Posts Tagged 'John Ruskin'

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

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Some more Ruskin quotes

Your all probably wondering why I’ve posted so many John Ruskin and William Morris quotes. Well I’ve been writing an essay on Industrialisation and there the key members of the time who saw what was happening to society. They were the founders of the Arts and Crafts movement and I’ve become quite attached to them I suppose. If you are interested I’ll be happy to post a few chapters of the essay….. just let me know. 

Anyway here are the quotes:

John Ruskin:

“Do what you can, and confess frankly what you are unable to do; neither let your effort be shortened for fear of failure, nor your confession silenced for fear of shame.”

 

 ” 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.”

 

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.

The first post

“You can teach a man to draw a straight line, and to cut one; to strike a curved line, and to carve it; and to copy and carve any number of given lines or forms, with admirable speed and perfect precision; and you find his work perfect of its kind; but you ask him to think about any of those forms, to consider if he cannot find any better in his own head, he stops; his execution becomes hesitating; he thinks, and ten to one he thinks wrong; ten to one he makes a mistake in the first touch he gives to his work as a thinking being. But you have made a man of him for all that. He was only a machine before, an animated tool.” Ruskin 1853

I view my blog as a source of inspiration, as I intend to view others, thus such quotes as this by John Ruskin will be one of the main features of this blog. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!