Term Paper: Arts and Crafts Movement

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¶ … Arts and Crafts Movement, beginning in 1860, was a movement pioneered by William Morris and Charles Voysey. The movement came in response to the industrial turn of the century. It was a way to rebel against the mechanical way of manufacturing in order to bring back traditional crafts as a decorative and valuable form rather than the requirement it had been previously. The Arts and Crafts Movement or the "anti-industrial movement" founded by Morris and Voysey was immensely successful, although the industrial revolution pressed on as technology progressed.

The movement gained traction due to its challenge of not just manufacturing, but also challenging Victorian era tastes. These attitudes stemmed from social reform concerns of thinkers such as John Ruskin and Walter Crane who, together with designer and reformer, William Morris, developed the basis for the movement. They linked good design with good society and shared a vision of a society where workers were not brutalized and subjugated to poor working conditions found in factories, but instead could find pride and respect within their skill and craftsmanship. Mass manufacturing, spurred by the increasing consumer class, generated poor quality and poorly designed products.

Morris, Ruskin, and several others did not want this kind of design to take over in society, so instead, revived the desire for individual craftsmanship (167).[footnoteRef:1] Individual craftsmanship could provide production of beautiful objects that demonstrated the result of fine craftsmanship that was both pleasing to the maker and the user. This not only allowed for more work and better pay for the artist who created the objects/products, but also higher satisfaction for the customer/consumer. The movement also helped artists ban together and form crafts exhibitions and keep an old way of production alive for future generations. [1: Meggs, Philip B., and Alston W. Purvis. Meggs' History of Graphic Design, 4th ed. Hoboken: J. Wiley & Sons, 2005.]

Morris was not the only main contributor to the movement. Ruskin, a figure of inspiration for Morris, encouraged education through craftsmanship, and believed learning how to create and produce items would lead to the uplifting of subjugated, and marginalized people. "He was aware that women of a certain class often found handicrafts beneficial and noted that what 'soothed the nerves of the upper middle-class woman, nervous from her relatively easy but empty life, surely would benefit the poor'" (33).[footnoteRef:2] He saw craftsmanship not only as a respectable means of gaining skills, but also of a way to create a sense of pride and ownership within people who did not have it represented in their lives. Although deemed at first impractical and expensive, the Arts and Crafts Movement proved to be an effective, realistic, and a practical movement. [2: Friedland, Judith. Restoring the Spirit: The Beginnings of Occupational Therapy in Canada, 1890-1930. Montre-al: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2011.]

Ruskin's writings, the basis of inspiration for Morris, was a great predictor of the social issues occurring within the time period: environmentalism, sustainability and most importantly for the movement, quality of craftsmanship. Thoughtless consumption coming from mass produced products, lessened the quality and beauty of consumer goods and reduced handcrafting and individualism, key aspects of traditional craftsmanship. William Morris, the main figure of the movement, gave a more practical application to it by taking Arts and Crafts style ideals to a more universal level, calling for economic and social reform through an incorporation of labor and art in society that would bring magnificence as well as affordability to ordinary objects and advance virtues such as simplicity, nature, and honesty.

His belief in providing affordable and well-crafted products to consumers allowed for the movement to gain footing because consumers felt satisfaction from their well-made products and could also have enough money to buy them. At a time where people were beginning to provide a decent enough living for themselves and their families, luxury was not something everyone could afford. For a movement such as the Arts and Crafts Movement to gain traction, it needed to appeal to the common man, and that it did. It supplied consumers with both useful items and beautiful items.

The methods utilized by the people who crafted items in the movement promoted simplicity, with art movements like modernism and Bauhaus applying the same principles. Simple but strong construction by an individual or a small group of people was realistic as many people could learn to be craftsman. The movement remained effective it expanding and spreading to America. It also provided a catalyst for education and promotion of quality in not just the products created, but also the artists themselves.

Although the Arts and Crafts movement was taking a step back to traditional and old ways of producing goods, it was revolutionary at the time because of its dedication to creating Arts and Crafts communities committed to producing artistic handicraft. These included furnishings, pottery, metalwork, and bookbinding which Morris produced in his own printing press. The Arts and Crafts communities influenced craftspeople to work in various media, such as woodwork, pottery, textiles, and metalwork. The methods of production involved rectilinearity, modestly treated materials, and nominal decoration.

In urban centers, the truly revolutionary aspects of the movement took place as socialist experiments done on a community level, through educating young women in craftwork. Women not only learned useful skills such as pottery, they also had the opportunity to earn decent wages and improve their skillsets. The women who pursued education in Arts and Crafts also learned to produce metalwork and textiles. Additionally women learned to fashion jewelry.

Working with a variety of products and learning various methods and processes not only afforded women to become better craftswomen, but also better artists. At a time where women had limited rights and felt disenfranchised, they were given a voice through their work. They were given opportunities at an education and fair pay when women were barely allowed to leave the home. Contemporary application of such a movement could see an increase in employee education and training which very much lacks in the modern world.

Currently people do not know much about making things like they did back in the earlier centuries. People rely heavily on machines and lost enthusiasm for creating and learning to create products. Factories produce things in an assembly with workers assigned a specific, repetitive task in the production line. Applying the educational aspect of the Arts and Crafts Movement to modern scenarios adds for not only better production of goods on an individual level, but also a chance for better pay as experienced by the women of the movement in early 20th century.

One of the most important aspects of the movement that perhaps could see modern application is the formation of guilds. People within the guilds were taught by experienced artists and eventually, after receiving paid training and enough experience, became teachers themselves in the artistic cycle represented within the guild structure. A sense of community, a sense of social responsibility, and more importantly, a sense of appreciation for not just art but for the people within the artistic circle is a key aspect of the movement that resulted in such a valuable and notable expanse of artistic development during the time.

Specifically in the graphic arts field, printers, type setters, and so forth spawned a revitalization of printing and handmade book binding. New fonts, typefaces and so forth were created during the movement which allowed for innovation and higher quality type design which was lost during the Industrial Revolution as machines took over. Very much like today, where machines do most of the printing, especially computers and writing in general, the quality of handwritten and handmade products is fewer and far between because of the heavy reliance of machines and machine made items.

If people re-learned how to do what machines do, not only would the quality of the products rise, but so would the work ethic and standard for the people making the items rise as well. So much of the problems of the modern world stem from convenience and availability that much of what was fought for in the Arts and Crafts and Movement was lost and forgotten. People no longer wish or care for high quality items, but rather, pursue the purchase of cheap items in order to allocate their funds elsewhere. Inevitably the cycle of consumerism in the modern age has led to other problems worse than that during the Arts and Crafts Movement.

The social issues described and endured during the Arts and Crafts Movement can be seen very much today, but in a larger scale. People of the present times are creating massively produced items for consumption by billions of people worldwide. Increasingly demand for these things is not based on quality, but rather quantity. People want cheap things, brand named items, etc., just to have them, not so much to serve a purpose or to support an artist. Most of the production is done anonymously with individually crafted items costing way more than massively produced ones. Unfortunately unlike the Arts… [END OF PREVIEW]

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