On Personalisation and International Arts and Crafts

23rd December 2005 @ 7:56 pm
Events, Art, Design, Reviews, Schulze-&-Webb and Arts-and-Crafts
I'm enjoying the first public fruits of Schulze and Webb's work with Nokia on personalisation, in particular their explorations with mobile phone design in wood and fabric.

Anne Galloway asks if this is "personalisation for the many or the few?" and this talk of personalisation, local manufacture and crafting leads me to revisit my thoughts following a visit to the V&A's International Arts and Crafts exhibition this summer.

I can't say that the products or design values of the movement weren't to my taste, and nor can I deny the influence and impact of the movement on current design. However, the ideals of the arts and crafts movement as told by the exhibition were seemingly at odds with the pieces on display and the works of the designers who most actively promoted it. Ostensibly the movement was aimed at making high-quality everyday items accessible to the masses, and a desired return to simpler values, natural materials, high quality craftsmanship and in particular the notion of house and home as work of art. Unfortunately it seemed to be composed of well-off city-dwellers whose desire for so-called simple life arose from a romanticised and fetishised view of the countryside. Save a brief nod to Gustav Stickley's desire for commercial viability it wasn't clear how ordinary people would ever attain the wealth required to live that lifestyle, but meanwhile the apparent worthiness and endearing qualites of handicrafts and one-off items were co-opted to design and furnish the houses of rich patrons of the arts in Victorian urban centres.

Perhaps I missed something and just neatly summarised a total misunderstanding of the Arts and Crafts movement, but sticking my neck out a little I can see the some of the same contradictions at work in Schulze and Webb's explorations. On the one hand, the assertion is made that personalisation and craft should be (and arguably are) accessible to everyone, but on the other hand the waters are muddied with talk of one-off/short-run bespoke and luxury items for a designer market. I'm pretty sure that arises because they quite rightly believe in the value both areas of design, but I'm interested to hear Jack and Matt's thoughts on why these areas are seemingly so easy to mix up, and I'm especially eager to see what comes next.