Atmospheres of Liberty: Ruskin in the Clouds

ELH 82 (2015): 141-182

Abstract: John Ruskin’s cloud aesthetics develop a coherent, if figurative, inquiry into the nature of human liberty. His changing accounts of cloud formations across Modern Painters gradually place more emphasis on liberty within a framework of restraint and self-government. Attending to the shifting and equivocal senses of liberty in Ruskin’s aesthetic writings clarifies his scattered, often incompatible assertions in a range of later social and political tracts. Bridging aesthetic criticism with political writings uneasily poised between liberalism, republicanism, and authoritarian conservatism, this article discovers Ruskin as the theorist of a dynamic, aesthetic model of liberty and just social arrangements.