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_Arts and Crafts Essays_


Members of the Arts and Crafts
Exhibition Society

_With a Preface_
By William Morris



The papers that follow this need no explanation, since they are directed
towards special sides of the Arts and Crafts. Mr. Crane has put forward
the aims of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society _as_ an Exhibition
Society, therefore I need not enlarge upon that phase of this book. But
I will write a few words on the way in which it seems to me we ought to
face the present position of that revival in decorative art of which our
Society is one of the tokens.

And, in the first place, the very fact that there is a "revival" shows
that the arts aforesaid have been sick unto death. In all such changes
the first of the new does not appear till there is little or no life
left in the old, and yet the old, even when it is all but dead, goes on
living in corruption, and refuses to get itself put quietly out of the
way and decently buried. So that while the revival advances and does
some good work, the period of corruption goes on from worse to worse,
till it arrives at the point when it can no longer be borne, and
disappears. To give a concrete example: in these last days there are
many buildings erected which (in spite of our eclecticism, our lack of a
traditional style) are at least well designed and give pleasure to the
eye; nevertheless, so hopelessly hideous and vulgar is general building
that persons of taste find themselves regretting the brown brick box
with its feeble and trumpery attempts at ornament, which characterises
the style of building current at the end of the last and beginning of
this century, because there is some style about it, and even some merit
of design, if only negative.

The position which we have to face then is this: the lack of beauty in
modern life (of decoration in the best sense of the word), which in the
earlier part of the century was unnoticed, is now recognised by a part
of the public as an evil to be remedied if possible; but by far the
larger part of civilised mankind does not feel that lack in the least,
so that no general sense of beauty is extant which would _force_ us into
the creation of a feeling for art which in its turn would _force_ us
into taking up the dropped links of tradition, and once more producing
genuine organic art. Such art as we have is not the work of the mass of
craftsmen unconscious of any definite style, but producing beauty
instinctively; conscious rather of the desire to turn out a creditable
piece of work than of any aim towards positive beauty. That is the
essential motive power towards art in past ages; but our art is the work
of a small minority composed of educated persons, fully conscious of
their aim of producing beauty, and distinguished from the great body of
workmen by the possession of that aim.

I do not, indeed, ignore the fact that there is a school of artists
belonging to this decade who set forth that beauty is not an essential
part of art; which they consider rather as an instrument for the
statement of fact, or an exhibition of the artist's intellectual
observation and skill of hand. Such a school would seem at first sight
to have an interest of its own as a genuine traditional development of
the art of the eighteenth century, which, like all intellectual
movements in that century, was negative and destructive; and this all
the more as the above-mentioned school is connected with science rather
than art. But on looking closer into the matter it will be seen that
this school cannot claim any special interest on the score of tradition.
For the eighteenth century art was quite unconscious of its tendency
towards ugliness and nullity, whereas the modern "Impressionists" loudly
proclaim their enmity to beauty, and are no more unconscious of their
aim than the artists of the revival are of their longing to link
themselves to the traditional art of the past.

Here we have then, on the one hand, a school which is pushing rather
than drifting into the domain of the empirical science of to-day, and
another which can only work through its observation of an art which was
once organic, but which died centuries ago, leaving us what by this time
has become but the wreckage of its brilliant and eager life, while at
the same time the great mass of civilisation lives on content to forgo
art almost altogether. Nevertheless the artists of both the schools
spoken of are undoubtedly honest and eager in pursuit of art under the
conditions of modern civilisation; that is to say, that they have this
much in common with the schools of tradition, that they do what they are
impelled to do, and that the public would be quite wrong in supposing
them to be swayed by mere affectation.

Now it seems to me that this impulse in men of certain minds and moods
towards certain forms of art, this genuine eclecticism, is all that we
can expect under modern civilisation; that we can expect no _general_
impulse towards the fine arts till civilisation has been transformed
into some other condition of life, the details of which we cannot
foresee. Let us then make the best of it, and admit that those who
practise art must nowadays be conscious of that practice; conscious I
mean that they are either adding a certain amount of artistic beauty and
interest to a piece of goods which would, if produced in the ordinary
way, have no beauty or artistic interest, or to produce works of art, to
supply the lack of tradition by diligently cultivating in ourselves the
sense of beauty (_pace_ the Impressionists), skill of hand, and
niceness of observation, without which only a _makeshift_ of art can be
got; and also, so far as we can, to call the attention of the public to
the fact that there are a few persons who are doing this, and even
earning a livelihood by so doing, and that therefore, in spite of the
destructive tradition of our immediate past, in spite of the great
revolution in the production of wares, which this century only has seen
on the road to completion, and which on the face of it, and perhaps
essentially, is hostile to art, in spite of all difficulties which the
evolution of the later days of society has thrown in the way of that
side of human pleasure which is called art, there is still a minority
with a good deal of life in it which is not content with what is called
utilitarianism, which, being interpreted, means the reckless waste of
life in the pursuit of the means of life.

It is this conscious cultivation of art and the attempt to interest the
public in it which the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society has set itself
to help, by calling special attention to that really most important side
of art, the decoration of utilities by furnishing them with genuine
artistic finish in place of trade finish.


_July 1893._



with Notes on the Work of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society.
Walter Crane 1

TEXTILES. William Morris 22


OF WALL PAPERS. Walter Crane 52

FICTILES. G. T. Robinson 62

METAL WORK. W. A. S. Benson 68


FURNITURE. Stephen Webb 89

STAINED GLASS. Somers Clarke 98

TABLE GLASS. Somers Clarke 106

PRINTING. William Morris and Emery Walker 111

BOOKBINDING. T. J. Cobden-Sanderson 134

OF MURAL PAINTING. F. Madox Brown 149

OF SGRAFFITO WORK. Heywood Sumner 161

OF STUCCO AND GESSO. G. T. Robinson 172

OF CAST IRON. W. R. Lethaby 184

OF DYEING AS AN ART. William Morris 196

OF EMBROIDERY. May Morris 212

OF LACE. Alan S. Cole 224





THE ENGLISH TRADITION. Reginald Blomfield 289



OF CARVING. Stephen Webb 322




OF MATERIALS. May Morris 365

COLOUR. May Morris 376


DESIGN. John D. Sedding 405



The decorative artist and the handicraftsman have hitherto had but
little opportunity of displaying their work in the public eye, or rather
of appealing to it upon strictly artistic grounds in the same sense as
the pictorial artist; and it is a somewhat singular state of things that
at a time when the Arts are perhaps more looked after, and certainly
more talked about, than they have ever been before, and the beautifying
of houses, to those to whom it is possible, has become in some cases
almost a religion, so little is known of the actual designer and maker
(as distinct from the proprietary manufacturer or middleman) of those
familiar things which contribute so much to the comfort and refinement
of life - of our chairs and cabinets, our chintzes and wall-papers, our
lamps and pitchers - the Lares and Penates of our households, which with
the touch of time and association often come to be regarded with so
peculiar an affection.

Nor is this condition of affairs in regard to applied Art without an
explanation, since it is undeniable that under the modern industrial
system that personal element, which is so important in all forms of Art,
has been thrust farther and farther into the background, until the
production of what are called ornamental objects, and the supply of
ornamental additions generally, instead of growing out of organic
necessities, have become, under a misapplication of machinery, driven by
the keen competition of trade, purely commercial affairs - questions of
the supply and demand of the market artificially stimulated and
controlled by the arts of the advertiser and the salesman bidding
against each other for the favour of a capricious and passing fashion,
which too often takes the place of a real love of Art in our days.

Of late years, however, a kind of revival has been going on, as a
protest against the conviction that, with all our modern mechanical
achievements, comforts, and luxuries, life is growing "uglier every
day," as Mr. Morris puts it. Even our painters are driven to rely rather
on the accidental beauty which, like a struggling ray through a London
fog, sometimes illumes and transfigures the sordid commonplace of
everyday life. We cannot, however, live on sensational effects without
impairing our sense of form and balance - of beauty, in short. We cannot
concentrate our attention on pictorial and graphic art, and come to
regard it as the one form worth pursuing, without losing our sense of
construction and power of adaptation in design to all kinds of very
different materials and purposes - that sense of relation - that
architectonic sense which built up the great monuments of the past.

The true root and basis of all Art lies in the handicrafts. If there is
no room or chance of recognition for really artistic power and feeling
in design and craftsmanship - if Art is not recognised in the humblest
object and material, and felt to be as valuable in its own way as the
more highly rewarded pictorial skill - the arts cannot be in a sound
condition; and if artists cease to be found among the crafts there is
great danger that they will vanish from the arts also, and become
manufacturers and salesmen instead.

It was with the object of giving some visible expression to these views
that the Exhibitions of the Arts and Crafts Society were organised.

As was to be expected, many difficulties had to be encountered. In the
endeavour to assign due credit to the responsible designer and workman,
it was found sometimes difficult to do so amid the very numerous
artificers (in some cases) who under our industrial conditions
contribute to the production of a work.

It will readily be understood that the organisation of exhibitions of
this character, and with such objects as have been stated, is a far less
simple matter than an ordinary picture exhibition. Instead of having an
array of artists whose names and addresses are in every catalogue, our
constituency, as it were, outside the personal knowledge of the
Committee, had to be discovered. Under the designation of So-and-so and
Co. many a skilful designer and craftsman may be concealed; and
individual and independent artists in design and handicraft are as yet
few and far between.

However, in the belief, as elsewhere expressed, that it is little good
nourishing the tree at the head if it is dying at the root, and that,
living or dying, the desirability of an accurate diagnosis while there
is any doubt of our artistic health will at once be admitted, the
Society determined to try the experiment and so opened their first

The reception given to it having so far justified our plea for the due
recognition of the arts and crafts of design, and our belief in their
fundamental importance - the amount of public interest and support
accorded to the Exhibition having, in fact, far exceeded our
anticipations, it was determined to hold a second on the same lines, and
to endeavour to carry out, with more completeness than was at first
found possible, those principles of work, ideas, and aims in art for
which we contended, and to make the Exhibition a rallying point, as it
were, for all sympathetic workers.

Regarding design as a species of language capable of very varied
expression through the medium of different methods and materials, it
naturally follows that there is all the difference in the world between
one treatment and another, both of design and material; and, moreover,
every material has its own proper capacity and appropriate range of
expression, so that it becomes the business of the sympathetic workman
to discover this and give it due expansion.

For the absence of this discriminating sense no amount of mechanical
smoothness or imitative skill can compensate; and it is obvious that any
attempt to imitate or render the qualities peculiar to one material in
another leads the workman on a false track.

Now, we have only to consider how much of the work commonly produced,
which comes under the head of what is called "industrial art," depends
upon this very false quality of imitation (whether as to design or
material) to show how far we have departed in the ordinary processes of
manufacture and standards of trade from primitive and true artistic
instincts. The demand, artificially stimulated, is less for thought or
beauty than for novelty, and all sorts of mechanical invention are
applied, chiefly with the view of increasing the rate of production and
diminishing its cost, regardless of the fact that anything in the nature
of bad or false art is dear at any price.

Plain materials and surfaces are infinitely preferable to inorganic and
inappropriate ornament; yet there is not the simplest article of common
use made by the hand of man that is not capable of receiving some touch
of art - whether it lies in the planning and proportions, or in the final
decorative adornment; whether in the work of the smith, the carpenter,
the carver, the weaver, or the potter, and the other indispensable

With the organisation of industry on the grand scale, and the enormous
application of machinery in the interests of competitive production for
profit, when both art and industry are forced to make their appeal to
the unreal and impersonal _average_, rather than to the real and
personal _you_ and _me_, it is not wonderful that beauty should have
become divorced from use, and that attempts to concede its demands, and
the desire for it, should too often mean the ill-considered bedizenment
of meaningless and unrelated ornament.

The very producer, the designer, and craftsman, too, has been lost sight
of, and his personality submerged in that of a business firm, so that we
have reached the _reductio ad absurdum_ of an impersonal artist or
craftsman trying to produce things of beauty for an impersonal and
unknown public - a purely conjectural matter from first to last.

Under such conditions it is hardly surprising that the arts of design
should have declined, and that the idea of art should have become
limited to pictorial work (where, at least, the artist may be known, in
some relation to his public, and comparatively free).

Partly as a protest against this state of things, and partly to
concentrate the awakened feeling for beauty in the accessories of life,
the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society commenced their work.

The movement, however, towards a revival of design and handicraft, the
effort to unite - or rather to re-unite - the artist and the craftsman, so
sundered by the industrial conditions of our century, has been growing
and gathering force for some time past. It reflects in art the
intellectual movement of inquiry into fundamental principles and
necessities, and is a practical expression of the philosophy of the
conditioned. It is true it has many different sides and manifestations,
and is under many different influences and impelled by different aims.
With some the question is closely connected with the commercial
prosperity of England, and her prowess in the competitive race for
wealth; with others it is enough if the social well-being and happiness
of her people is advanced, and that the touch of art should lighten the
toil of joyless lives. The movement, indeed, represents in some sense a
revolt against the hard mechanical conventional life and its
insensibility to beauty (quite another thing to ornament). It is a
protest against that so-called industrial progress which produces shoddy
wares, the cheapness of which is paid for by the lives of their
producers and the degradation of their users. It is a protest against
the turning of men into machines, against artificial distinctions in
art, and against making the immediate market value, or possibility of
profit, the chief test of artistic merit. It also advances the claim of
all and each to the common possession of beauty in things common and
familiar, and would awaken the sense of this beauty, deadened and
depressed as it now too often is, either on the one hand by luxurious
superfluities, or on the other by the absence of the commonest
necessities and the gnawing anxiety for the means of livelihood; not to
speak of the everyday uglinesses to which we have accustomed our eyes,
confused by the flood of false taste, or darkened by the hurried life of
modern towns in which huge aggregations of humanity exist, equally
removed from both art and nature and their kindly and refining

It asserts, moreover, the value of the practice of handicraft as a good
training for the faculties, and as a most valuable counteraction to that
overstraining of purely mental effort under the fierce competitive
conditions of the day; apart from the very wholesome and real pleasure
in the fashioning of a thing with claims to art and beauty, the struggle
with and triumph over the stubborn technical necessities which refuse to
be gainsaid. And, finally, thus claiming for man this primitive and
common delight in common things made beautiful, it makes, through art,
the great socialiser for a common and kindred life, for sympathetic and
helpful fellowship, and demands conditions under which your artist and
craftsman shall be free.

"See how great a matter a little fire kindleth." Some may think this is
an extensive programme - a remote ideal for a purely artistic movement to
touch. Yet if the revival of art and handicraft is not a mere theatric
and imitative impulse; if it is not merely to gratify a passing whim of
fashion, or demand of commerce; if it has reality and roots of its own;
if it is not merely a delicate luxury - a little glow of colour at the
end of a sombre day - it can hardly mean less than what I have written.
It must mean either the sunset or the dawn.

The success which had hitherto attended the efforts of our Society, the
sympathy and response elicited by the claims which had been advanced by
us on behalf of the Arts and Crafts of Design, and (despite difficulties
and imperfections) I think it may be said the character of our
exhibitions, and last, but not least, the public interest and support,
manifested in various ways, and from different parts of the country,
went far to prove both their necessity and importance.

We were therefore encouraged to open a third Exhibition in the autumn of
1890. In this last it was the Society's object to make in it leading
features of two crafts in which good design and handicraft are of the
utmost importance, namely, Furniture and Embroidery; and endeavours were
made to get together good examples of each.

It may be noted that while some well-known firms, who had hitherto held
aloof, now exhibited with us, the old difficulty about the names of the
responsible executants continued; but while some evaded the question,
others were models of exactitude in this respect, proving that in this
as in other questions where there is a will there is a way.

The Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, while at first, of necessity,
depending on the work of a comparatively limited circle, had no wish to
be narrower than the recognition of certain fundamental principles in
design will allow, and, indeed, desired but to receive and to show the
_best_ after its kind in contemporary design and handicraft. Judgment is
not always infallible, and the best is not always forthcoming, and in a
mixed exhibition it is difficult to maintain an unvarying standard. At
present, indeed, an exhibition may be said to be but a necessary evil;
but it is the only means of obtaining a standard, and giving publicity
to the works of Designer and Craftsman; but it must be more or less of a
compromise, and of course no more can be done than to make an
exhibition of contemporary work representative of current ideas and
skill, since it is impossible to get outside our own time.

In some quarters it appears to have been supposed that our Exhibitions
are intended to appeal, by the exhibition of cheap and saleable
articles, to what are rudely termed "the masses"; we appeal to _all_
certainly, but it should be remembered that cheapness in art and
handicraft is well-nigh impossible, save in some forms of more or less
mechanical reproduction. In fact, cheapness as a rule, in the sense of
low-priced production, can only be obtained at the cost of
cheapness - that is, the cheapening of human life and labour; surely, in
reality, a most wasteful and extravagant cheapness! It is difficult to
see how, under present economic conditions, it can be otherwise. Art
is, in its true sense, after all, the crown and flowering of life and
labour, and we cannot reasonably expect to gain that crown except at the

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