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Arts and Crafts
Transcript of Arts and Crafts
DD1000, Lecture 1:
Industrialisation and Bourgeois Taste
The 1860s saw the high point of the industrial revolution; the replacement of a workshop and agriculture based society by mass production and urbanism.
Built on the profits of slavery and Empire, the industrial revolution generated huge profits for some while also creating unprecedented poverty and physical hardship for the majority.
“Another source of demoralisation among the workers is their being condemned to work. As voluntary, productive activity is the highest enjoyment known to us, so is compulsory toil the most cruel, degrading punishment. Nothing is more terrible than being constrained to do some one thing every day from morning until night against one's will. And the more a man the worker feels himself, the more hateful must his work be to him, because he feels the constraint, the aimlessness of it for himself. Why does he work? For love of work? From a natural impulse? Not at all! He works for money, for a thing which has nothing whatsoever to do with the work itself; and he works so long, moreover, and in such unbroken monotony, that this alone must make his work a torture in the first weeks if he has the least human feeling left. The division of labour has multiplied the brutalising influences of forced work. In most branches the worker's activity is reduced to some paltry, purely mechanical manipulation, repeated minute after minute, unchanged year after year” (148 – 149).
The Condition of the Working Class in England
. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
Working Class Living Conditions
Alongside the new power of industrial magnates, the industrial revolution had by the mid-C19th also expanded the ranks of the middle classes. The overwhelming conformity of this new middle class’ taste and attitudes was a constant source of complaint for artists and writers.
“They ask themselves, what is suitable to my position? what is usually done by persons of my station and pecuniary circumstances? or (worse still) what is usually done by persons of a station and circumstances superior to mine? I do not mean that they choose what is customary, in preference to what suits their own inclination. It does not occur to them to have any inclination, except for what is customary” (114).
“Even despotism does not produce its worst effects, so long as Individuality exists under it” (119)
John Stuart Mill.
. London: Penguin Classics, 1997.
Middle Class Households
The Romantic Movement at the dawn of the C19th celebrated nature and championed the individual’s creative imagination as an escape from the modern world.
“No changing of place at a hundred miles an hour will make us one whit stronger, or happier, or wiser. There was always more in the world than man could see, walked they ever so slowly; they will see it no better for going fast. The really precious things are thought and sight, not pace. It does a bullet no good to go fast; and a man, if he be truly a man, no harm to go slow; for his glory is not at all in going, but in being” (175).
The Seven Lamps of Architecture
. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
William Morris: Father of Arts and Crafts
''If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.''
William Morris, 1834 – 1896
Morris took the sentiment of the Romantics and applied it to the practical processes of manufacturing. This fusion of production and artistic principles is what we would come to know as “design”.
Morris’ vision of a world free from industrial alienation celebrated the skilled artisan and craft-worker as an alternative to mass production:
“Now I must remind you that I have said that the work of all handicrafts in the Middle Ages produced beauty as a necessary part of the goods, so that some approximation to the ideal above stated was realized then; I have also said that the workman produced this beauty because he was in his work master of his material, tools, and time, in fact of his work: therefore you will not be astonished to hear me say that in order to produce art once again the workman must once more be master of his material, tools, and time: only I must explain that I do not mean that we should turn back to the system of the middle ages, but that the workman should own these things that is the means of labour collectively, and should regulate labour in their own interests; also you must bear in mind that I have already said that all must work therefore the workmen means the whole of society; there should be no society outside those who work to sustain society.”
Art and Labour
. Web. www.marxists.org/archive/morris/works/1884/art-lab.htm
News from Nowhere
The Earthly Paradise
William Morris & Co.
The Red House
The Handicraft Principle
The Arts and Crafts movement embraces many areas and mediums of design, celebrating a great variety of individual styles and production processes. Its major relevance to us today is due to the notion of “core principles”; that following a handful of simple rules can give focus to our efforts and guide us in conscious direction.
Arts and Crafts Principles vs Industrial Production
• Handmade vs machine-made
• Individual vs mass produced
• Natural designs vs expensive ostentation
• Simplicity vs ornament
• Timeless vs fashionable
Although “arts and crafts” remains a popular design style in the contemporary era, its historical legacy has much greater breadth and scope than just the products it produced. Many of Morris’ design principles became integrated within the very system of capitalist production he sought to oppose.
Recuperation and Integration
Ideas of workplace democracy celebrated by radicals and trade unionists found its aesthetic voice in the arts and crafts movement.
The Cooperative Movement
& the Rochdale Pioneers (1860s >)
Philanthropic entrepreneurs like George Cadbury would build model villages on arts and crafts principles. Their philosophy of providing for their workers outside of the workplace laid the foundations for the welfare state.
Model Villages -
Forerunners of modern suburbia, the original garden cities were envisioned as urban villages where skilled workers could live a healthy lifestyle whilst still working in the city.
Garden Cities -
Much of what is considered “traditionally” American can be traced back to the inspiration of Arts and Crafts in the U.S. during the 1890s. Where English pastoralists dreamt of a fantasy “Merrie England”, their American counterparts would imagine wholesome prairies and the “home on the range”.
American Folk Revival (1890s >)