On Art and Socialism


It would be easy to celebrate William Morris as the most varied and gifted artist of modern times, but to do that solely would be to put his work in false perspective. Morris was an artist and a craftsman of such distinction that we must go back to the days of the Italian Renaissance to find his like. The beautiful things he made were portents and promises--samples of the kind of merchandise he thought might be made in the Utopia of his dreams; and his method of working was a practical demonstration of the methods of production which he imagined would exist under the conditions described in News from Nowhere. He differed from most artists in his objection to the separation of the fine from the useful arts. This difference is further emphasized by the significant fact that he painted only one easel picture. "Have nothing in your house," he preached, "except what you know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." Beauty for him was no abstraction, but a living force which could, by means of art, "make man's work happy and his rest fruitful." He looked back for inspiration to a time when "every man that made anything made it a work of art as well as a useful piece of goods." He opposed those times to his own when "only a very few things has even the most distant claim to be considered works of art."

There was nothing, original in this point of view. Morris was an avowed disciple of Ruskin. The ideas which fired his genius are to be found in the chapter of the Stones of Venice called "The Nature of Gothic," which he printed at the Kelmscott Press, and believed to be "one of the very few necessary and inevitable utterances of the century." In that chapter Ruskin attempts to weld economics and æsthetics into a gospel of work. Such problems were in the air. Carlyle had already thundered in praise of work for its own sake. He believed that any kind of work was good. Ruskin threw a new, and, to the Victorians, surprising light on the problem by asserting the benefits of work joyously performed. He did not believe in making the best of a bad job, but of making the best of a good job, and he came to the revolutionary conclusion that work so one turned men into artists. Art was the expression of man's joy in his . . .

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • London
Publication year:
  • 1947


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