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The Arts and Crafts Movement   By: (1840-1922)

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The Movement, passing under the name of 'Arts and Crafts,' admits of many definitions. It may be associated with the movement of ideas, characteristic of the close of the last century, and be defined to be an effort to bring it under the influence of art as the supreme mode in which human activity of all kinds expresses itself at its highest and best; in which case the so called 'Arts and Crafts Exhibitions' would be but a symbolic presentment of a whole by a part, itself incapable of presentment: or it may be associated with the revival, by a few artists, of hand craft as opposed to machine craft, and be defined to be the insistence on the worth of man's hand, a unique tool in danger of being lost in the substitution for it of highly organized and intricate machinery, or of emotional as distinguished from merely skilled and technical labour: or again, it may be defined to be both the one and the other, and to have a wider scope than either; as for example, it may be defined to constitute a movement to bring all the activities of the human spirit under the influence of one idea, the idea that life is creation, and should be creative in modes of art, & that this creation should extend to all the ideas of science and of social organization, to all the ideas and habits begotten of a grandiose and consciously conceived procession of humanity, out of nothing and nowhere, into everything and everywhere, as well as to the merely instrumental occupations thereof at any particular moment.

No definition, however, is orthodox or to be propounded with authority: each has its apostles: and besides the definitions attempted above, there are still others, some of them, indeed, concerning themselves only with the facilities to be afforded to the craftsman for the exhibition, advertisement, and sale of his wares.

Nor do I propose, myself, to propound one at this stage of my description of the movement. I merely adumbrate the shifting goal, as it may have presented itself to the minds of the men engaged in the movement, that you may know at the outset, in vision, those far off heights, which they, or some of them, essayed not only themselves to climb, but to make all mankind also to climb.

It is to the movement itself that I will first ask your attention.

Art is one, though manifold, and when the Royal Academy of Arts, in spite of many protests, continued to restrict its Academic Exhibitions to Painting, Sculpture, and Abstract Architecture, a body of protesters came together, not any longer to protest only, but this time to constitute a society of exhibitioners who should widen the academic conception of art, and open its exhibitions to all forms of art, provided only that the form was of art, born of the imagination, and destined to touch the imagination.

Such a society was in due time formed, and, under the name of the 'Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society,' initiated the wider movement which, from itself as source, has spread all the world over, and created a new interest. The arts and crafts have been born again, and, in a new sense, occupy the attention of mankind.

The first exhibition was held in the New Gallery, in London, in the autumn of 1888. It is not necessary to dwell on the exhibits which stand enumerated in the catalogue now before me. It is sufficient to say that whereas each exhibit, standing alone, might have been seen without any sense of a new 'movement' being on foot, the accumulation, under one roof and idea, of so many different and differently conceived things of beauty, made a marked impression on the public imagination, & unmistakably heralded the advent of a new force into society, at once creative and classificatory. Old things, long since done, were to be put into new relations, & upon a higher plane, and all new work was to be conceived of as convergent upon one end, the dignity and sweetness of life, and the workman artist or craftsman was to derive therefrom his measure of happiness & delight... Continue reading book >>

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