Monday, March 22, 2010

A Brief History of Art v. Craft: Part 2

Secession Style in Austria

After Ruskininan ideals permeated England, they hopped across the Channel and filtered through Europe. In the late 19th century, society underwent great changes and this was reflected in art. Art Nouveau is the name given to the movement that grew out of this desire for change, most closely associated with France and Belgium's "whiplash" lines, like we saw here with Guimard.

But it was Austria and the Secessionists who best embraced the ideas of the artisan-craftsmen. After pulling away from the state-sponsored fine art program (thus the name "Secession") Gustav Klimt, Koloman Moser, Otto Wagner and others created the Wiener Werkstatte to give students of the Secession a place to practice their craft, much like Ashbee's Guild of Handicraft. The leaders of the movement overlapped from fine arts--such as Klimt--and the decorative arts--like Moser--and worked together to created gesamtkunstwerks. Their building in Vienna is imposing, yet with a sense of forward-thinking classicism. With it they combined architecture, fine art, and decorative arts and promoted the ideals of new art that would elevate society. Unlike Morris, the Secessionists realized the expense of handcrafted objects was a limiting factor. Rather than elevate all of society, they specifically targeted the middle class and promoted their quality works to elevating this sector to a greater plane of well-decorated existence. The goal was to "produce good, simple domestic requisites" that would "redeem middle class taste" while simultaneously "proclaiming the nature of the material." (Greenhalgh, Art Nouveau, 305-306)

They were able to do much of their work as a group through the Wiener Werkstatte. As a group, they were given commissions to create homes, furniture, and art that embraced their specific style. The Purkersdorf Sanatorium, built 1904-1905, was designed by Josef Hoffmann, but the furniture (pictured above) and interior decoration were designed by other members of the Werkstatte. They also worked as individuals, each with a unique decorative style that embraced not the ideas of art or craft, but the idea of being artisans. There is no line between the two for the Viennese Secession, they are equal parts of a whole that must work in tandem to produce beautiful and functional objects.

Image from here.

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.