Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Brief History of Art v. Craft: Part 1

William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement

This is much more difficult than I originally thought it would be when I decided to tackle this prickly subject. There is just so much history at play in the early part, and then so many feelings as we move into the 20th century. But, we'll start with Morris and his beliefs about elevating handicraft to the same level as fine art. He believed there wasn't a difference, and that all art, be it of the "fine" category or "craft" category should be used to elevate people.

The Industrial Revolution allowed mechanization to play a role in the creation of furniture, metal, glass, and other previously only-made-by-hand works in ways that changed the relationship of craft-maker and object. Some people embraced this idea, seeing that more pieces could be produced more quickly and at a lower cost. William Morris, and others, like C.R. Ashbee, wanted to keep the production costs low, while simultaneously re-connecting the maker and the object. Morris, connected to a variety of other artists who were part of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement, designed furniture, wallpaper, textiles (above), and other decorative arts for craftsmen to create in workshops. His goal was to bring the maker back to the forefront of the object and to reject the machine, while keeping things at a low cost for everyone to afford. If he could bring together the craftsman and object, he could also make good design available for everyone and thus change society's inequalities.

Sadly, this model did not make money for Morris, nor did it change social inequality, and he was forced to change his ideas. But the idea of bringing the object and the maker together on a deeper level struck a chord with a number of people, not just in England, but across Europe and into the United States. A new paradigm was created for the role of craftsmen in society.

I'll be honest: I don't feel like I discussed this well at all--I didn't even mention Ruskin! But its hard to explain this in so small a space. So here's a brief bibliography to learn more about the Arts and Crafts movement.

Image from here.

No comments:

Post a Comment