Tag Archives: Arts and Crafts Movement

Art Is Our Human Right

AllSchoolsShouldBeArtSchools

I recently went back to the William Morris Gallery to see their current exhibit, “The Artistic Campaigns of Bob and Roberta Smith”.

Bob and Roberta Smith is actually one person, Patrick Brill, who chose this double pseudonym to create a more “egalitarian platform” for art making. The name Bob Smith is the most common name in England (like John Smith in the United States) and Roberta is Patrick’s sister’s name. Combined, this artistic nom de plume is about as low brow as one can get.

The son of a well-known landscape painter and teacher, Smith studied for his MA at Goldsmiths in the early 90s. He has been an Artist Trustee of Tate Museum and the National Campaign for the Arts. He currently is an Associate Professor at the Sir John Cass Department of Art, Media and Design at London Metropolitan University,

BRSmith-ThereHasNotBeenAGoodUnderground

His irreverent humor and straightforward approach is apparent throughout his work. He paints with sign-painting enamel on found objects and discarded wood panels. His images center on the written word – he paints personal stories as well as social commentary. His lettering is mostly freehand, paying homage to the sign-painting styles of fair grounds, old shop advertisements and folk art.

BRSmith-MuseumsShouldBeLikeNewspapers

This exhibit was of special interest to me. In Seattle, I was actively involved in advocating for arts in education. I volunteered as an arts community liaison for in Seattle public schools for over a decade. I started a blog – Pebbles In The Jar – to help inform and encourage others to do the same. I was a member of the arts community advisory group during the development of the Seattle Public Schools Creative Advantage plan. I even spoke on the topic at a few events.

Arts Soap Box

After moving to London, I was curious to see how arts in education is handled here. I assumed that, with London’s broad art scene and history of supporting the arts, arts teaching in public (what they call “state” schools here) would be more secure. I was wrong. The arts in education have been whittled away by conservative politics and “austerity” measures in the U.K., just as in the U.S.

Smith says he grew up believing “education is not about improving your life chances or getting a better job, education is about building knowledge and experience and enriching humanity and society.” Art as an integral part of democracy.

BRSmith-ILikeArtInSchools

Taking his art to another level, Smith in 2013 started the Art Party with Crescent Arts, Scarborough. “The Art Party seeks to better advocate the arts to Government. The Art Party is NOT a formal political party, but is a loose grouping of artists and organizations who are deeply concerned about the Government diminishing the role of all the arts and design in schools.”

BRSmith-DearNickyMorgan

In 2015, Bob and Roberta Smith ran for parliament as an independent during the 2015 general election against conservative Michael Gove, former Secretary of State for Education and Member of Parliament for Surrey Heath. This is when I first became aware of his work. I was impressed with a visual artist who dared to enter the outspoken and contentious realm of politics.

CreativityORAusterity

Smith sees his campaigns as “extended art works which include a variety of consciousness raising artifacts.” He has taken to the streets in a camper covered in his campaign slogans. He has created videos, performance pieces and radio shows. He sings. He plays guitar and piano. He walks the walk.

BRSmith-ArtIsAnElectionIssue

“It’s almost impossible for kids to study art and music together, let alone dance or drama as well. This is worrying for British culture and Britain’s long-term reputation for being a great place to make, teach and experience the arts.”

BRSmith-PaintDrawSculpt

“Art is about the appreciation of ambiguity. Only when people realize what unites us is huge and wonderful and what divides us is small and mean will people live peacefully.”

BRSmith-AudiencesShouldLookLikeTaxPayers

“Hey artists, forget about making money, and make things better.”

BRSmith-MuseumsShouldBeLikeNewspapers

It’s notable that the William Morris Gallery has hosted this exhibit and supported Smith’s campaign. William Morris was also a political activist. In 1882 he told the Royal Commission on Technical Education “everybody ought to be taught ought to draw, just as much as everybody be taught to read and write”.

BRSmith-GiveAChildAPencil

ArtMakesPeoplePowerful

MusicMakesChildrenPowerful

If you would like to learn more about Bob and Roberta Smith, you can watch this excellent and entertaining documentary, Make Your Own Damn Art: the world of Bob and Roberta Smith, directed by John Rogers.

I wish I could have voted for Bob and Roberta Smith.

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A Movement of Ideas

W Morris-book text

“Don’t copy any style at all, but make your own”  – William Morris

I have never had anyone tell me that they don’t like the designs of William Morris and his circle of artists/artisans, nor have I ever heard anyone complain that they are too ornate, too flowery or too pretty. You cannot deny the beauty of their complex patterns and rich colors. They transcend what usually would be considered merely decorative.

I don’t know if an interior decorator of today would choose a William Morris wallpaper pattern for a home that wasn’t undergoing some sort of period restoration, but in smaller amounts – calendars, cards, notebooks – the designs appear as delicate, ornate treasures. Somehow they combine the beauty and abundance of nature with the precision and control of design in a perfect balance.

A few weeks ago, my daughter and I took the train to the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, London. She is design student at Pratt in New York. This was kind of a pilgrimage for both of us. (Once again, I must apologize for the poor quality of some of the photos. I have no choice but to take them on the fly, and the lighting in this museum made it particularly hard to get good pictures. I hope that they will at least give you the feeling of being right there with me, looking over my shoulder, so to speak).

I knew of William Morris as a designer and craftsman, but I didn’t know his first fame came as a poet and writer.

He also was a translator, weaver, embroiderer, stained-glass artist, type designer, calligrapher, publisher, wood-carver, political activist –  and owner and manager of a highly successful interior design retail shop. Could he sing?

In the late 1800s, William Morris helped start what was to be known as the Arts and Crafts Movement; what he considered to be a  “movement of ideas’ rather than a distinct visual style. Members believed tin social reform, education, environmental sustainability and self-sufficiency, as well as hand-craftsmanship, designing from nature and sympathetic use of materials.

In addition, Morris believed that no one should design an object without a full understanding of how it was going to be produced, which explains why he was driven to master so many crafts himself.

Morris’s first wallpaper design was inspired by the rose trellis in his garden.

W Morris-Trellis wallpaper (1862)

You can see in this drawing how he drew and redrew as he revised his ideas, working the same piece until it was complete. He believed this approach was the best way to maintain the harmony and integrity of the work.

W Morris-Trellis wallpaper design (1862)

He hadn’t yet gained full confidence in his drawing abilities so he asked his friend and colleague Phillip Webb to draw the birds. He was 28 at that point.

Here are more of Morris’s drawings:

W Morris-Design for African Marigold textile (1876)W Morris-Lily and Pomegranate design for wallpaper (1886)W Morris-Wallpaper for Queen Victoria

As a printmaker, I can appreciate that Morris insisted that his wallpapers be hand-printed from carved wooden blocks. Even though the technique was slower and more arduous than machine-printing, the results were far better and thus were worth the extra effort. Printmakers are artisans at heart.

W Morris-Hand-carved woodblock was used by the M & Co printers to make Daffodil pattern

Morris also designed textiles and researched the use of organic pigments and dyes.

This copy of Herball or Generall Historie of Plants was Morris’ own book that he had studied since he was a child. This page shows the roots of the madder plant which produce the madder rose dye.

W Morris-herbal

Not only were the color tones of the organic pigments more natural and better suited to his designs, they caused less pollution than the aniline dyes that had become prevalent by then.

W Morris-Brother Rabbit printed cotton (designed 1882)W Morris-cloth detail W Morris-Strawberry Thief printed cotton (design registered in 1883)

At age 49, to the surprise of many of his colleagues and friends, Morris became a revolutionary socialist. He felt that the British government was an hypocrisy, taxing the poor while favoring the rich (sound familiar?). It bothered him that only the wealthy could afford the high-quality goods that Morris & Company produced. “To apply art to useful wares…is not a frivolity, but a part of the serious business of life.”

He became a well-recognized public figure.

Funny Folks-W Morris cartoon

Morris envisioned an “ecotopia” society, where people lived communally with no central government, private property or currency. He attended protests, gave lectures, and published books.

He founded the Kelmscott Press:

W Morris-Kelmscott frontispieceW Morris-PsycheW Morris-Troy type Parlement of Foules   W Morris-Amonges thise povre folk

His youngest daughter, May Morris, also became an accomplished designer and textile artist.

May Morris-Honeysuckle wallpaperMay Morris-embroidery detail

Morris & Co. also sold ceramic ware and tiles.

the Martin Brothers-bottle  William De Morgan-Bottle with design of cranes killing snakes (1888 - 1907) Sands End Pottery, Fulham, London, England   William De Morgan-Lion Rampant

What I have shown here is a very small sampling of what the William Morris Gallery has to offer. Next, my daughter and I hope to visit Kelmscott Manor in the Cotswolds. That will be another pilgrimage for another day!