3. Design Renaissance



John Ruskin—(8 February 1819 – 20 January 1900)
The principal role of the artist is “truth to nature.”

Ruskin was the leading English art critic of the Victorian era, as well as an art patron, draughtsman, watercolorist, a prominent social thinker and philanthropist. In all of his writing, he emphasised the connections between nature, art and society.

In 1871, he began his monthly “letters to the workmen and laborers of Great Britain”, published under the title Fors Clavigera (1871–1884). In the course of this complex and deeply personal work, he developed the principles underlying his ideal society. As a result, he founded the Guild of St George, an organisation that endures today.

Today, his ideas and concerns are widely recognized as having anticipated interest in environmentalism, sustainability and craft.


Man Versus the Machine

The Industrial Revolution quickly spread throughout Europe and America, having a profound effect on agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transport and all aspects of daily life. Some saw the advent of industrialization as society being taken over by the “souless machine.” Inspired by Englishmen William Morris and John Ruskin who believed that a healthy society depended on skilled and creative workers, the Arts and Crafts Movement spread to the United States as Elbert Hubbard formed The Roycroft Community in East Aurora, New York. Hubbard, along with Gustav Stickley—the Craftsman; Frank Lloyd Wright—the Prairie School and Utopian communities like Byrdcliffe in Woodstock, NY, brought these European Arts and Crafts ideals to America encompassing virtually all of
the crafts, most notably; ceramics, furniture design, architecture, metal work, and publication design.

Compare and contrast the main themes, ideas and goals of the Arts and Crafts movement vs. those of the Industrial Revolution. What are some of the positives and negatives of this comparison as they pertain to the individual and society.
  • First, understand the effects that the Industrial Revolution had on Europe and America, and how the Arts and Crafts movement countered, or reacted against these effects.
  • View the Video “Elbert Hubbard: An American Original”

Golding Pearl letterpress used by the Roycrofters

Private Press Movement


Assignment: Due Thursday, March 28

One of the tenets of the Arts and Crafts movement was the understanding that artists should not be removed from society to explore their interior creative genius unsullied by the world around them; rather, the work of creative practitioners and the communities in which they live and work will benefit from their presence within and their relationship to society.

The world doesn’t need more stuff,
rather it needs beautiful stuff that works,

make art that matters.

This assignment requires you to make something.
You have some choices on how to accomplish this.

  • you could make the actual “thing” (movie, animation, furniture, jewelry, ceramic, etc),
  • you could make a model, maquette or prototype of the “thing”
  • you could make a technical, CAD, or blueprint drawing of the “thing”
  • you could make a perspective drawing/rendering of the “thing”
  • you could make the storyboard for an animation or movie

Your project must address or react to:

  • one of the guiding themes listed below
  • at least one of the project questions listed below
  • all five of the principle characteristics of the arts and crafts movement listed below.

Overall Guiding Themes:

  • What does design thinking mean when applied to craftsmen/women living during our time? (Compare to craftsmen/women living during Victorian times.)
  • What does it mean when design innovation is driven by function or purpose rather than by popular cultural trends or fads or style alone? (form follows function)
  • How does Zeitgeist influence design thinking? (Compare influences of our time to influences during the Arts & Crafts period.) 

Project Questions:

  1. Ron VanOstrand, a Roycroft master artisan stated “The Japanese say that to be handcrafted is to have a bit of the human in there.” What does he mean?
  2. William Morris, once said, “I do not want art for a few any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few.”  What did he mean by this? Why did he compare art to education and freedom?
  3. Thomas Pafk, another Roycroft master artisan stated that the Arts and Crafts Movement  was “trying to protest against the industrial revolution, where everyone was losing the handwork that was involved and the artistry that’s involved in making things. The whole feeling, the whole philosophy was getting back to the artist—type work, getting back to doing things with your hand, being honest. Every piece that you’re making, you’re producing with your head, your heart, and your hands.” What does it mean if you do something (create art, sing, do school work, work at your job, do athletics) with “your head, your heart, and your hands?” Why do you think this ideal was, and still is, important to the Arts and Crafts artisans? Is there anything in your life that you try to do with this same ideal, why or why not?
  4. The fear of the “soulless machine” and the industrial revolution was a catalyst for the Arts and Crafts movement, a concern throughout the 20th century and continues to influence our collective psyche to this day. Many Science Fiction stories deal with this fear and question what will happen to the human race as machines become more prevalent in our society. Examine the way this idea of the “soulless machine” will affect our future through literature and film. Georges Méliès’ “A Trip To The Moon” 1920, is generally seen as the first example. Other classics include; Lang’s “Metropolis,” Orwell’s “1984,” Gilliam’s “Brazil,” Chaplin’s “Modern Times,” Pixar’s “Wall-e,” adaptation of Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron “2081,” or Asimov’s “I-Robot.”
  5. How did the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century cause or lead to the Green movement of the 21st century.

Your solution to this assignment must also emphasize these principle characteristics of the Arts and Crafts Movement:

  1. extreme attention to detail and fine craftsmanship on an individual basis
    (today we refer to this as customized or custom-made)
  2. The early days of this movement emphasized hand-made and discouraged use of machines. This evolved to include the use of machines for efficiency but with new quality controls, better working conditions and safety measures that were absent during the Industrial Revolution.
  3. the overriding principle which becomes known as “form follows function”
  4. the overriding principle which becomes known as “less is more”
    —beauty in simplicity
  5. matching the intrinsic quality of material to the purpose or use of the object
Whatever you make, you must make a design thinking connection between the questions, themes and A & C Movement principles. Include at least a half page written description of your project which outlines these connections.

Examples of Products of the original Arts and Crafts Movement