Friday, 20 September 2013

What is really useful must also be beautiful

Following on from my previous posts from Godfrey Blount's The Rustic Renaissance (The Simple Life Series No. 21, A.C. Fifield, London, 1905).  This chapter was published in The CraftsmanMarch 1906.

extract from The Craftsman, March 1906, pp.819-823

"That theory which I suppose our patriots of the manufacturing type hold, that our population is to be supported in its industrial slavery or artificial idleness by huge farms over sea worked first by foreign labour and finally by steam, has been so ruthlessly disembowelled by Ruskin in "Fors Clavigera" that we need not stay to discuss it (No nation could possible long survive such an artificial condition of things.)  I only refer to it to prevent our associating the Revival of Handicrafts merely with a fashionable reaction against the machine's invasion of the domains of art, while all the time we are consciously or unconsciously furthering that invasion of the whole domain of life.  Our instinct is beginning to rise in revolt against the great modern doctrine that use and beauty have nothing to do with one another.  Each of these is a test as well as a definition of the other.  What is really useful must also be beautiful.  What is really beautiful must be useful too.  God created it and called it good.

Nothing is more perplexing to the would-be reformer than the reverence people pay to a new custom as soon as its novelty has worn off.  One would imagine, to hear people talk, that the industrial revolution of the last few decades has been a gradual evolution extending over eras of civilisation.  They laugh, such is their confidence, at any serious plea for a simpler life as if it were a prehistoric ideal or insane prophecy, while as a matter of fact its memory should still be green; and then they proceed to build, on their own account, Utopias, whose realisation would involve an infinitely greater change than any we poor reactionaries advocate, not only in the customs of our lives, but in the very constitution of our souls.

Scarcely, a generation has passed away since those alterations began to take place in all our industries which, to their champions' imaginations, are going to set at naught the instincts and experiences of ages.  Stretching back from the beginning of the century, so bedizened with euphemistic clap-trap, which we have just escaped from, for century beyond century, civilisation beyond civilisation, disgraced at times no doubt, as in Greece and Egypt, by somewhat analogous conditions of production to our own (the results of slavery almost as stringent as that we uphold to-day), there has existed an unbroken understanding, or what used to be called a tradition, that what men made for their use should also be, nay, necessarily was, grateful to their eyes.  A unity in manufacture existed, a loving and living partnership between the making of a thing and the making it beautiful; or rather, for even that gives a wrong impression, it was taken for granted that every artisan was also an artist, less by training and education than by instinct and the force of tradition and environment; and it was expected of him that what his hand fashioned his fancy should also grace."
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