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Art vs. Craft continued...


White Rose and Red Rose, 1902. Margaret MacDonald, painted gesso on hessian and glass, 100 x 98 cm


When I first learnt of the Arts and Crafts movement at Art College many moons ago, I was very taken by their idealistic beliefs of social reform and design aesthetics. I was in awe of William Morris, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and other famous men at the vanguard of this style. There was at that time seldom reference to the woman involved. Thankfully, careful research is revealing the influential role of many female artists long overlooked by popular culture. Key elements in those exquisite light filled, and graceful Mackintosh interiors were the result of the close collaboration with Margaret MacDonald, his wife and lifelong collaborator.

The House for an Art Lover, Glasgow, Scotland

John Ruskin, the influential writer, philosopher, and art historian/critic was an advocate for the Arts and Crafts movement. Industrialisation had dramatically reshaped society and by the late 1800’s, there was a growing fear that urbanisation and mass consumption had damaged society. Does this sound familiar?

The meteoric rise of digital technology over the past 40 years has generated a seismic shift in the global economy and our way of life, just as the industrial manufacturing processes in the 1800’s brought riches and privilege to a small minority while many laboured in poverty. There are echo’s in the recent handcraft revival and slow movement, that reflect some aspects of the ideologies of the Arts and Crafts movement. Ruskin positioned the arts as offering participants the chance to cultivate a greater sense of personal authenticity in a rapidly changing world.”[1] There were growing numbers of architects, artists and writers who rejected the values, stresses, and environmental damage of the ‘modern’ world (Victorian England) and yearned for simpler times. The ‘authenticity’ they sought rejected commercial trends, “embracing the natural world, respecting materials, and working collaboratively, across the production process.”[2]

History has a way of repeating itself, like Karma, until we get the message.

Art making is a holistic experience, as the imagination and all the senses engage in the physical act of creation. Amidst the ongoing uncertainty surrounding post pandemic life, art activities offer an important point of connection, to ourselves. We may have been physically disconnected from others, but when we undertake an act of creation, we experience a deeper connection within, that brings a sense of control and certainty to our lives. When we make something, there is a beginning, a middle and most importantly, an end, and with it a sense of achievement. The self-expression associated with practical creative projects plays a significant role in our lives. We experience agency and this improves our emotional and psychological wellbeing which in turn reconnects us to the world around us.

[1] Women Art Workers and the Arts and Crafts Movement, Zoe Thomas, Manchester Unity Press, Manchester, 2020. Page 3. [2] Ibid.

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