Join Sean Adams for an in-depth discussion in this video Social issues, part of Foundations of Graphic Design History: The Arts and Crafts Movement.
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- By the 1880s the Gothic style was losing its appeal. The Pre-Raphaelites had influenced artists, architects, and printers, and furniture makers with devotion to the natural and organic world. The return to medieval craft and workshops appeared to be a better solution to the inhumane large factories and mills. This, tied with the relationship between the master and apprentice began the Arts and Crafts Movement. After John Ruskin's wife left him for John Everett Millais, the Pre-Raphaelite painter, Ruskin turned to William Morris.
He found a kindred spirit in Morris who looked at the Industrial Revolution's social issues and believed art and design could be the way to create a better society. Ruskin and Morris promoted a return to the natural world with an emphasis on skill and handmade. They believed in a culture of skilled labor with a master craftsman working to train an apprentice. In effect, this was a way to turn time back to the medieval age, before industrialization, factories, and urban poverty.
The typical labor structure at the time created vast differences in wealth. The factory worker earned barely enough to survive in terrible poverty and unsanitary conditions, while the factory owners and leaders of industry became incredibly wealthy. In current U.S. dollars, a typical salary for a factory worker in 1850 was roughly $3,000, while John Jacob Astor's rent income alone was 35 million.
The arts and crafts approach of the craft workshop equalized the relationship between owner and worker and created a meritocracy. Those who worked hard and learned a skill were well rewarded. In theory, this provided a harmonious way of working for the entire society. The consumer was on the other end of the product. Now he or she would be released from purchasing mass-market cheaply made and overly decorated products.
The consumer's life would be greatly enriched with a house filled with beautiful and well-crafted items based on simple, natural forms. An object made with pride in a friendly economic structure would create harmony throughout England. Truth in materials was another belief in the movement. This reflected the hopeful values of a more transparent and honest society. Wood was never painted to look like metal. A ceramic was allowed to be ceramic. Metal was hammered and allowed to age.
the idea of imitating one material on another was the same as a factory owner lying about the quality of a product. These ideals found their way into the work. And they also spawned several groups: The Century Guild, St. George's Art Society, The Art Workers' Guild, and even the American Institute of Graphic Arts. These provided a platform for artists and designers to meet and exchange ideas. They also were committed to maintaining the standards of craft and excellence in a mass-produced culture.
The social issues of the time informed the Gothic style and Pre-Raphaelites, but the Arts and Crafts Movement expanded the response from an aesthetic or stylistic answer. They adopted a set of values and goals that led to a philosophically holistic concept and the creation of products, buildings, furnitures, textiles, and graphics.
Sean reviews the factors leading to the rise of Arts and Crafts, and the designers and companies who led the charge, including William Morris, Gustav Stickley, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Since Arts and Crafts spanned more than print, Sean reviews its impact on architecture, textile and furniture design, ceramics and glasswork, and bookmaking. He also explains what led to the decline of the Arts and Crafts movement , and how its influence on contemporary design lives on.