In 1857 in Manchester John Ruskin delivered two public lectures which he titled The Political Economy of Art. Can these lectures be seen in the history of economic thought as prefiguring the contemporary field of cultural economics? This article considers six issues of interest in the economics of art and culture: cultural capital; value and valuation; the economic functions of artists; tastes and preferences; the art market; and the role of the state. It compares Ruskin's discussion of these issues with current thinking, and concludes that, although Ruskin's views on capital accumulation, the value of art, and the behavior of artists find parallels in modern thought, it would be going too far to anoint him the founding father of contemporary cultural economics. Nevertheless there is much enjoyment and enlightenment to be gained from a reconsideration of his maverick views in this field.

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