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Arts & Craft Movement

The Arts & Crafts Movement was a reaction against the ostentatious, pompous style of High Victorian. In many ways it was a form of nostalgia, a desire to return to the past, but it was also a very gentle attempt to start a social revolution.

Various branches spontaneously developed within the Arts and Crafts Movement. Each had it's own character, style, specialisation and leaders. The major branches in the United Kingdom included The Guild of Handicraft, The Glasgow School and the Cotswold School. The Arts and Craft Movement also thrived in the United States of America:

The beginnings of the Arts and Crafts Movement were political rather than artistic, although over the fifty years or so that the Movement survived it became far more commercialised and production based rather than meeting the high ideals of it's founders to make the world a better place.

As the Arts & Crafts Movement idealised pre-Industrialised society, it follows that their style preference was also based very much on days gone by. This "cult of the Medieval" became fashionable throughout society, and somewhat ironically ended up decorating the houses of the wealthy "new money" Industrialists who the Movement so hated.

The Arts & Craft Movement idealised the past, in particular medieval times. Many of the fonts, embellishments, illustrations and themes are those also used in the Middle Ages.

More information about the Arts & Craft movement is in my Design & Cultures 1 unit (for Furniture and Design for Industry students).

William Morris (1834-1896)

Writer, designer and central figure of the Arts & Crafts Movement. William Morris was a passionate socialist who wanted to improve the lives of the poor in Victorian England. Perhaps unrealistically, he believed that it was possible to accomplish this through a return to traditional craftsmanship, since he and his group blamed industrialisation and mechanisation for many of the social problems in England at that time.

When he couldn't find satisfactory furnishings for the home he was having built, The Red House, William Morris developed the idea of forming a collective to produce such designs. He founded a company William Morris & Co that manufactured tapestries, furniture and stained glass.
Google.com image search for William Morris

William Morris was also prolific in bookbinding, engraving and various other forms of what today would be considered Graphic Design. He founded the Kemscott Press in 1893. hrc.utexas.edu/exhibitions/online/morris

"Kelmscott Press published some of the most significant of the graphic design products of the Arts and Crafts movement, and made a very lucrative business of creating books of great stylistic refinement and selling them to the wealthy for a premium. Morris proved that a market existed for works of graphic design and helped pioneer the separation of design from production and from fine art. The work of the Kelmscott Press is characterized by its decadence and by its obsession with historical styles". fact-index.com/g/gr/graphic_design.html

Thomas James Cobden Sanderson (1840-1922): Bookbinder and founder of the Doves Press which published many works of the Arts & Craft Movement. A dispute as to the authorship of a successful and very fine font "Doves Type" finished when Cobden Sanderson threw the type in the Thames River.

Emery Walker (1851-1933) : Engraver, Type Designer and Printer who worked with Cobden Sanderson on founding the Doves Press.

Some other Arts & Craft Movement typesetting and printing links:

Contextual factors to consider:

  • The opulence and excess of the worst of High Victorian Style as typified by the Great Exhibition in 1851 resulted in a backlash by designers. They wanted simplicity and meaning rather than over the top, pompous and showy design.
  • Relationship between literature, art and design

Some key technical innovations:

  • Philosophy as a basis for design.
  • Ceramic techniques, glazes etc brought back from Japan.

Meanwhile, in Fine Art:

  • Romanticism and Classicism continue
  • Pluralism, including: Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (1848-1890's): Millais, Burne-Jones, Rossetti, William Morris; Symbolism (1890's): Boecklin, Redon
  • Impressionism (1870-80's): Monet, Degas, Renoir - influenced by Ukiyo-e
  • Post Impressionism (1890's): Van Gogh, Gaugin

retrokat.com quite nice sites

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