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The Close of the Arts and Crafts
by [?]

(Pall Mall Gazette, November 30, 1888.)

Mr. Walter Crane, the President of the Society of Arts and Crafts, was greeted last night by such an enormous audience that at one time the honorary secretary became alarmed for the safety of the cartoons, and many people were unable to gain admission at all. However, order was soon established, and Mr. Cobden-Sanderson stepped up on to the platform and in a few pleasantly sententious phrases introduced Mr. Crane as one who had always been ‘the advocate of great and unpopular causes,’ and the aim of whose art was ‘joy in widest commonalty spread.’ Mr. Crane began his lecture by pointing out that Art had two fields, aspect and adaptation, and that it was primarily with the latter that the designer was concerned, his object being not literal fact but ideal beauty. With the unstudied and accidental effects of Nature the designer had nothing to do. He sought for principles and proceeded by geometric plan and abstract line and colour. Pictorial art is isolated and unrelated, and the frame is the last relic of the old connection between painting and architecture. But the designer does not desire primarily to produce a picture. He aims at making a pattern and proceeds by selection; he rejects the ‘hole in the wall’ idea, and will have nothing to do with the ‘false windows of a picture.’

Three things differentiate designs. First, the spirit of the artist, that mode and manner by which Durer is separated from Flaxman, by which we recognise the soul of a man expressing itself in the form proper to it. Next comes the constructive idea, the filling of spaces with lovely work. Last is the material which, be it leather or clay, ivory or wood, often suggests and always controls the pattern. As for naturalism, we must remember that we see not with our eyes alone but with our whole faculties. Feeling and thought are part of sight. Mr. Crane then drew on a blackboard the naturalistic oak-tree of the landscape painter and the decorative oak-tree of the designer. He showed that each artist is looking for different things, and that the designer always makes appearance subordinate to decorative motive. He showed also the field daisy as it is in Nature and the same flower treated for panel decoration. The designer systematises and emphasises, chooses and rejects, and decorative work bears the same relation to naturalistic presentation that the imaginative language of the poetic drama bears to the language of real life. The decorative capabilities of the square and the circle were then shown on the board, and much was said about symmetry, alternation and radiation, which last principle Mr. Crane described as ‘the Home Rule of design, the perfection of local self-government,’ and which, he pointed out, was essentially organic, manifesting itself in the bird’s wing as well as in the Tudor vaulting of Gothic architecture. Mr. Crane then passed to the human figure, ‘that expressive unit of design,’ which contains all the principles of decoration, and exhibited a design of a nude figure with an axe couched in an architectural spandrel, a figure which he was careful to explain was, in spite of the axe, not that of Mr. Gladstone. The designer then leaving chiaroscuro, shading and other ‘superficial facts of life’ to take care of themselves, and keeping the idea of space limitation always before him, then proceeds to emphasise the beauty of his material, be it metal with its ‘agreeable bossiness,’ as Ruskin calls it, or leaded glass with its fine dark lines, or mosaic with its jewelled tesserae, or the loom with its crossed threads, or wood with its pleasant crispness. Much bad art comes from one art trying to borrow from another. We have sculptors who try to be pictorial, painters who aim at stage effects, weavers who seek for pictorial motives, carvers who make Life and not Art their aim, cotton printers ‘who tie up bunches of artificial flowers with streamers of artificial ribbons’ and fling them on the unfortunate textile.