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.
In the second, transformation has not taken place to the same extent, which may, perhaps, be more or less accounted for by the consideration of those economic questions before spoken of, in so far as they apply to the workman.
As a rule the workman has been specialized for a particular branch of work, or a particular subdivision of a branch of workmanship; he seldom can acquire an all-round knowledge of a craft, and is seldom able to take a complete or artistic view of his work, as a whole, as he never produces a complete whole under the conditions of the modern workshop or factory.
Then, too, English workmen have been trained to look upon mechanical perfection and mechanical finish as the ideal, and it is impossible to set up a different ideal in a short time.
It must be remembered, also, that, as a class, the modern workman is engaged in a great economic struggle - an industrial war, quite as real, and often as terrible in its results as a military one - to raise his standard of life, or even to maintain it amid the fluctuations of trade, and, as a rule, he is not in a position to cultivate his taste in art.
Let us hope that the new schools of design under the Technical Education Board will have their effect, as they undoubtedly offer new and better practical opportunities to young craftsmen than have been available before.
Such schools as the Central School of Arts and Crafts, under the London County Council, may be regarded as a direct outcome of the movement, and it is a remarkable fact that its teachers are composed principally of members of our society and committee, to whom the organization of the classes was due.
Besides, if the artist has learned of the craftsman, there must be a good deal of education going on quietly in the studios and workshops of those aforesaid artist-craftsmen, wherein the craftsman learns in his turn of the artist, and here again must spring good results.
Sound traditions of design and workmanship should be of enormous help in starting students on safe paths, and preventing that painful process of unlearning from which so many earnest students and artists have suffered in our days. Such traditions, however, should never be allowed to crystallize or hinder new thought and freedom of invention within the limits of the material in which the designer works, for living art exhibits a constant growth and evolution; and though in some cases the process of evolution in an artistic life may appear to take rather the form of degeneration, the important thing is to preserve life with its principle of growth, without losing balance, and above all, sense of fitness and beauty.
If beauty and utility are our guides in all design and handicraft, we can hardly go wrong. If our design is organic both in itself and in its incorporation with constructive necessity - if it, springing out of that necessity, expresses the joy of the artist, and is truly the crown of the work, making the dumb material vocal with expressive line and form, or colour, it must at least be a thing having life, character, sincerity, and these are important elements in the expression of new beauty.
Along with the formation of discussion clubs and societies of designers and craftsmen, the tendency to form Guilds of Handicraft, whether they are a new form of commercial enterprise, or consist, as they frequently do, in the first place, of a group of artists and craftsmen in genuine sympathy working together with assistants, must be noted as another sign of the influence of the movement; as also the influence of certain types of design upon ordinary trade production.
It is even asserted that - I quote from a trade journal on a recent Arts and Crafts exhibition - "the arts and crafts movement has been the best influence upon machine industry during the past ten years" - that "while we have sought to develop handicrafts beside it on sound and independent lines, we have succeeded in imparting something of the spirit of craftsmanship to the best kind of machine-work bridging over the former gulf between machinery and tools, and quickening machine-industry with a new sense of the artistic possibilities that lie within its own proper sphere."
Let us hope so, indeed.
Certainly we cannot hope that the world, just yet, will beat its swords into ploughshares, or its spears into pruning-hooks, still less that it will return to local industry and handicraft for all the wants of life, or look solely to the independent artist and craftsman to make its house beautiful. The organized factory and the great machine industries will continue to work for the million, as well as for the millionaire, under the present system of production; but, at any rate, they can be influenced by ideas of design, and it must be said that some manufacturers have shown themselves fully alive to the value of the co-operation of artists in this direction. Those who desire and can command the personal work of artists in design and handicraft are now able to enlist it, and this demand is likely to increase, and therefore industrial groups or guilds of this kind may increase.
If such groups of workers, or workers in the different handicrafts could by combination in some way still further counteract or control purely commercial production, by raising certain standards of workmanship and taste, and in the special branches of handicraft look after the artistic interests of their members generally, their power and influence might be much extended, especially if such guilds could be in some sort of friendly relation, so that they could on occasion act together, combining their forces and resources, for instance, for special exhibitions, or representations, such as masques and pageants, of the kind recently presented by the Art Workers' Guild at the Guildhall of the City of London.
Such shows, uniting as they do all kinds of design and craftsmanship in the embodiment of a leading idea, are a form of artistic expression which may be regarded as the latest outcome of the movement, and may have a future before it.
I think that by such means, at all events, artistic life would be greatly stimulated, and artistic aims and ideals better understood - especially in their relation to social life.
And, surely, art has a great social function, even though it may have no conscious aim but its own perfecting.
Even in its most individual form it is a product of the community - of its age, and it is always impossible to say how many remote and mixed elements are combined to form that complex organism - an artistic temperament.
Every age looks eagerly in the glass which art and craftsmanship hold up, even if it is only to find itself reflected there. But it not only seeks reflection, it seeks expression - the expression of its thought and fancy, as well as its sense of beauty, and the successful artist is he who satisfies this search.
It seems, too, that every age, probably even each generation, has a different ideal of beauty, or that, perceiving a different side of beauty, each successively ever seeks some new form for its expression. This is the movement of growth and life, the sap of the new idea rising in the spring-time of youth through the parent stem, bursting into new branches and putting forth leaves; the green herb springing from the dead leaves - the new ever striving with the old.
It is always possible for a society to narrow down, or to widen. It may consider its true work lies in the exposition chiefly of the work of one school, and would be perfectly justified in so thinking, so long as that school maintained its vitality and power of growth.
On the other hand, it might determine to have no prejudices on the subject of school or style, but welcome all good work after its kind.
Such points are largely controlled by considerations of available space and determination of scope, and are usually settled by the effective strength of the view which has the majority. There might even be something to be said, given unlimited space, and security against financial loss, for placing every work sent in to such exhibitions, but keeping the selected work in a distinct section.
"Here," we might say, "is the material we had to deal with, and here is our selection, and so make the exhibition an open court of appeal. These are questions for the future. We have, as a society, even in our comparatively short life, lived long enough to see great gaps in the ranks of English design. Great names, great leaders have passed from the roll of our membership, but not their memory, or the effect and value of their work.
We are left to carry on the twin-lamp of Design and Handicraft as best we may. If we bear that lamp with steady hands, fully alive to the necessity of continual life and freedom of movement in art, while conscious of the value of preserving certain historic traditions, founded upon real artistic experiences, and the necessities of material and use, we may yet, I hope, be of service in our exhibition and other work, if we succeed in comprehending within our membership the best elements of both new and old, in maintaining the highest standard of taste and workmanship, and in placing, so far as we are able, the best after its kind, in our honest opinion, before the public.