Posts Tagged 'craftsmen'

Social Disease

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned an essay I was writing on Ruskin and Morris in relation to Industry, Mass-production and it implications on the craftsmen. Well after a few emails I’ve decided to throw up some sections of it. Enjoy.

The Social Disease – tyranny over the worker:

In today’s age we can and have designed, constructed and utilised technologies, materials and methods with the predicted out come of reduced labour (in cost and energy), faster output and cheaper materials. All of which is designed to make life of everyday citizens better, giving those less wealthy a greater lifestyle, one of proposed comforts and perceived necessities. However in doing this workers have been made just that – workers; starved of creativity and individualism which has been depicted as ‘The Great Crime’[1] against humanity.

These developments lead to the introduction of the machine age and subsequently industrialisation, which came about due to the greed of capitalism and consumers. In order to produce items at a much faster rate a system of divided labour was introduced which consisted of the item being broken down into parts, tasks simplified into production fazes, resulting in the division of labour. This created a faster, cleaner way to produce elements. It meant, however, that workers were repetitively undertaking one task. Whilst this course of action enabled parts to be produced more rapidly subsequently dropping the overall cost of the product, there was and is no design or creativity for the workers. This results in little or no sense of work satisfaction.[2] Workers became so consumed with a single monotonous task that it is said to have consequently resulted in so little “intelligence… left in a man [that there] is not enough to make a pin, or a nail, but exhausts itself in making the point of a pin or the head of a nail.”[3]

Whilst the gains are monetary for the manufacturer, thus understandable for their desire for such production methods, I find it hard to understand how the consumer and production worker stand to gain. John Ruskin explained how the consumer’s and factory worker’s convince themselves of the benefit of this system through a symptom coined as the ‘social disease’. This social disease is a vicious cycle of (as stated earlier) proposed comforts and perceived necessities.


Starved of creativity and satisfaction in their work factory employees began to “look to wealth as the only means of pleasure.”[4] It is here that the cycle completes itself.

The idea, where wealth brings happiness, can be seen in the time of 1860 through the commissioning of William Morris’s first house. Morris saw that there was this desire to build something out of one material in the attempt to disguise it as another, demonstrating the social discourse of the day. Even though the public and those whom owned the houses could tell that it was a fake façade, designed to give the illusion of wealth (and therefore happiness), those with the opportunity still chose to utilise the embellishment.

For the rich the objects (of true art or value) were and are largely a show of wealth and social status, portraying an idea of joy and grandeur; a life which those less fortunate dreamed of. With the development of materials and technologies the poorer classes could afford imitation pieces to give a false illusion of wealth[5]. The imitation pieces “sense of beauty…had not entirely disappeared [however it is important to note that]…people called those things beautiful which seemed to them proper to their social situation.”[6] Hence the social discourse. People perceive wealth and social standing as the only means to gain happiness. Not through creativity or understanding of art. John Ruskin and William Morris sore that the “nature of the disease threatening early industrial Britain (as D.H. Lawrence described it: ‘The great crime which the moneyed classes and promoters of industry committed in palmy Victorian days’) was the condemning of the workers…”[7]



It is through viewing the lack of pleasure in the society and understanding its cause those like John Ruskin (1819-1900) and William Morris (1834-1896) set forth to educate the public in the tyranny of Industrialisation.


[1] {Gerard, 1988 #2} (D.H. Lawrence. Nottingham and the mining countryside, in phoenix, Heinemann, 1936, p.138.) , p. 2

[2] As workers don’t follow an object through its entire creation they have very little connection to the finished product.

[3] {Ruskin, 1977 #1}, p. 23

[4] {Ruskin, 1977 #1}, p.20

[5] The poorer classes, whom used to be the creators, were now reduced to buying imitation art to find happiness as they couldn’t afford to compete against mass-production in large industry, resulting in the loss of creativity and joy.

[6] {Clutton-Brock #3}, p.61

[7] {Gerard, 1988 #2} (D.H. Lawrence. Nottingham and the mining countryside, in phoenix, Heinemann, 1936, p.138.) , p. 2


Walter Gropius

“Art is not a “profession.” There is no essential difference between the artist and the craftsman. The artist is an exalted craftsman. In rare moments of inspiration, moments beyond the control of his will, the grace of heaven may cause his work to blossom into art. But proficiency in his craft is essential to every artist. Therein lies a source of creative imagination.”
“Art is a profession that can be mastered by study. Schooling alone can never produce art….quality cannot be taught and cannot be learned… Manual dexterity(,)… thorough knowledge which is a necessary foundation for all creative effort, whether the workman’s or the artist’s, can be taught and learned.” Walter Gropius

William Morris

“I must needs think of furniture as of two kinds: one part of it being chairs, dining and working tables and the like, the necessary work-a-day furniture in short, which should be of course both well made and well proportioned, but simple to the last degree….But besides this kind of furniture, there is the other kind of what I should call state furniture, which I think is quite proper even for a citizen: I mean sideboards, cabinets and the like, which we have quite as much for beauty’s sake as for use; we need not spare ornament on these, but may make them as elegant and as elaborate as we can with carving, inlaying or painting; these are the blossoms of the art of furniture”.

William Morris – 1882

What’s on the Agenda

I’m currently in the process of designing and making some chairs. These will be for a commission including a side chair, arm chair and a bench seat. Mackintosh, Rhulman and Henery Van de Vield are my main inspirations at this point. The chairs will seem curved and flowing from the elevation and side elevation views but sharp and dimond like from the plan view. Hense I have nick named it the ‘Diamond Chair’, which also symbolises the wealth of research, time, skills and hopefully money I recieve from it.

Mackintosh chair

Quotes by Ruskin, Fornasetti and Morris

Ruskin states: “that imperfection is in some way sort of essential to all that we know of life. It is the sign of life in a mortal body, that is to say, of a state of progress and change. Nothing that lives is, or can be, rigidly perfect; part of it is decaying, part nascent…. And in all things that live there are certain irregularities and deficiencies which are not only signs of life, but sources of beauty…. To banish imperfection is to destroy expression, to check exertion, to paralyse vitality. All things are literally better, lovelier, and more beloved for the imperfections which have been divinely appointed, that the law of human life may be Effort, and the law of human judgment, Mercy.” 1853 “What I look for in every object,” said Fornasetti, “is the mark of man.” The ‘mark of man’ or the mark of the hand? John Ruskin in response to the writings of Henry Cole, who attempted to promote the co-operation between art and industry in conjunction with the Great Exhibition of 1851, stressed the importance of work by hand as opposed to mechanical work, for the good of the product and for the well-being of the worker involved in its manufacture. (William Morris absorbed these words and in) Ruskin’s second volume of The Stones of Venice – The Nature of Gothic, Morris argued that “man-made articles should reveal, rather than seek to disguise, their origins, and that individuality and roughness of workmanship were infinitely preferable to the perfection and standardization, in a free and just society…. Asserting the superiority of the products of the creative craftsman over those of the factory.”

Some words of wisdom…..????? I personally agree with such statements, and for me a source of inspiration. For those craftsmen seeking perfection (as am I) perhaps we should take note of Ruskin, Morris and Fornasetti. Three exempt designers and artists excusing the imperfection of the hand.

Bed Side Tables

These bedside tables have been constructed using the traditional drawer and frame construction. This consists on many tenon joints (usually double tenons) with complementary haunched tenons and dovetails. Ranging from a whopping eight to ten joints per leg, all of course hand done. You wouldn’t believe this would you from looking at them. I would like to point out now that there is a reason why the most prestigious and debated joint is the ‘secret dovetail’. It’s because a good craftsmen doesn’t need to show off his goods! Craftsmen pride themselves on quality, therefore the choice of the joint shouldn’t be for grandeur or show but for its practicality. When viewing a piece where someone has sought to prostrate their joinery, and especially if it is the wrong type for the purpose required, then I only look on with disgust. A good piece of furniture shouldn’t need the grandeur of displayed joinery to sell it, that is a failure in design!

Bedside Tables

Bedside Tables

Practise Joint for leg construction

Practise Joint for leg construction

Practise Joint assembled

Practise Joint assembled

Please excuse the dates on these images – camera troubles

Begining to get to know my work

Whilst you can read a longwinded explanation of who I am and what I’m about I thought I’d let you view my work. Please feel free to comment and open discussion on them. Also I am interested in what you are up to so leave links!!!

A Cabinet of Curiosity

A Cabinet of Curiosity

A Cabinet of Cruiosity
A Cabinet of Cruiosity
Cabinet of Curiosity

Cabinet of Curiosity












Made from American Cherry and Birdseye Maple. Some of the joinery includes hand cut dovetails, laped mitres and birdsbead tenons with complementry  table saw and routed splined mitres.