I have always been fascinated by how art and society evolve. When you look at the art of an era, it usually has some influence from the climate of the society at the time. Artists tend to respond to society by their artistic expression. Over time, that expression becomes a movement. I was just looking at the arts and crafts movement in the Victorian era. One can see how that movement evolved when you look at what went through their society at the time.
The Victorian era is the latter half of the 19th century. The arts and crafts movement had its roots in England. It later spread to America when their designers adopted it. In the United States, the arts and crafts style is also known as the mission style.
Mass Production and Its Effects
A direct response to what the Victorian era represented, many items were starting to be mass-produced in factories. Individuality has gone out the window.
1. One design for all
A generic design would be the template of thousands of others exactly like it. This was a time when manufactured goods became popular with costumers because they were able to get things cheaper than custom-designed items.
2. Poor quality
The problem with mass produced items was their poor quality. No one paid any attention to details of the finished products. The design was little to be desired, since it was generic with no character.
3. Poor factory conditions
Mass manufacturing also led to poor factory conditions for its workers. They were paid below standard wages for very long hours of work. Daily, a typical factory worker repeatedly performs his work, no longer taking pride in what he was doing.
The Arts and Crafts Movement
As opposed to mass production, the arts and crafts movement came about as a response. Designers felt that good design represents good society. People who design should take pride in their skill and craftsmanship.
A group of designers started the movement of refocusing on the skills of individual craftsmen. The worker can reproduce a beautiful piece of work that was finely crafted, instead of mass producing one part in a factory. The focus of the design was to serve the people, as well as the designer.
More than just a decoration, the pieces must be highly functional and practical. Hoping that consumers will once again appreciate beauty in their home décor, they demanded high quality pieces instead of unattractive mass-produced ones.
The arts and craft style is typified by clean lines and angles. There may be motifs as enhancements. In England unfortunately, their refocus was on beautiful designs which took away the affordability of the pieces. Only the wealthy were able to afford the prices. The average consumer could no longer cope up. This art form designed for the people, ended up only for the wealthy.
In America however, consumers were able to buy nice-looking furniture at a good price. Factories were used to make basic components to keep the costs down, while details were given to the craftsmen to finish. In retrospect, the Americans realized the ideal of the arts and crafts design.