Friday, August 3, 2012
The more things change….
On a day in which had a many tiresome hours to kill, I turned to my shelf of art books and began rummaging. I settled on William Morris, Artist, Craftsman, Pioneer by R. Ormiston and N. M. Wells. I have skimmed this one several times, but I set to really reading it today. I was reminded how much I align myself with Morris’ ideas on beauty, art, craftsmanship, and the destructive capabilities of industrialization.
Morris is often characterized as an ‘anti-industrialist’, but that really isn’t accurate. After all, he started a design company that utilized mechanized processes to produce wallpapers, upholstery fabrics, tapestries and carpets on a large scale. But it is true that Morris had much to say about the dehumanization of industrialization. It wasn’t with an eye toward halting progress, but toward bringing back the dignity of a day’s hard work for those who labored day in and day out to keep the gears turning. He believed that Victorian industrialists were quite comfortable with the idea of using up human lives like fuel for their forges, without regard to the illness and misery those lives suffered as a result. The authors state “[H]e became part of a movement that swept through Europe. The rise in industrial fortunes had brought with them a nascent resentment and suffering of those on whose backs growth was being made; the Victorian Age was a capitalistic bludgeon, creating iniquities as quickly as it created wealth.”
A capitalistic bludgeon. Wow. That rings so true for me. Every time I step inside a Pier 1 and see their simplistic mosaic tables and mirrors (no doubt crafted by 9 year olds in China) with a price tag that wouldn’t even cover my supplies to replicate, I die a little bit inside. I know that a large percentage of the population doesn’t know the difference in quality between those mosaic pieces and my wall art, and that it is my job to educate them. I know, too, that I could create wall art with larger pieces and cheaper glass in order to lessen my expenses (although not enough to be competitive with Pier 1 and other such retailers).
But if I were to try to compete with retailers whose manufacturers have access to slave wages and cheaply produced materials, my art wouldn’t be as beautiful or as soulful.
Morris writes “There is a great deal of sham work in the world, hurtful to the buyer, more hurtful to the seller, if only he knew it; most hurtful to the maker.”
The more things change, the more they stay the same, huh?