Why should I care about William Morris, who lived at his prime more than a hundred years ago and died before the turn of the 20th C? and why should anyone who reads my blog?
First, because he and his cronies made and inspired very beautiful things -- even if you didn't know his name, you've surely seen objects and art inspired by Morris and his colleagues --Arts and Crafts style in Britain, Art Nouveau in Scotland, Mission and Bungalow style in the US, and serious improvements to the printing trade, to name a few things. As a simple matter of personal taste, I like it. Solid, well made, functional, and inspired by nature -- these aims are my own, as well.
But there's a lot more to this work than the way it looks, and I've been looking into it thanks to VPL and their copy of Gillian Naylor's The Arts and Crafts Movement: a study of its sources, ideals and influences.
For them, machines were complicit in enslaving the proletariat in sweat shops and producing soul-less trash for profit. Morris believed that machines were important as tools to free craftspeople from menial and repetitive tasks so that they might raise the standards of their art; to use them indiscriminately to produce whatever fad or fashion might make a buck was fundamentally immoral.
Finally, the most important reason why I'm fixated on William Morris and his fate is that I see our path today as being a cyclical repetition of it -- albeit much closer to the edge of ecological collapse. Today we have many echoes of the Arts and Crafts Movement and its ideals, as well as some of the same challenges:
-- Craftsmen as Artists, from fine craft galleries to hip urban craft shows
-- concern for nature side by side with destruction of the environment
-- continuing technological change, arguably contributing to the moral decline of generations.
-- frustrations in the lack of adequate art education in public schools
-- a philistine public which often portrays atrociously poor taste and gross materialism.
So, what happened to William Morris?
So the message for me, in the Fate of William Morris and my nature, is that I would prefer to be like the Scandinavians, be moderate and balanced, and give the world Ikea; than to struggle along pounding the pulpit for change, while producing objects of luxury for the wealthy.