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History by Design
Arts & Crafts Movement

History by Design
  • Chapters in the History of the Arts and ... (by )
  • Arts and Crafts Essays (by )
  • The Arts and Crafts Movement (by )
  • Arts and Crafts; A Review of the Work Ex... (by )
  • Art and Life, And the Building and Decor... (by )
  • Catalogue of First Exhibition Held in Ha... (by )
  • Arts and Crafts Essays : By Members of t... (by )
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The Arts and Crafts movement was an international movement in decorative and fine arts. Although the period lasted from 1880 to 1920, its influence continues today with artists, craft makers, designers, and other visionaries creating architecture, furniture, and home furnishings in this aesthetic. 

Various categories of design reflect this style, including decorative, printing and publishing, jewelry, tableware, interior design, textiles, wallpaper, furniture, and ceramics.

The social reform philosophies of writer and art historian John Ruskin and designer and reformer William Morris inspired the movement, which started in England and expanded to North America and Japan. It challenged the ornate aesthetics of the Victorian era and was a reaction to the proliferation of industrial manufacturing, specifically factory production. 

In Chapters in the History of the Arts and Crafts Movement, Oscar Lovell Triggs writes, “The primary motive of the arts and crafts movement is, as the name implies, the association of art and labor.” (p. 1)

The reformers believed that a country’s moral and social health depended upon the qualities of its architecture and the nature of work. Ruskin believed this emerged from independent workers who designed the items they crafted.

Artists and thinkers celebrated the revival of handcrafted items over machine-crafted, and emphasized traditional craftsmanship and simple form. They were concerned about the loss of traditional skills, which they believed was a result of the ascent of the consumer class. 
In The Arts and Crafts Essays, the authors from the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society write, “The position we have to face then is this: the lack of beauty in modern life (of decoration in the best sense of the word), which in the earlier part of the century was unnoticed, is now recognized by a part of the public as an evil to be remedied if possible.” (Preface, p. vii) 

Furthermore, in Chapters in the History of the Arts and Crafts Movement, Triggs writes, 

Chief among the admirers of Ruskin was William Morris, his junior by fifteen years. Morris was just entering Oxford as Ruskin was publishing The Stones of Venice, the book that first kindled in Morris his social beliefs, to which he always referred as the first statement of the doctrine that art is the expression of man’s pleasure, in labor.

Advocates of the Arts and Crafts movement embraced the style, because they believed that the objects being introduced at the time were excessively ornate and ignorant of the qualities of the materials used.

In The Arts & Crafts Movement, author Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson quotes William Morris: 

Never forget the material you are working with, and try always to use it for doing what it can do best: if you feel yourself hampered by the material in which you are working, instead of being helped by it, you have so far not learned your business, any more than a would-be poet has, who complains of the hardship of writing in measure and rhyme. (p. 10)

By Regina Molaro

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