Arts & Craft Movement

I’ve been questioning myself striving to be part of the art world: an intellectual realm that makes me insecure and that I believe shuts out too many and and can serve the patriarchy (Sontag).

So I started seeing alternatives to institutionalised art and thought of graffiti and craft. I thought of beauty and design. I like decorative and accessible art. Maybe it relates to the ideas of making art “that can be understood on a primary level” like Erwin Wurm. What is universally attractive visually? Natural beauty? Flowers, natural patterns…

This lead me to read about the Arts & Craft Movement, its British front man William Morris, his heritage and following across the Europe.

The Arts & Craft Movement different followers all rejected the idea that art develops. They claimed great art is timeless, universal and eternal. (Harrod)

“The specialised definition and perception of art as objects conceived and created exclusively for aesthetic contemplation is a relatively recent cultural creation, one largely defined by Europe and United States”.

To define craft as something which main purpose is function might be to elevate “art” rather than the right definition of craft.

All art and craft has a “use” be it physical or cultural – signifying a political, economical (etc) orientation.

A more productive approach might view all objects as manifestations of a complex matrix of cultural interchange – as bearers of meaning that reflect the time, place and culture of their creation.

(Burgard, Bearers of Maaning)

So there’s one notion that great art is timeless and one that art and craft is connected by time…

The Arts & Craft Movement connection to Modernism, shared inspirations: “The Bases of Design” by Walter Crane (1898) and “Art” by Clive Bell (1914).

An admiration for the abstract form and structure, a distrust of the illusionism of the art of the High Renaissance, a delight in the spontaneity that flows from a fusion of design and facture processes. (…) Appreciation focused on simplicity, earliness and primitivism that surfaces periodically in the history of art.


Are we in one of those times and places where we appreciate the “primitive” and “authentic”? The Hipster movement is really about authenticity. What is labeled as luxury becomes more “simple”. 

In the 1930’s the world changed so that individual effort, spontaneity and primitivism wasn’t as attractive anymore. People’s social security was decreasing and writers like Herbert Read changed his opinions on creative craft practice to promote an industrialised manufacturing of artefacts. Inspired by USSR and Walter Gropius from Bauhaus he thought that planning and communal effort should extend to the arts and started arguing for a new sort of aesthetic that was of no less value than the handicraft but that should not try to imitate it either. (page 15)



Paradise Postponed: William Morris in the 20th century”, Tanya Harrod (published in “William Morris Revisited: Questioning the Legacy”)

“The Art of Craft: Contemporary works from the Saxe collection”, Timothy Anglin Burgard, 1999


When does art becomes design?

Is there a way out of the cube and in to the homes, onto the bodies? Can art be craft in a contemporary setting. And can it be produced in an industry?

Quick quotes/links:

“The Arts and Crafts Movement began in Britain around 1880 and quickly spread to America, Europe and Japan. Inspired by the ideas of John Ruskin and William Morris, it advocated a revival of traditional handicrafts, a return to a simpler way of life and an improvement in the design of ordinary domestic objects.”


“William Morris and the British Arts and Crafts Movement directly influenced the Swedish painter and interior designer, Carl Larsson (1853-1919).  He, in following Morris (he was 20 years Morris’ junior), created an artistic house.  Larsson and his wife, Karin, filled their home with their artistic touches.  Where previously only the “fine arts,” painting and sculpture, would have been used to decorate a house, they painted and decorated walls, furniture and textiles.”

“Josef Frank would have been familiar with Larsson and Morris’ work.  And as a last generation of the Arts and Crafts Movement, he held on to the love of brightly colored, stylized natural motifs(…)”




©Nina Kihlborg



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