The Arts and Crafts Movement was one of the most influential, profound and far-reaching design movements of modern times. It began in Britain around 1880 and quickly spread across America and Europe before emerging finally as the Mingei (Folk Crafts) movement in Japan.
It was a movement born of ideals. It grew out of a concern for the effects of industrialisation: on design, on traditional skills and on the lives of ordinary people. In response, it established a new set of principles for living and working. It advocated the reform of art at every level and across a broad social spectrum, and it turned the home into a work of art.
The Movement took its name from the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, founded in 1887, but it encompassed a very wide range of like-minded societies, workshops and manufacturers. Other countries adapted Arts and Crafts philosophies according to their own needs. While the work may be visually very different, it is united by the ideals that lie behind it.
This was a movement unlike any that had gone before. Its pioneering spirit of reform, and the value it placed on the quality of materials and design, as well as life, shaped the world we live in today.
The origins of the Movement
In Britain the disastrous effects of industrial manufacture and unregulated trade had been recognised since about 1840, but it was not until the 1860s and 1870s that architects, designers and artists began to pioneer new approaches to design and the decorative arts. These, in turn, led to the foundation of the Arts and Crafts Movement.
The two most influential figures were the theorist and critic John Ruskin and the designer, writer and activist William Morris. Ruskin examined the relationship between art, society and labour. Morris put Ruskin's philosophies into practice, placing great value on work, the joy of craftsmanship and the natural beauty of materials.
By the 1880s Morris had become an internationally renowned and commercially successful designer and manufacturer. New guilds and societies began to take up his ideas, presenting for the first time a unified approach among architects, painters, sculptors and designers. In doing so, they brought Arts and Crafts ideals to a wider public.