Arts & Crafts

Do you remember the Art and Crafts movement, well …..

The Arts and Crafts philosophy was influenced by Ruskin’s social criticism, which sought to relate the moral and social health of a nation to the qualities of its architecture and design. Ruskin thought machinery was to blame for many social ills and that a healthy society depended on skilled and creative workers. Like Ruskin, Arts and Crafts artists tended to oppose the division of labor and to prefer craft production, in which the whole item was made and assembled by an individual or small group. They claimed to be concerned about the decrease of rural handicrafts, which accompanied the development of industry, and they regretted the loss of traditional skills and creativity.

Whereas Cole, Jones and Wyatt had accepted machine production, Morris mixed design criticism with social criticism, insisting that the artist should be a craftsman-designer. Morris and others, for example, Walter Crane and C.R.Ashbee (1863–1942), advocated a society of free craftspeople, which they believed had existed during the Middle Ages. “Because craftsmen took pleasure in their work”, Morris wrote, “the Middle Ages was a period of greatness in the art of the common people. … The treasures in our museums now are only the common utensils used in households of that age, when hundreds of medieval churches – each one a masterpiece – were built by unsophisticated peasants.”

There was some disagreement as to whether machinery should be rejected completely and opinions changed. Morris was not entirely consistent. He thought production by machinery was “altogether an evil”, but when he could find manufacturers willing to work to his own exacting standards, he would use them to make his designs. He said that, in a “true society”, where neither luxuries nor cheap trash were made, machinery could be improved and used to reduce the hours of labour. Ashbee, in some respects, began as even more “medievalist” than Morris. At the time of his Guild of Handicraft, initiated during 1888, he said, “We do not reject the machine, we welcome it. But we would desire to see it mastered.” But after twenty years of pitting his Guild and School of Handicraft guild against modern methods of manufacture, he acknowledged that “Modern civilization rests on machinery.” In Germany, Hermann Muthesius and Henry Van de Velde, major participants of the Deutscher Werkbund (DWB), had opposing opinions. Muthesius, who was director of design education for the German government, championed mass production, standardisation and an affordable, democratic art; Van de Velde thought mass production threatened creativity and individuality.

The movement was associated with socialist ideas in the persons of Morris, Crane and Ashbee. Morris eventually spent more of his time on socialist propaganda than on designing and making. Ashbee established a utopian community of craftsmen.

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