This section is from the book "Ideals In Art: Papers Theoretical Practical Critical", by Walter Crane . Also available from Amazon: Ideals in Art: Papers Theoretical, Practical, Critical.
But let us look at the ladies.
Here at all events appears to be a field for the cultivation and display of taste and beauty for the sake of beauty and taste alone. Mere convenience and utility in a lady's evening dress does not appear to be consulted at all. It often loses much of its primal covering capacity, and takes the form of a floral dressing to set off the head and bust and arms of the fair wearer. Most delicate materials and colours are used - white samite, mystic, wonderful; trailing clouds of glory in tulle and gauze; Eastern embroidery, and Chinese and Indian silks, gold, coral, pearl, diamonds and precious stones, and flowers both real and (alas!) artificial, are some of the materials which contribute to the modern lady's evening toilette.
In the choice and use of these beautiful materials there is evidently abundant room for the exercise of the nicest judgement and the most refined and delicate individual taste. There can be no doubt, too, that these qualities are often met with, and that they are invariably found with a love and considerable knowledge of art. I do not say that a knowledge of art alone will enable people to dress tastefully. That is not always the case. The power of expression of taste or individuality in dress is no doubt like other gifts of expression, innate.
But a study of art, the training of the eye to appreciate the delicacies of beautiful line and quality of colour, and beauty of design in pattern, even without: much executive power, must act upon the selective capacity generally. I think there is no doubt that we do see the signs of artistic culture, over and above natural distinction of choice, more frequently in the dress of refined and cultured women in our days than at any former period, perhaps, since the first half of the sixteenth century. There is more variety, more individuality, signs of that increasing independence of thought and action which distinguish our countrywomen.
The immense range of choice, both in simple and costly materials in women's dress, may be put down to increased commercial activity and the modern command of the markets of the world, no doubt. The taste and discrimination which selects and combines them in an artistic dress, is, to begin with, instinctive, but is largely aided and guided by conscious cultivation and the study of art and the works of artists, I think.
We may, indeed, detect certain distinct influences in certain leading types of women's dress, even in that comparatively narrow region left to individual choice by the dictates of fashion or the milliner, dressmaker, and draper, and comparatively few feel themselves at liberty to move much beyond this.
If then our dictators, for the mass, must at present be sought principally in these professional or trade directions we are thrown back again upon the quality and effectiveness of our artistic and technical education.
The great municipalities are busy spending large sums upon technical institutes, where the artistic lamb is expected to lie down with the manufacturing and commercial lion, where science and art are to become inseparable, if not undistinguishable, and inventive design is expected to keep pace with the labour or wage-saving ingenuities, and mechanical economics forced upon the manufacturer by competition. Among other things millinery and dressmaking will be taught, so that one may suppose the technical school will have a direct bearing upon taste in dress.
The same difficulty arises here as in the case of art-school teaching. You may lead a horse to the water but you cannot make him drink. Rather, perhaps, we are providing patent buckets before securing a water supply. What I mean is that, ultimately, in all the arts, in all matters of taste and beauty we must go back to life and nature. Beauty is inseparably associated with love, and cannot be produced without it: and unless the conditions of ordinary life admit of beauty we must not expect the reproduction of beautiful things. We cannot expect that science, or mechanical principles, or commercial demand will enable us to produce it in any direction to order. We cannot expect to get beauty at any price, if while arranging an elaborate system of art education on the one hand we allow ourselves to destroy its sources in nature, in the beauty of our own land, by ruthless destruction or vulgarization now too common. Beauty and taste can only spring out of the conditions or the materials which go to the making of a harmonious life. They must have opportunities of germinating and growing up in minds with leisure to think, with capacity to feel, with freedom and opportunity to select, with materials and margin for experiment, and above all with a centralizing social ideal - a keynote of love hope or faith.
Let us ask ourselves how far we are, individually or collectively, from the attainment of such conditions.