The Arts and Craftsmovement immerged as a consequential resistance to the Industrial Revolution,in late 19th century Victorian England. It was greater than simply anouveau style in the decorative arts of. It commended the idea of the hand madeand 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, resultingin a reaction to the anxieties that surrounded not only the aesthetically aspectsto craft, but also the underlying social issues such as; capitalism, labour andestrangement of practitioners from their work. Being one of the first artmovements to truly question the boundaries separating fine arts and crafts, it re-envisionedthe conventional art hierarchy and encouraged the increase of involvement offemale practitioners. The involvement of femaleartists in the Arts and Crafts movement birthed the entryways for other artmovements, such as Second Wave Feminism and Craftivism, and in this essay, wewill explore their paradoxical position within the movement.
In this essay Iaim to examine the borders in which craft and art have been historically dividedby, with a more specific focus on the process in how female domestic craft becamerecognised with a particular assortment of gender biased characteristics. Byacknowledging the relationship between the history of domestic craft and theidea of what establishes gendered behaviours, we can decipher how thesestereotypes have been approached in contemporary art practice; challenging theshifting notation of what constitutes as art. I will inspect the context andqualities of craft processes and materials, considering the impressions theyleave upon not only the practice of feminist art and the wider practice ofcontemporary art. Chapter One –The birth of the movement and historical context The Arts and Craftsmovement was active between the years of 1880 and 1910, given the time, therewas a strong influence of the Anglo-Saxon tradition of craftsmanship whichinspired the movement as it became assigned as a style in both the decorativeand fine arts. The movement spread internationally, stretching from GreatBritain and other parts of Europe, eventually reaching North America, Australiaand parts of South East Asia in the 1920’s (specifically Japan because of theheavy Dutch influence and trade, given the name the Mingei movement.
). Duringthe beginning of the movement Britain has a fin-de-sieclecaptivation with new technologies, being heavily influenced by the IndustryRevolution as previously mentioned. This fascination brought about the’commercialization of craftsmanship’.1 Industrially madepatterns, objects, craft items, interior elements and simplified renderings ofartisanal crafts were newer, cheaper and widely available as they overflowedmarkets, the art world and society overall.
The need to rediscover the beautyof hand-made craftmanship in the production of arts and crafts was unearthed aftercontemporary critics detected that this new development jeopardised the artenvironment, so they set to reinstall these values alongside re-establishing ahumanistic approach to labour like seen the pre-industrial society.A major event happened atthe end of the 19th century that was pinnacle for the commencement ofthe 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 monthsMay through until mid-October of that year with critics quick to describe theitems on show as vulgarly artificial, mass produced and claiming that they completelydiscarded the abilities and potentials of the materials used. While the idea ofthe ‘ornament’ was the centre for much disagreement between craftsman,architects and industrials; Influential epoch authors agreed in this thesisthat the ornament should remain in secondary importance to the decoratedobject, believing in the principle that is it more imperative to beconceptually connected and derivative from the material qualities in ensuringthe final piece is indivisible from the design vision. They perceivedrecommendations about the impending future of the design industry to be adirect revival of craftsmanship and the (re)humanization of the design process.Subtitle – “by the people for the people” The theory,philosophy and social backgroundTo understand the Artsand Crafts movement it is key to understand the theoretical background and thesources in which the ideology of the movement was built from.
The philosophy ofthe movement was derived in large measure from the writings of art critic JohnRuskin, alongside writer and designer William Morris, whose critical thoughtswere 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, withhis writings being essential to the theory background of the movement. Headdressed the societal issues and explored the context of the IndustrialRevolution, bringing social consequences forward to the working people andplaced distinct emphasis on craftsmen and their welfare. Heavily focused onsocial criticism, Ruskin’s writings connected the moral and social health of anation to the characteristics of its architecture and quality of work. “Servile Labour” is what he considered thesort of mechanized production and division of labour in which was created bythe Industrial Revolution to be: It was in his belief that the success of ahealthy and moral society hinged on on the independence of workers who designedand made their own items. Followers of Ruskin held importance on the productionof craft rather than the industrial manufacturing which distanced itself withconcern for traditional skills, however they were debatably more disturbed bythe consequences of the factory-style system than by the machinery itself. Ruskin’sdeeper idea of rediscovering the principles of craftsmanship and restoring thepre-Victorian ideals of beauty were furthered in the writings and art practiceof Morris, whom was an esteemed designer of the time. Morris(1834-1896) wasknown for experimenting with a variety of crafts and the designing of bothfurniture and interiors.
Being involved in not only the design of the objectbut the manufacturing as well, which later became as hallmark for the Arts andCrafts movement. While Ruskin had maintained the opinion that the distancing ofthe intellectual act of design from the manual undertaking or physicalconstruction was not only socially damaging, but aesthetically as well. Morrisadvanced 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 wouldnot carry out any work in his workshop until he had personally prepared for andmastered the suitable techniques and materials.
Morris did make furnitureand other decorative items for commercial purposes; however, his designs didnot stray too far from the ideals in which Ruskin wrote about, he modelled themfrom medieval styles and his patterns based on the flora and fauna – creating avernacular for his products constructed of traditional British values andlandscapes. Leaving work purposely unfinished was his way of not only conveyinga rustic aesthetic, but a means to display the raw beauty of the naturalmaterials and shine a light on the work of the craftsman. In result, the moralof staying true to materials, structure and function became a recognizable qualityof the Arts and Crafts movement. Morris revelled in Ruskin’s idea of “servilelabor” and put this forward in his practice through his philosophy of design-eventually developing his own idea of “handcraft” which was fundamentally workwithout any detachment of labour, rather than work without any sort ofmachinery FOOTNOTE.
Theyboth positioned a superior amount of value on the production of items made byhand, both believing that factory based work alienated workers from the ‘fruitsof their labour’ and disadvantaged them from the satisfaction and pleasure offinishing a piece. Additionally, they critiqued the uprising of consumermentality and the consumption of good with poor design and quality, as well asthe entering of these goods to both the market and museum exhibitions. Their philosophy was prompted by populist andsocialist ideals, subsequently resulting in the vision of art and design made “bythe 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 philosophyand style of the Arts and Crafts movement and new design shifts.