The Arts and Crafts tradition is one of the oldest in history. It evolved in Britain during the Industrial Revolution as a response to the rising costs of manufacturing materials, particularly textiles. The Arts and Crafts tradition has been an ever-present feature in our culture ever since. The Arts and Crafts tradition was an international phenomenon from the onset, with artists traveling from France, Italy, Spain and other European nations to the New World to share their skills and passions. The Arts and Crafts tradition is steeped in tradition and family tradition; it originated as a celebration of craft and art and the family, for whom it was created.
Louis Comfort Tiffany became interested in the arts & crafts movement in England during the late 1800s, traveling to the Exhibition Gardens of England and becoming impressed by the works of the craftsmen of Bristol. He set up a studio in his own garden and invited other like-minded artists, painters and craftsmen to share their work. A fire had then suddenly broken out between the craftsmen and the industrialists, and this created tension between the working class and the landed gentry who owned the vast majority of the property on which the craftsmen lived. This led to an unprecedented split between the workers and the landed gentry, and the result was the Arts and Crafts Movement.
The Arts and Crafts tradition has experienced a resurgence in popularity in recent years and is still growing today in countries all over the world such as the United States. One of the things that has made the Arts and Crafts movement grow is its acceptance by the younger generation. This is perhaps because of the emphasis on individualism and a return to more simplistic times. Perhaps also, it is perhaps because of a general sense of dissatisfaction with the commercialism of the modern age and a desire to bring the artistic and decorative arts into the homes of ordinary people.
One of the most important figures in the history of Arts and Crafts, and indeed, of British art, is William Morris who came from a wealthy background. But Morris was not simply a beneficiary of his background. His artistic tastes and interests were in fact deeply informed by his upbringing. Morris’s notion of beauty, for example, was very different from that of the more conventional decorative artists of his day and his decorative arts creations often reflected his true feelings about the condition of British society at the time.
For Morris, the aesthetic appreciation of everyday objects was based on a rather radical interpretation of how humans interact with the physical world. His belief that we live in an illusionary world of idealism and indifference brought him to question the very foundation of Western culture and the values that it upholds. In his book “A Secular Pilgrimage” Morris presents an alternative view of how the arts can enhance human life and even provide a path for spiritual development. He insists that true understanding and appreciation of all human creations begins from within and is not just an intellectual exercise.
Morris’s message is that by putting aside differences and focusing instead on how they affect each other, we can see things that are larger than the prevailing petty divisions within society. In this sense, his work not only becomes a rich collection of the personal works of talented artists but also an intriguing glimpse of how our culture can benefit from more meaningful interaction among people. It may be of interest to other artists who are interested in exploring the aesthetics of practical living. If you own more than one piece of hand crafted or decorated furniture and would like to present it as a part of a cohesive group, you should definitely consider looking into the works of William Morris.