The movements to truly question the boundaries separating

The Arts and Crafts
movement immerged as a consequential resistance to the Industrial Revolution,
in late 19th century Victorian England. It was greater than simply a
nouveau style in the decorative arts of. It commended the idea of the hand made
and craftmanship in response to the increase in industrial manufacturing,
mechanization and the mass production of items of a lower standard of quality.
The movement was ingrained with the principles of pre-industrial life, resulting
in a reaction to the anxieties that surrounded not only the aesthetically aspects
to craft, but also the underlying social issues such as; capitalism, labour and
estrangement of practitioners from their work. Being one of the first art
movements to truly question the boundaries separating fine arts and crafts, it re-envisioned
the conventional art hierarchy and encouraged the increase of involvement of
female practitioners.

The involvement of female
artists in the Arts and Crafts movement birthed the entryways for other art
movements, such as Second Wave Feminism and Craftivism, and in this essay, we
will explore their paradoxical position within the movement. In this essay I
aim to examine the borders in which craft and art have been historically divided
by, with a more specific focus on the process in how female domestic craft became
recognised with a particular assortment of gender biased characteristics. By
acknowledging the relationship between the history of domestic craft and the
idea of what establishes gendered behaviours, we can decipher how these
stereotypes have been approached in contemporary art practice; challenging the
shifting notation of what constitutes as art. I will inspect the context and
qualities of craft processes and materials, considering the impressions they
leave upon not only the practice of feminist art and the wider practice of
contemporary art.

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Chapter One –
The birth of the movement and historical context

The Arts and Crafts
movement was active between the years of 1880 and 1910, given the time, there
was a strong influence of the Anglo-Saxon tradition of craftsmanship which
inspired the movement as it became assigned as a style in both the decorative
and fine arts. The movement spread internationally, stretching from Great
Britain and other parts of Europe, eventually reaching North America, Australia
and parts of South East Asia in the 1920’s (specifically Japan because of the
heavy Dutch influence and trade, given the name the Mingei movement.). During
the beginning of the movement Britain has a fin-de-siecle
captivation with new technologies, being heavily influenced by the Industry
Revolution as previously mentioned. This fascination brought about the
‘commercialization of craftsmanship’.1 Industrially made
patterns, objects, craft items, interior elements and simplified renderings of
artisanal crafts were newer, cheaper and widely available as they overflowed
markets, the art world and society overall. The need to rediscover the beauty
of hand-made craftmanship in the production of arts and crafts was unearthed after
contemporary critics detected that this new development jeopardised the art
environment, so they set to reinstall these values alongside re-establishing a
humanistic approach to labour like seen the pre-industrial society.

A major event happened at
the end of the 19th century that was pinnacle for the commencement of
the Arts and Crafts movement was the Great Exhibition held in Crystal Palace,
1851. The even took place in Hyde Park in London for the duration of the months
May through until mid-October of that year with critics quick to describe the
items on show as vulgarly artificial, mass produced and claiming that they completely
discarded the abilities and potentials of the materials used. While the idea of
the ‘ornament’ was the centre for much disagreement between craftsman,
architects and industrials; Influential epoch authors agreed in this thesis
that the ornament should remain in secondary importance to the decorated
object, believing in the principle that is it more imperative to be
conceptually connected and derivative from the material qualities in ensuring
the final piece is indivisible from the design vision. They perceived
recommendations about the impending future of the design industry to be a
direct revival of craftsmanship and the (re)humanization of the design process.

Subtitle –  “by the people for the people” The theory,
philosophy and social background

To understand the Arts
and Crafts movement it is key to understand the theoretical background and the
sources in which the ideology of the movement was built from. The philosophy of
the movement was derived in large measure from the writings of art critic John
Ruskin, alongside writer and designer William Morris, whose critical thoughts
were essential in defining the characteristics of the movement. Ruskin’s(1819-1900)
outlook on art was of excessive influence and public taste in at the time, with
his writings being essential to the theory background of the movement. He
addressed the societal issues and explored the context of the Industrial
Revolution, bringing social consequences forward to the working people and
placed distinct emphasis on craftsmen and their welfare. Heavily focused on
social criticism, Ruskin’s writings connected the moral and social health of a
nation to the characteristics of its architecture and quality of work.  “Servile Labour” is what he considered the
sort of mechanized production and division of labour in which was created by
the Industrial Revolution to be: It was in his belief that the success of a
healthy and moral society hinged on on the independence of workers who designed
and made their own items. Followers of Ruskin held importance on the production
of craft rather than the industrial manufacturing which distanced itself with
concern for traditional skills, however they were debatably more disturbed by
the consequences of the factory-style system than by the machinery itself. Ruskin’s
deeper idea of rediscovering the principles of craftsmanship and restoring the
pre-Victorian ideals of beauty were furthered in the writings and art practice
of Morris, whom was an esteemed designer of the time. Morris(1834-1896) was
known for experimenting with a variety of crafts and the designing of both
furniture and interiors. Being involved in not only the design of the object
but the manufacturing as well, which later became as hallmark for the Arts and
Crafts movement. While Ruskin had maintained the opinion that the distancing of
the intellectual act of design from the manual undertaking or physical
construction was not only socially damaging, but aesthetically as well. Morris
advanced the development of this idea by arguing that “without dignified,
creative human occupation people became disconnected from life”FOOTNOTE; Upholding this by insisting that he would
not carry out any work in his workshop until he had personally prepared for and
mastered the suitable techniques and materials.

Morris did make furniture
and other decorative items for commercial purposes; however, his designs did
not stray too far from the ideals in which Ruskin wrote about, he modelled them
from medieval styles and his patterns based on the flora and fauna – creating a
vernacular for his products constructed of traditional British values and
landscapes. Leaving work purposely unfinished was his way of not only conveying
a rustic aesthetic, but a means to display the raw beauty of the natural
materials and shine a light on the work of the craftsman. In result, the moral
of staying true to materials, structure and function became a recognizable quality
of the Arts and Crafts movement. Morris revelled in Ruskin’s idea of “servile
labor” and put this forward in his practice through his philosophy of design-
eventually developing his own idea of “handcraft” which was fundamentally work
without any detachment of labour, rather than work without any sort of
machinery FOOTNOTE.  They
both positioned a superior amount of value on the production of items made by
hand, both believing that factory based work alienated workers from the ‘fruits
of their labour’ and disadvantaged them from the satisfaction and pleasure of
finishing a piece. Additionally, they critiqued the uprising of consumer
mentality and the consumption of good with poor design and quality, as well as
the entering of these goods to both the market and museum exhibitions.  Their philosophy was prompted by populist and
socialist ideals, subsequently resulting in the vision of art and design made “by
the people and for the people” with exceptional focus on the enjoyment of craftsmanship;
With their aesthetic and critical ideals going on the form and shape the philosophy
and style of the Arts and Crafts movement and new design shifts.

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