Thursday, May 21, 2009

Inspiration: William Morris

I went to the IU Fine Arts Library last week with Doug and although I really don't have time to read right now, I couldn't help myself -- I checked out 5 books. I figure if they're about art, it's ok. I've been devouring The Ideal Book, a collection of William Morris's essays and lectures on the arts of the book, in bits and pieces over the weekend.

I have always been a fan of William Morris. I am not alone in this. As a bookworker and letterpress printing aficionado, I don't think you can really avoid going through a Morris/Kelmscott Press phase. I remember when we first began to learn about Morris, there were days that Jerry and I would just pore and pore over images of William Morris prints and books and embroideries, reading and absorbing every bit of information we could find.

One thing I really find despicable about Ye Dayes of Nowe is the fact that everyone is so concerned about not hurting anyone's feelings that very little real criticism occurs. I don't know if most people care about the respect of their peers -- it seems like people tend to be more interested in Having People Like Them. One thing I really appreciate about Morris is his intelligent arrogance and willingness to not just buck the contemporary established norm, but also basically every established norm from the Renaissance onward.

(from The Ideal Book)

... The Renaissance, with its emphasis on classical models, and modern technology, with its destruction of the crafts, had between them -- according to Morris -- disrupted the natural growth of Western art, and he believed the only solution was to return to the fountainhead: the medieval arts and crafts. By going back to their true source, the arts could once again begin to develop normally and organically.


Art is crap. When did it become crap? The Renaissance. No problem. I'll just revive medieval craftsmanship (clearly the pinnacle of art thus far) and then art can go ahead and re-develop as it should under my careful supervision. OK WHAT PROBLEM DO YOU NEED ME TO SOLVE NOW GUYS

Obviously this is a little overly simplistic, but I believe that for the most part it is exactly that kind of informed/naive optimism combined with unerring faith in one's position that is the seed of great things (like the Kelmscott Press).

This is something I think a lot about, lately. The notion of fear and bravado, what causes people to take chances, what inspires people to work toward change -- whether it be in book design or totally unrelated to art. I think I could stand to be more brave, maybe even more rash. Do you consider yourself to be brave?


  1. God, Renaissance sucking it up all over awesome things is so one of my soap boxes (mostly how Gothic had a total comeback hundreds of years later as a response to the way to prevalent classical styles that felt uncomfortable with Nature).

    What you said about lack of crit and the big circle jerk that is a lot of the fine art/craft scene now is so damned dead on. It's why I get so excited by people who are clearly doing what makes them happy and find personally expanding and challanging. I've been in an awful cycle of thinking I've found a neat source of innovation only to see it devolve (or show itself) to be more of the same.

    I don't know if I'm brave. I think I'm held back by not wanting to fall into the same gimmicky treacle traps that I've seen others embrace, and that makes me afeared to really try and expand.

  2. Really poignant and timely questions for me, tied up neatly with a William Morris bow. Like a delicious dinner and a perfect dessert. Thanks for this post.

  3. I secretly adore William Morris, for his artistic ability and also for his confidence in his own taste and his willingness to march headlong against the prevailing traffic. Years ago I took to heart his statement that we should have nothing in our homes that we do not know to be useful or believe to be beautful. It helped me create an orderly and cozy nest for myself and my family.
    (Now is a whole other story...)
    I believe myself to be extremely brave. Also pathetically cowardly. Depends on the day.
    Love your blogs!