselves what is the leading motive which actuates you while you are at work.

I do not ask you what your leading motive is for working -- that is a different thing; you may have families to support -- parents to help -- brides to win; you may have all these, or other such sacred and pre-eminent motives, to press the morning's labour and prompt the twilight thought. But when you are fairly at that work, what is the motive then which tells upon every touch of it?

If it is the love of that which your work represents -- if, being a landscape painter, it is love of hills and trees that moves you -- if, being a figure painter, it is love of human beauty and human soul that moves you -- if, being a flower or animal painter, it is love, and wonder, and delight in petal and in limb that move you, then the Spirit is upon you, and the earth is yours, and the fulness thereof.

But if, on the other hand, it is petty self-complacency in your own skill, trust in precepts and laws, hope for academical or popular approbation, or avarice of wealth, -- it is quite possible that by steady industry, or even by fortunate chance, you may win the applause, the position, the fortune, that you desire; -- but one touch of true art you will never lay on canvas or on stone as long as you live.

-- John Ruskin

The Two Paths (New York: John B. Alden, 1885), p. 35.