This morning I've been reading an essay by William Morris entitled "The Revival of Handicraft" (which can be found in Morris: On Art and Design). It's a great inspirational work on the importance of the Craft Movement, written by Morris in 1888. I always find it amazing that over a hundred years ago, writers were already expressing concerns over what Morris calls "the giant fabric of commercialism"(197). One thing that always becomes apparent to me when looking at historical documents is that there truly is nothing new under the sun!
Some of the things he says in this essay sounds so strikingly familiar (and modern!) that it seems they could have been written yesterday:
"it is common now to hear people say of such and such a piece
of country or suburb: 'Ah! it was so beautiful a year or so ago, but it has been
quite spoilt by the building.' Forty years back the building would have been
looked on as a vast improvement; now we have grown conscious of the
hideousness we are creating, and we go on creating it" (195)
Well, a lot more than 40 years have gone by since Morris wrote that sentence, and it seems nothing has really changed in that regard since the time of Morris writing. We continue to erect vulgar buildings and create an endless supply disposable consumer goods and we no longer have the excuse that we are unaware of the consequences. On the contrary, we are well aware of the harm we cause, but continue to do the same in any event.
Morris worked his entire life to revive the arts and crafts of ancient England and to give them new life. He also managed to maintain cautious optimism concerning the future of the movement, arguing that "we are right to long for intelligent handicraft to come back to the world which it once made tolerable amidst war and turmoil and uncertainty of life"(195). He really saw the arts and crafts movement as a worthy cause in spite of his own culture's disinterest in reevaluating its priorities.
The England of Morris day was not that different from most places in the west today, though as I've said in previous blog entries, I think the Internet has really expanded the market for quality handmade goods and is making them more widely available. Perhaps there is still hope that "we can choose to forgo gross luxury and base utilitarianism in return for the unwearying pleasure of tasting the fullness of life (196).