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Arts and Crafts Essays by Members of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society   By:

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Arts and Crafts Essays


Members of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society

With a Preface By William Morris



The papers that follow this need no explanation, since they are directed towards special sides of the Arts and Crafts. Mr. Crane has put forward the aims of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society as an Exhibition Society, therefore I need not enlarge upon that phase of this book. But I will write a few words on the way in which it seems to me we ought to face the present position of that revival in decorative art of which our Society is one of the tokens.

And, in the first place, the very fact that there is a "revival" shows that the arts aforesaid have been sick unto death. In all such changes the first of the new does not appear till there is little or no life left in the old, and yet the old, even when it is all but dead, goes on living in corruption, and refuses to get itself put quietly out of the way and decently buried. So that while the revival advances and does some good work, the period of corruption goes on from worse to worse, till it arrives at the point when it can no longer be borne, and disappears. To give a concrete example: in these last days there are many buildings erected which (in spite of our eclecticism, our lack of a traditional style) are at least well designed and give pleasure to the eye; nevertheless, so hopelessly hideous and vulgar is general building that persons of taste find themselves regretting the brown brick box with its feeble and trumpery attempts at ornament, which characterises the style of building current at the end of the last and beginning of this century, because there is some style about it, and even some merit of design, if only negative.

The position which 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 recognised by a part of the public as an evil to be remedied if possible; but by far the larger part of civilised mankind does not feel that lack in the least, so that no general sense of beauty is extant which would force us into the creation of a feeling for art which in its turn would force us into taking up the dropped links of tradition, and once more producing genuine organic art. Such art as we have is not the work of the mass of craftsmen unconscious of any definite style, but producing beauty instinctively; conscious rather of the desire to turn out a creditable piece of work than of any aim towards positive beauty. That is the essential motive power towards art in past ages; but our art is the work of a small minority composed of educated persons, fully conscious of their aim of producing beauty, and distinguished from the great body of workmen by the possession of that aim.

I do not, indeed, ignore the fact that there is a school of artists belonging to this decade who set forth that beauty is not an essential part of art; which they consider rather as an instrument for the statement of fact, or an exhibition of the artist's intellectual observation and skill of hand. Such a school would seem at first sight to have an interest of its own as a genuine traditional development of the art of the eighteenth century, which, like all intellectual movements in that century, was negative and destructive; and this all the more as the above mentioned school is connected with science rather than art. But on looking closer into the matter it will be seen that this school cannot claim any special interest on the score of tradition. For the eighteenth century art was quite unconscious of its tendency towards ugliness and nullity, whereas the modern "Impressionists" loudly proclaim their enmity to beauty, and are no more unconscious of their aim than the artists of the revival are of their longing to link themselves to the traditional art of the past... Continue reading book >>

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