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.
Yet, if a workman is worthy of his hire, the good craftsman is surely worthy of due personal credit for his skill, and if superior skill has a tendency to increase in market value, we need not be surprised, either as employers or private artists, seeing that in either case we should consider it fair to avail ourselves of such increase.
I think the question must be honestly faced. As it is, owing to accidents, intentional omissions, or inadvertencies, our cataloguing in this respect has not been so complete as one could wish, and we are necessarily dependent in respect to these particulars upon our exhibitors.
Our exhibition for the first three years was annual. With the election of William Morris as President a change of policy came in, and it was considered advisable to limit ourselves to triennial exhibitions. This was partly because the organization of a yearly exhibition put a considerable strain and responsibility upon a voluntary executive, and consumed a considerable amount of the thought and time of working artists; partly also from the consideration that more interesting shows would result if held after a three years' interval, giving time for the production of important work. It must be said, however, that artistic production of constructive and decorative work was then in fewer hands, and it was impossible to foresee the increase of activity in the arts and crafts, or the steady support of an interested, if comparatively limited, public which we have enjoyed.
Looking back at the general character of our exhibitions, it is interesting to note certain lines of evolution in the development of design and the persistence of certain types of design. Now even in the work of a single artist, the character of his design is seen to undergo many changes in the course of his career, as he comes under various different influences. Some are more, some are less variable, but a man's youthful work differs considerably from his mature work, as his later work will again differ from his mature work. While there is life there must be movement, growth, and change, let us tie ourselves down as narrowly as we will. But even apart from this, the process of evolution may be seen and felt in the conception and construction of a design before it finally leaves our hands. We get the germ of an idea, and in adapting it to its material and purpose it is necessarily modified. Even in the character and quality of its line and mass it is added to or taken away from in obedience to our sense of what is fit and harmonious.
If, then, this process takes place with the individual, how much more with many individuals developing either on one line or many? How much more shall we discern this trend of evolution in the sum and mass of work after the passage of years?
To the superficial observer the work of a group of men more or less in sympathy in general aim is apt to be labelled all alike, whereas among that very group we may discern tendencies and sympathies in reality most diverse.
Now it seems as regards general tendencies in design in our movement that, after a period of a rich and luxuriant development of ornament, a certain reaction has taken place in favour of simplicity and reserve. It is probably a perfectly natural desire for repose after a period of excitement. And even where pattern is used the character of the form is much more restricted and formal as a rule. There is a tendency to build upon rectangular or vertical lines and to allow larger intermediary spaces.
The same desire for severity and simplicity in a more marked degree is to be observed in furniture design and construction. In fact, throughout all the recent work in the larger kinds of decoration and craftsmanship, this aim at simplicity and severity of line and general treatment is pronounced. This probably reflects the same feeling observable in recent domestic architecture, wherein a search for proportion and style, with simplicity of line and mass seem to influence the designer, and an appropriate use of materials rather than ornamental detail. But in one direction richness and artistic fancy seems to have found a new field, and it is a province which in our earlier exhibitions had hardly any representation at all, I mean jewellery and gold and silversmith's work and the art of enamelling, which show an extraordinary development, and may be claimed as a distinct and direct result of the new artistic impulse in the handicrafts. In these arts there is obviously very great scope for individuality of treatment, for invention, for fancy, and taste.
It was in the year 1887 that, at the invitation of Mr. Armstrong (the then Director for Art at the Science and Art Department) a French artist-craftsman (the late M. Louis Dalpeyrat of Limoges1) gave a series of demonstrations in enamelling at the South Kensington schools. Among the band of interested students was Mr. Alexander Fisher, who took up the work seriously; his accomplishment is so well known and so many workers in enamelling owe their first instruction to him that he has been called the father of the recent English revival in this beautiful craft.
I ventured to say on some occasion in the early days of our movement that "We must turn our artists into craftsmen, and our craftsmen into artists."
Well, certainly the first part of the sentence has been fulfilled in a remarkable way, since the movement is chiefly notable for the number of artists who have become craftsmen in a variety of different materials.
1 I am indebted to Mr. Armstrong for some interesting particulars as to this. It appears that M. Louis Dalpeyrat was employed to make copies of some of the pieces of enamel in the South Kensington Museum, which he did very skilfully, and these copies were used for circulation among provincial museums and schools of art. Mr. Armstrong obtained sanction for M. Dalpeyrat to give a series of demonstrations in enamelling to a class of twelve students from the National Art Training School (now the Royal College of Art), and these were given in the metallurgical laboratory in the College of Science, where the plaques were fired, Prof. Roberts Austen having given permission. There was no grant at that time for technical instruction.