The Art and Crafts movement is generally agreed to have started in 1860 with the work of William Morris in England where it expanded throughout Britain and into North America and Europe enjoying a long eminence as a movement until 1930.
The lifespan of the movement persisted for such a period because it a genuine reaction to a change and persisting deficiency in culture. The idea of craft, which was viewed by some as a revival of medieval guilds and the notion of the artisan, was developed very much in parallel to the recent industrialisation of means of production. Some understood craft as an overwhelming cultural force where design and its resultant environment are directly responsible for the harmony of its inhabitants. Importantly much of the movement centres around culture and the changing relationship between man and his work.
Morris a revivalist preoccupied with socialism, viewed craft as ennobling the people. Industrial culture was viewed as a subjugation of the people to the design and aesthetic to industrial methods. The craftsman would have the requisite skills to build a piece, whether a table, wallpaper, printing or a house from beginning to end. Subsequent craft societies that sprung up over the world appear to be centred around the independence of the craftsman and the emancipation from the industrial method where labour is divided according to process. This is consistent with socialist literature where the worker loses connection to his product. He is a contributor rather than a creator.
The dichotomy between man and machine is very much at the heart of the movement whereas initially it was a reaction against industrialisation later on many recognized the utility of industry for the purposes of craft.
In terms of design the movement although renowned for its ornamentation gives precedence to function while ornamentation is secondary. It rejected the excessive decoration of industrial products, the compromising of an objects function, the removal of man from his product and manufacturing’s claim to originality.
The above movements represent various forms of avant garde dissatisfaction with the status quo, the need for cultural change and an emphasis on the future rather than the past. The movements are deeply intertwined and only differ in respects such as the coinage of a name originating from a particular country, an aesthetic style, or slight philosophical differences between the groups. As the movements encompass a broad range of ideas and arts within the period there are as many contradictions as there are similarities.
Dada was an aggressive rejection of the past and preoccupied with destroying the status quo in a time of moral, spiritual, economic and political turmoil presumably to make way for a healthier culture to flourish in its absence. It originated in Switzerland and was primarily a philosophical and ideological movement that was represented in the arts. Over time as european artists moved overseas Dada soon broke its continental levees and was synthesised into various international art groups. Famous examples include Duchamp’s readymade urinal and Schwitter’s poems and collage.
Expressionism is an academic term used primarily for grouping painting from this period but can be expanded to include any medium within the arts that champions free expression. The expressionist whether in film, painting or poetry was concerned with expressing himself and rather than being confined to traditional objective methods of expression. An expressionist’s work is subjective. Members from the other groups could be said to be expressionist or use expressionist methods .
Constructivism originated in Russia and like Dada was an active rejection of the past. Particular to Russia, having recently reintroduced a limited capitalist policy, this included promoting capitalism through new forms of graphic and commercial art. This movement while ideologically runs parallel and was associated with other continental groups was largely preoccupied with issues of national politics.
Futurism came from Italy and was associated with its leader Filippo Marinetti. The movement spread all over Europe and it manifestations in painting, design and architecture became indistinguishable from Dada, Constructivism and Expressionism. Futurism could be said to represent a more positive emphasis of the future rather than an aggressive rejection of the past in the case of Dada.
Art Deco is the aesthetic synthesis of the above ideas primarily into architecture and design while some artists have been said to be described as Art Deco. Art Deco survived well into the sixties. The idea evolved into the modern idea of functionality.
The United States Postal Service was interested in the Cradle to Cradle philosophy and a movement towards more sustainable business practice. This first stage of the ongoing effort was completed in September 2010. Areas of the USPS business that CBDC looked at include alternative fuels for transportation, greener production facilities, recycling or ‘upcycling’ processes for waste but the predominate focus was on the USPS range of envelopes and packages.
2 years of design research and work on the USPS product range where MBDC established 350 component materials which a further comprise 1800 individual ingredients. An important aspect of the MBDC approach is the recognition that a business is an economical and financial unit and much of its work is the practical integration of sustainable design into the business.
For UPS to achieve the certification on its product range involved working with 20 primary and 250 additional suppliers across the world in assessing and changing the materials that make up the product. Today there are 700 million certified envelopes and packages produced annually. USPS as a business and MBDC as consultants recognize the significanceof an ongoing process and a long term approach. A corporation can’t change its process overnight and would never undertake environmental practice if it were uneconomical. USPS currently has a sustainability department with key areas of focus and an implementation strategy that was developed with and will continue to work on with MBDC. http://www.mbdc.com
Adbusters Media Foundation is a Canadian based alternative media group centred around a monthly magazine devoted to socio cultural change and awareness. It describes itself as a ‘CultureJammer’. It doesn’t feature advertisements and relies solely on sales.
The magazine has a strong visual emphasis on design, photography and art. A large part of this visual content is devoted to culture jamming where an internal contradiction of contemporary culture is made visible for example by subvertising. It also features articles and short passages from writers both published and unpublished. Public submissions of art and text are welcomed.
The group has no definitive political stance but does feature recurring ideas and positions. Among these are an opposition to corporate power, consumer lifestyle, commercial saturation, digital saturation, environmental neglect and globalisation to name a few. Because of its ambiguous position which is decidedly left some have hypothesized that it is an anarchist publication. The non-adoption of a specific position gives it a broader audience where the public can pick and choose ideas with which they agree. Importantly the magazine is an alternative to corporate industrial media. Rather than being consumers the readership become active participants in organised and underground methods of subversion.
Some of the Adbusters campaigns include ‘Buy Nothing Day’, ‘Blackspot’ an experiment in independent, ethical capitalism, ‘Kick it Over’ a guerrilla protest against economic rationalism, ‘Media Carta’ an organised retaliation against the corporatisation of the Huffington Post and ‘Digital Detox Week’.
A Germanic school of Arts, Bauhaus operated between the first and second World War (1919-1933) at three locations, Weimar, Dessau and Berlin and was a continental focal point for emerging modern ideas.
The New Craft
As a school Bauhaus, and its directors Hannes Meyer, Walter Gropius and Mies van Der Rohe, although in disagreement in many ways stood for certain ideals that would later be adopted by the global practice of Modernism. Consisting of Fine Art, Performance, Architecture and Industrial Design it was held that there should be no arbitrary distinctions within the arts with the purpose of creating a ‘total’ craft that would synthesize elements from all disciplines. Despite this departmental egalitarianism, Bauhaus, literally ‘house of construction’ historically is regarded for its contribution to design and architecture.
Central to Bauhaus is its incorporation of new technology, a rapidly evolving industrialism and mass production. Rather than reject industrial culture Bauhaus embraced it as a means to provide the people with meaningful design. The contraction between what Bauhaus interpreted as a new means of high craft and mass industrial production was an optimistic and innovative approach to an emerging culture of capital and consumerism.
It has been said that the school’s direction and bold emphasis on ideologically informed design, aesthetics and high quality craft was in some ways due to Germany’s lack of raw material in relation to the growing power of America.
After the freedom of the subjective method employed by expressionist artists Bauhaus sought to objectify visual communication in line with mass industrial culture, particularly in graphic design. The Bauhaus style is exemplified by strong grids and limited palettes. Expressionists such as Klee, Kandinsky and many others did however teach at the school. In its design output there are elements of Expressionism integrated within its household items and reduced to an industrial minimalism. In many ways toward the end of its life Bauhaus rejected aesthetics in view of functionality.
Political Friction and Closure
The school through its life encountered many political obstacles and compromises before being closed by the national socialist party shortly before Germany’s invasion of Poland. The idea that there should be no class barrier between the artist, the craftsman and the industrial state architect was often met with communist based criticism from the conservative government. The aesthetics of Bauhaus design were interpreted as anti-German and cosmopolitan despite the directors’ assurances that Bauhaus design was apolitically motivated.