Various.

Arts and Crafts Essays online

. (page 2 of 16)
Online LibraryVariousArts and Crafts Essays → online text (page 2 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


true value of the human life and labour of which it is the result.

Of course there is the difference of cost between materials to be taken
into account: a table may be of oak or of deal; a cloth may be of silk
or of linen; but the labour, skill, taste, intelligence, thought, and
fancy, which give the sense of art to the work, are much the same, and,
being bound up with human lives, need the means of life in its
completion for their proper sustenance.

At all events, I think it may be said that the principle of the
essential unity and interdependence of the arts has been again
asserted - the brotherhood of designer and craftsman; that goes for
something, with whatever imperfections or disadvantages its
acknowledgment may have been obscured.

In putting this principle before the public, the Arts and Crafts
Exhibition Society has availed itself from the first of both lecture and
essay, as well as the display of examples. Lectures and demonstrations
were given during the progress of the Exhibitions, and essays written by
well-known workers in the crafts of which they treated have accompanied
the catalogues. These papers have now been collected together, and
revised by their authors, and appear in book form under the editorship
of Mr. William Morris, whose name has been practically associated with
the revival of beauty in the arts and crafts of design in many ways
before our Society came into existence, and who with his co-workers may
be said to have been the pioneer of our English Renascence, which it is
our earnest desire to foster and perpetuate.

Every movement which has any substance and vitality must expect to
encounter misrepresentation, and even abuse, as well as sympathy and
support. In its work, so far, the Society to which I have the honour to
belong has had its share of both, perhaps.

Those pledged to the support of existing conditions, whether in art or
social life, are always sensitive to attacks upon their weak points, and
it is not possible to avoid touching them to any man who ventures to
look an inch or two beyond the immediate present. But the hostility of
some is as much a mark of vitality and progress as the sympathy of
others. The sun strikes hottest as the traveller climbs the hill; and we
must be content to leave the value of our work to the unfailing test of
time.

WALTER CRANE.




TEXTILES


There are several ways of ornamenting a woven cloth: (1) real tapestry,
(2) carpet-weaving, (3) mechanical weaving, (4) printing or painting,
and (5) embroidery. There has been no improvement (indeed, as to the
main processes, no change) in the manufacture of the wares in all these
branches since the fourteenth century, as far as the wares themselves
are concerned; whatever improvements have been introduced have been
purely commercial, and have had to do merely with reducing the cost of
production; nay, more, the commercial improvements have on the whole
been decidedly injurious to the quality of the wares themselves.

The noblest of the weaving arts is Tapestry, in which there is nothing
mechanical: it may be looked upon as a mosaic of pieces of colour made
up of dyed threads, and is capable of producing wall ornament of any
degree of elaboration within the proper limits of duly considered
decorative work.

As in all wall-decoration, the first thing to be considered in the
designing of Tapestry is the force, purity, and elegance of the
_silhouette_ of the objects represented, and nothing vague or
indeterminate is admissible. But special excellences can be expected
from it. Depth of tone, richness of colour, and exquisite gradation of
tints are easily to be obtained in Tapestry; and it also demands that
crispness and abundance of beautiful detail which was the especial
characteristic of fully developed Mediæval Art. The style of even the
best period of the Renaissance is wholly unfit for Tapestry: accordingly
we find that Tapestry retained its Gothic character longer than any
other of the pictorial arts. A comparison of the wall-hangings in the
Great Hall at Hampton Court with those in the Solar or Drawing-room,
will make this superiority of the earlier design for its purpose clear
to any one not lacking in artistic perception: and the comparison is all
the fairer, as both the Gothic tapestries of the Solar and the
post-Gothic hangings of the Hall are pre-eminently good of their kinds.
Not to go into a description of the process of weaving tapestry, which
would be futile without illustrations, I may say that in
contradistinction to mechanical weaving, the warp is quite hidden, with
the result that the colours are as solid as they can be made in
painting.

Carpet-weaving is somewhat of the nature of Tapestry: it also is wholly
unmechanical, but its use as a floor-cloth somewhat degrades it,
especially in our northern or western countries, where people come out
of the muddy streets into rooms without taking off their shoes.
Carpet-weaving undoubtedly arose among peoples living a tent life, and
for such a dwelling as a tent, carpets are the best possible ornaments.

Carpets form a mosaic of small squares of worsted, or hair, or silk
threads, tied into a coarse canvas, which is made as the work
progresses. Owing to the comparative coarseness of the work, the designs
should always be very elementary in form, and _suggestive_ merely of
forms of leafage, flowers, beasts and birds, etc. The soft gradations
of tint to which Tapestry lends itself are unfit for Carpet-weaving;
beauty and variety of colour must be attained by harmonious
juxtaposition of tints, bounded by judiciously chosen outlines; and the
pattern should lie absolutely flat upon the ground. On the whole, in
designing carpets the method of _contrast_ is the best one to employ,
and blue and red, quite frankly used, with white or very light outlines
on a dark ground, and black or some very dark colour on a light ground,
are the main colours on which the designer should depend.

In making the above remarks I have been thinking only of the genuine or
hand-made carpets. The mechanically-made carpets of to-day must be
looked upon as makeshifts for cheapness' sake. Of these, the velvet pile
and Brussels are simply coarse worsted velvets woven over wires like
other velvet, and cut, in the case of the velvet pile; and Kidderminster
carpets are stout cloths, in which abundance of warp (a warp to each
weft) is used for the sake of wear and tear. The velvet carpets need the
same kind of design as to colour and quality as the real carpets; only,
as the colours are necessarily limited in number, and the pattern must
repeat at certain distances, the design should be simpler and smaller
than in a real carpet. A Kidderminster carpet calls for a small design
in which the different planes, or plies, as they are called, are well
interlocked.

Mechanical weaving has to repeat the pattern on the cloth within
comparatively narrow limits; the number of colours also is limited in
most cases to four or five. In most cloths so woven, therefore, the
best plan seems to be to choose a pleasant ground colour and to
superimpose a pattern mainly composed of either a lighter shade of that
colour, or a colour in no very strong contrast to the ground; and then,
if you are using several colours, to light up this general arrangement
either with a more forcible outline, or by spots of stronger colour
carefully disposed. Often the lighter shade on the darker suffices, and
hardly calls for anything else: some very beautiful cloths are merely
damasks, in which the warp and weft are of the same colour, but a
different tone is obtained by the figure and the ground being woven with
a longer or shorter twill: the _tabby_ being tied by the warp very
often, the _satin_ much more rarely. In any case, the patterned webs
produced by mechanical weaving, if the ornament is to be effective and
worth the doing, require that same Gothic crispness and clearness of
detail which has been spoken of before: the geometrical structure of the
pattern, which is a necessity in all recurring patterns, should be
boldly insisted upon, so as to draw the eye from accidental figures,
which the recurrence of the pattern is apt to produce.

The meaningless stripes and spots and other tormentings of the simple
twill of the web, which are so common in the woven ornament of the
eighteenth century and in our own times, should be carefully avoided:
all these things are the last resource of a jaded invention and a
contempt of the simple and fresh beauty that comes of a sympathetic
_suggestion_ of natural forms: if the pattern be vigorously and firmly
drawn with a true feeling for the beauty of line and _silhouette_, the
play of light and shade on the material of the simple twill will give
all the necessary variety. I invite my readers to make another
comparison: to go to the South Kensington Museum and study the
invaluable fragments of the stuffs of the thirteenth and fourteenth
centuries of Syrian and Sicilian manufacture, or the almost equally
beautiful webs of Persian design, which are later in date, but instinct
with the purest and best Eastern feeling; they may also note the
splendid stuffs produced mostly in Italy in the later Middle Ages, which
are unsurpassed for richness and _effect_ of design, and when they have
impressed their minds with the productions of this great historic
school, let them contrast with them the work of the vile Pompadour
period, passing by the early seventeenth century as a period of
transition into corruption. They will then (if, once more, they have
real artistic perception) see at once the difference between the results
of irrepressible imagination and love of beauty, on the one hand, and,
on the other, of restless and weary vacuity of mind, forced by the
exigencies of fashion to do something or other to the innocent surface
of the cloth in order to distinguish it in the market from other cloths;
between the handiwork of the free craftsman doing as he _pleased_ with
his work, and the drudgery of the "operative" set to his task by the
tradesman competing for the custom of a frivolous public, which had
forgotten that there was such a thing as art.

The next method of ornamenting cloth is by painting it or printing on it
with dyes. As to the painting of cloths with dyes by hand, which is no
doubt a very old and widely practised art, it has now quite disappeared
(modern society not being rich enough to pay the necessary price for
such work), and its place has now been taken by printing by block or
cylinder-machine. The remarks made on the design for mechanically woven
cloths apply pretty much to these printed stuffs: only, in the first
place, more play of delicate and pretty colour is possible, and more
variety of colour also; and in the second, much more use can be made of
hatching and dotting, which are obviously suitable to the method of
block-printing. In the many-coloured printed cloths, frank red and blue
are again the mainstays of the colour arrangement; these colours,
softened by the paler shades of red, outlined with black and made more
tender by the addition of yellow in small quantities, mostly forming
part of brightish greens, make up the colouring of the old Persian
prints, which carry the art as far as it can be carried.

It must be added that no textile ornament has suffered so much as
cloth-printing from those above-mentioned commercial inventions. A
hundred years ago the processes for printing on cloth differed little
from those used by the Indians and Persians; and even up to within forty
years ago they produced colours that were in themselves good enough,
however inartistically they might be used. Then came one of the most
wonderful and most useless of the inventions of modern Chemistry, that
of the dyes made from coal-tar, producing a series of hideous colours,
crude, livid - and cheap, - which every person of taste loathes, but which
nevertheless we can by no means get rid of until we are able to struggle
successfully against the doom of cheap and nasty which has overtaken
us.

Last of the methods of ornamenting cloth comes Embroidery: of the design
for which it must be said that one of its aims should be the exhibition
of beautiful material. Furthermore, it is not worth doing unless it is
either very copious and rich, or very delicate - or both. For such an art
nothing patchy or scrappy, or half-starved, should be done: there is no
excuse for doing anything which is not strikingly beautiful; and that
more especially as the exuberance of beauty of the work of the East and
of Mediæval Europe, and even of the time of the Renaissance, is at hand
to reproach us. It may be well here to warn those occupied in Embroidery
against the feeble imitations of Japanese art which are so disastrously
common amongst us. The Japanese are admirable naturalists, wonderfully
skilful draughtsmen, deft beyond all others in mere execution of
whatever they take in hand; and also great masters of style within
certain narrow limitations. But with all this, a Japanese design is
absolutely worthless unless it is executed with Japanese skill. In
truth, with all their brilliant qualities as handicraftsmen, which have
so dazzled us, the Japanese have no architectural, and therefore no
decorative, instinct. Their works of art are isolated and blankly
individualistic, and in consequence, unless where they rise, as they
sometimes do, to the dignity of a suggestion for a picture (always
devoid of human interest), they remain mere wonderful toys, things quite
outside the pale of the evolution of art, which, I repeat, cannot be
carried on without the architectural sense that connects it with the
history of mankind.

To conclude with some general remarks about designing for textiles: the
aim should be to combine clearness of form and firmness of structure
with the mystery which comes of abundance and richness of detail; and
this is easier of attainment in woven goods than in flat painted
decoration and paper-hangings; because in the former the stuffs usually
hang in folds and the pattern is broken more or less, while in the
latter it is spread out flat against the wall. Do not introduce any
lines or objects which cannot be explained by the structure of the
pattern; it is just this logical sequence of form, this growth which
looks as if, under the circumstances, it could not have been otherwise,
which prevents the eye wearying of the repetition of the pattern.

Never introduce any shading for the purpose of making an object look
round; whatever shading you use should be used for explanation only, to
show what you mean by such and such a piece of drawing; and even that
you had better be sparing of.

Do not be afraid of large patterns; if properly designed they are more
restful to the eye than small ones: on the whole, a pattern where the
structure is large and the details much broken up is the most useful.
Large patterns are not necessarily startling; this comes more of violent
relief of the figure from the ground, or inharmonious colouring:
beautiful and logical form relieved from the ground by well-managed
contrast or gradation, and lying flat on the ground, will never weary
the eye. Very small rooms, as well as very large ones, look best
ornamented with large patterns, whatever you do with the middling-sized
ones.

As final maxims: never forget the material you are working with, and
try always to use it for doing what it can do best: if you feel
yourself hampered by the material in which you are working, instead of
being helped by it, you have so far not learned your business, any more
than a would-be poet has, who complains of the hardship of writing in
measure and rhyme. The special limitations of the material should be a
pleasure to you, not a hindrance: a designer, therefore, should always
thoroughly understand the processes of the special manufacture he is
dealing with, or the result will be a mere _tour de force_. On the other
hand, it is the pleasure in understanding the capabilities of a special
material, and using them for suggesting (not imitating) natural beauty
and incident, that gives the _raison d'être_ of decorative art.

WILLIAM MORRIS.




OF DECORATIVE PAINTING AND DESIGN


The term Decorative painting implies the existence of painting which is
not decorative: a strange state of things for an art which primarily and
pre-eminently appeals to the eye. If we look back to the times when the
arts and crafts were in their most flourishing and vigorous condition,
and dwelt together, like brethren, in unity - say to the fifteenth
century - such a distinction did not exist. Painting only differed in its
application, and in degree, not in kind. In the painting of a MS., of
the panels of a coffer, of a ceiling, a wall, or an altar-piece, the
painter was alike - however different his theme and conception - possessed
with a paramount impulse to decorate, to make the space or surface he
dealt with as lovely to the eye in design and colour as he had skill to
do.

The art of painting has, however, become considerably differentiated
since those days. We are here in the nineteenth century encumbered with
many distinctions in the art. There is obviously much painting which is
not decorative, or ornamental in any sense, which has indeed quite other
objects. It may be the presentment of the more superficial natural
facts, phases, or accidents of light; the pictorial dramatising of life
or past history; the pointing of a moral; or the embodiment of romance
and poetic thought or symbol. Not but what it is quite possible for a
painter to deal with such things and yet to produce a work that shall be
decorative.

A picture, of course, may be a piece of decorative art of the most
beautiful kind; but to begin with, if it is an easel picture, it is not
necessarily related to anything but itself: its painter is not bound to
consider anything outside its own dimensions; and, indeed, the practice
of holding large and mixed picture-shows has taught him the uselessness
of so doing.

Then, too, the demand for literal presentment of the superficial facts
or phases of nature often removes the painter and his picture still
farther from the architectural, decorative, and constructive artist and
the handicraftsman, who are bound to think of plan, and design, and
materials - of the adaptation of their work, in short - while the painter
seeks only to be an unbiassed recorder of all accidents and sensational
conditions of nature and life, - and so we get our illustrated newspapers
on a grand scale.

An illustrated newspaper, however, in spite of the skill and enterprise
it may absorb, is not somehow a joy for ever; and, after all, if
literalism and instantaneous appearances are the only things worth
striving for in painting, the photograph beats any painter at that.

If truth is the object of the modern painter of pictures - truth as
distinct from or opposed to beauty - beauty is certainly the object of
the decorative painter, but beauty not necessarily severed from truth.
Without beauty, however, decoration has no reason for existence; indeed
it can hardly be said to exist.

Next to beauty, the first essential of a decoration is that it shall be
related to its environment, that it shall express or acknowledge the
conditions under which it exists. If a fresco on a wall, for instance,
it adorns the wall without attempting to look like a hole cut in it
through which something is accidentally seen; if a painting on a vase,
it acknowledges the convexity of the shape, and helps to express instead
of contradicting it; if on a panel in a cabinet or door, it spreads
itself in an appropriate filling on an organic plan to cover it; being,
in short, ornamental by its very nature, its first business is to
ornament.

There exist, therefore, certain definite tests for the work of the
decorative artist. Does the design fit its place and material? Is it in
scale with its surroundings and in harmony with itself? Is it fair and
lovely in colour? Has it beauty and invention? Has it thought and poetic
feeling? These are the demands a decorator has to answer, and by his
answer he must stand or fall; but such questions show that the scope of
decoration is no mean one.

It must be acknowledged that a mixed exhibition does not easily afford
the fairest or completest tests of such qualities. An exhibition is at
best a compromise, a convenience, a means of comparison, and to enable
work to be shown to the public; but of course is, after all, only really
and properly exhibited when it is in the place and position and light
for which it was destined. The tests by which to judge a designer's work
are only complete then.

As the stem and branches to the leaves, flowers, and fruit of a tree, so
is design to painting. In decoration one cannot exist without the other,
as the beauty of a figure depends upon the well-built and
well-proportioned skeleton and its mechanism. You cannot separate a
house from its plan and foundations. So it is in decoration; often
thought of lightly as something trivial and superficial, a merely
aimless combination of curves and colours, or a mere _réchauffé_ of the
dead languages of art, but really demanding the best thought and
capacity of a man; and in the range of its application it is not less
comprehensive.

The mural painter is not only a painter, but a poet, historian,
dramatist, philosopher. What should we know, how much should we realise,
of the ancient world and its life without him, and his brother the
architectural sculptor? How would ancient Egypt live without her wall
paintings - or Rome, or Pompeii, or Mediæval Italy? How much of beauty as
well as of history is contained in the illuminated pages of the books of
the Middle Ages!

Some modern essays in mural painting show that the habit of mind and
method of work fostered by the production of trifles for the picture
market is not favourable to monumental painting. Neither the mood nor
the skill, indeed, can be grown like a mushroom; such works as the
Sistine Chapel, the Stanzi of Raphael, or the Apartimenti Borgia, are
the result of long practice through many centuries, and intimate
relationship and harmony in the arts, as well as a certain unity of
public sentiment.

The true soil for the growth of the painter in this higher sense is a
rich and varied external life: familiarity from early youth with the
uses of materials and methods, and the hand facility which comes of
close and constant acquaintanceship with the tools of the artist, who
sums up and includes in himself other crafts, such as modelling,
carving, and the hammering of metal, architectural design, and a
knowledge of all the ways man has used to beautify and deck the
surroundings and accessories of life to satisfy his delight in beauty.

We know that painting was strictly an applied art in its earlier
history, and all through the Middle Ages painters were in close alliance
with the other crafts of design, and their work in one craft no doubt
reacted on and influenced that in another, while each was kept distinct.
At all events, painters like Albert Dürer and Holbein were also masters
of design in all ways.

Through the various arts and crafts of the Greek, Mediæval, or Early
Renaissance periods, there is evident, from the examples which have come
down to us, a certain unity and common character in design, asserting
itself through all diverse individualities: each art is kept distinct,
with a complete recognition of the capacity and advantages of its own
particular method and purpose.

In our age, for various reasons (social, commercial, economic), the
specialised and purely pictorial painter is dominant. His aims and
methods influence other arts and crafts, but by no means advantageously
as a rule; since, unchecked by judicious ideas of design, attempts are
made in unsuitable materials to produce so-called realistic force, and
superficial and accidental appearances dependent on peculiar qualities
of lighting and atmosphere, quite out of place in any other method than
painting, or in any place but an easel picture.

From such tendencies, such influences as these, in the matter of applied
art and design, we are striving to recover. One of the first results
is, perhaps, this apparently artificial distinction between decorative
and other painting. But along with this we have painters whose easel
pictures are in feeling and treatment quite adaptable as wall and panel
decorations, and they are painters who, as a rule, have studied other
methods in art, and drawn their inspiration from the mode of Mediæval or
Early Renaissance times.


2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryVariousArts and Crafts Essays → online text (page 2 of 16)