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The Arts and Crafts Movement

The Arts and Crafts movement was a British and American aesthetic movement occurring in the last years of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century. Inspired by the writings of John Ruskin and a romantic idealisation of the craftsman taking pride in his personal handiwork, it was at its height between approximately 1880 and 1910.

  • Rejection of Classical and Italianate architecture, and the revival of the Gothic Style.
  • Rebellion against industrialisation and mass production by machines.
  • Leading figures believed in a socialist or utopian society, striving for good quality of life for all, including art for the people, by the people.
  • Nostalgia for the medieval age seen as the golden age of creativity and freedom.
  • Artists and craftsman were viewed as equals, art was no longer a separate or superior activity.
  • The revival of craftsmanship, honesty in construction, and truth to materials.

The Society of Arts and Crafts credo

This Society was incorporated for the purpose of promoting artistic work in all branches of handicraft. It hopes to bring Designers and Workmen into mutually helpful relations, and to encourage workmen to execute designs of their own. It endeavors to stimulate in workmen an appreciation of the dignity and value of good design; to counteract the popular impatience of Law and Form, and the desire for over-ornamentation and specious originality. It will insist upon the necessity of sobriety and restraint, or ordered arrangement, of due regard for the relation between the form of an object and its use, and of harmony and fitness in the decoration put upon it.
(popularly accredited to Charles Eliot Norton)

The principles of Arts and Crafts

In general, the development of the Arts and Crafts movement was led as much by political ideals and the desire to create a new order as it was by the nostalgia for earlier styles of architecture and craft.

The term Arts and Crafts does not define an artistic style such as Art Nouveau or Art Deco, the term refers more to a set of principles and attitudes in the mind of the artist or craftsman which involve not only art but also society and the interaction between the two. In the words of Michael Haslam:

The ideas behind the Arts and Crafts movement had more to do with the creation of the Art Object than with the Art object itself. Several Arts and Crafts objects even bear evidence of this concern with the processes of manufacture : for instance the hammer marks on beaten copper or silver were often left clearly visible, and mortise and tennon joints or dovetailing were exposed and made into prominent features of some furniture. As well as producing decorative effects, such details were intended to proclaim loudly that the object had been made by a craftsman using nothing but his hands and the simplest of tools.

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