Fine Art is about conveying a personal idea, a political agenda or maybe to be purely appealing to the viewer. There are of course plenty of other reasons for works of art to be created but I’m limiting them to a basic few for convenience. The art may take the form of a built object, an installation, a video or a traditional image. Graphic Design is a separate entity of sorts that, unlike its place of origin, is usually not associated with the expansive ideas that follow art. It aims for aesthetic pleasure that intends to generate an interest in something; generally this is associated with pushing a product or championing a business identity. But it may also, much like Fine Art, convey personal ideas and political agendas, but in far a more direct manner.
We know of these two creative identities because of how they are a present feature in day to day life. But there is a third that wishes to establish itself. That of Arts & Crafts. In contemporary culture this is generally considered a hobby, or a form of product design. However, while it can be either of those things, what makes it worth discussing?
From the 1880 until 1910, there was a movement called the Arts & Crafts Movement. This was lead by a second generation Pre-Raphaelite William Morris (1834-1896), through the company ‘Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co’. Out of distaste for the impersonal quality of mass production and dissatisfaction within the workplace, resulted in the revival of the crafts infrastructure of the medieval era, the guilds system. Guilds would specialize in a certain craft. For example, they might collaborate together to create bespoke furniture or of highly stylish clothing. Each guild member would be entrusted to keep their guild’s trade secrets, to both prevent rival guilds from stealing their methods and ideas, and to employ a unique character to their work. This may sound like the modern products of today, like Cola and Pepsi, but these were handmade works that needed care and attention to create, modern products use Graphic Design to crate an illusion evoking this. The system around guilds allowed people to learn a craft, master it and feel proud of their work, something that was lost because of the industrial revolution.
The ‘Morris, Marson, Faulkner & Co’ company brought to the 19th century the idea of a more personal and unique market, where work produced was rewarding and wouldn’t pose sever health risks. ‘Morris & Co’ produced stained glass windows, tiles, tapestries, wallpapers, textiles, furniture, and ironwork; all handmade, with the imperfections associated with personality. However, provided the movements competition of cheap products and speedy production, the movement failed, and we are left with a far more mechanical and impersonal world.
This is the Arts & Crafts that I am thinking of. One that provides fulfilling work for its local area, develops a authentic identity for the company and the mentioned local area. A successful organisation would be able to attract customers from far and wide, bringing with it profit to this area. There are moderate examples of this currently, namely in the food industry, such as how a bakery (that isn’t part of a large business) that might sell your favorite apple pie, or a restaurant/pub that make a great Sunday roast. This may sound like an advertisement, but that’s because it is the personality based model of work that allows originality, something that Graphic Design tries to replicate when creating a business identity, but is natural to the Arts & Crafts.
Arts & Crafts is about producing work of a quality that fits to a particular customers liking, like how different people like different music, different people will prefer the different quality of craftsmanship. It’s similar to Fine Art that way to, the element of personal preference. It’s something that I would like to see revived once more, and allow for more craftsmanship that has lasting appeal and a sense of originality, rather than the repetitive samey products that persist the market in places like Ikea.
The featured image is Blacksmith – Working The Forge, a photograph by Mike Savad – 2011