Art, crafts & design

As long as there have been people, there has been art. Artworks have been found among the oldest archaeological findings and they are the proof of the fundamental need of people to add beauty to their lives.

The earliest examples of art range from cave paintings to decorated pottery and simple jewelry. Until modern history, there has always been a strong bond between art and crafts and a balanced relationship between aesthetics and functionality.

Art is closely related to design and the boundaries between them are not really strict. What we call design now, formerly was called applied arts. Those were arts with a specific function, like architecture or fashion, or graphic design. Decorative arts, like hand crafted objects, were part of applied arts too.

But a major separation emerged in the mid-19th century with the appearance of the term “l’art pour l’art,” (Art for Art’s Sake). It expresses the idea that art has an inherent value independent of its subject or matter, or of any social, political, or ethical significance. By contrast, art should be judged purely on its own terms: according to whether or not it is beautiful, capable of inducing ecstasy or revery in the viewer through its formal qualities. It gave artists their star-like status and set them apart from craftsmanship.

Almost simultaneously, the Arts & Crafts movement appeared. It was a response to social changes initiated by the Industrial Revolution, which began in Britain and whose ill effects were first evident there. Industrialization moved large numbers of working-class laborers into cities that were ill-prepared to deal with an influx of newcomers, crowding them into miserable ramshackle housing and subjecting them to dangerous, harsh jobs with long hours and low pay. Cities likewise became doused regularly with pollution from a bevy of new factories. The mass-produced products they had access to were simple and ugly. Arts & crafts wanted to give access to beauty for the masses too, in the form of well produced and designed products.

Those ideas also influenced the design school of the Bauhaus, which was arguably the single most influential modernist art school of the 20th century. Its approach to teaching, and to the relationship between art, society, and technology, had a major impact both in Europe and in the United States. The Bauhaus was not only influenced by the

Arts and Crafts movement, but also by Art Nouveau and its many international incarnations, including the Jugendstil and Vienna Secession. All of these movements sought to level the distinction between the fine and applied arts.

By the mid-1920s the vision had given way to a stress on uniting art and industrial design, to combine the functionality of the new mass produced production with artistic aesthetics.

The Bauhaus style tends to feature simple geometric shapes like rectangles and spheres, without elaborate decorations. Buildings, furniture, and fonts often feature rounded corners and sometimes rounded walls. Other buildings are characterized by rectangular features, for example protruding balconies with flat, chunky railings facing the street, and long banks of windows. Furniture often uses chrome metal pipes that curve at corners.

In recent years, there is a revived appreciation for craftsmanship in art, partly as a reaction to standardized mass production and as result of growing attention for authentic cultural and artistic values and expression. Arts, crafts and design come together again in thousands of workshops from artists and craftspeople all over the world, facilitated by many marketplaces on the internet.