The Arts & Crafts movement primarily derived from a reaction against the mass production of products that had begun during the Industrial Revolution. In Britain, working class labourers had to endure long hours for minimal pay in huge factories, which in turn had an adverse impact on their worth and value, as well as a damaging impact on the environment. The Arts & Crafts era sought to recall the skills and ingenuity of traditional, hand-crafted goods and products that were artistic and of a high quality. In 1851, London hosted the first world fair ‘The Great Exhibition’ which suffered criticism due to the presence of manufactured, mass-produced pieces.
Arts & Crafts was inspired by the socialist principles and ideas of individuals like John Ruskin and Karl Marx. They believed that the mass-produced, machine-made products were of a poor quality and most importantly they had dehumanising consequences on our population and labourers. The factory methods of ‘division of labour’ effectively eradicated the relationship between an artist and his work, disconnecting the creative process as a whole. William Morris was one of the central figures during this design movement. He opened a design firm called Morris and Co. in 1861 and recruited artists that fixated on nostalgic methods of craft, designing high-quality pieces (furniture, ceramics and textiles). Disenchanted with the social and environmental outcomes of the factory-based systems, Morris encouraged a homecoming to the well-crafted and creatively independent design world. He wanted the decorative arts to help improve the lives of ordinary people.
“If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” William Morris
A concentration on the ethos and excellence of design practise was vital within the Arts & Crafts movement, as the significance of originality and the gratification that a craftsperson obtained from work was imperative. Authentic and meaningful design as one individual is responsible for the construction and handiwork of an item. The Arts & Crafts style was modest and minimal with less excess and an awareness on the functionality of design. Simpler patterns and attention on ‘nature’ motifs (flowers, vines, leaves, animals, insects and birds). Straight lines, rounded forms and earthy colour tones formed a composed and unassuming purpose to interiors.
The decorative arts were no longer principally for the upper-class, Morris wanted to ensure his objects were accessible to everyone for everyday life (however this was not practical as pieces were often too expensive for the working class to afford). Workshops in rural areas were given free rein to produce what they wish, hand-crafted furniture indicative of the traditions of the British countryside. Interiors were inspired by nature as well as medieval art, unpretentious figures with minimal ornament and a spotlight on the splendour of natural materials.