Chapter 19. "Art is the Pleasure in Work" by William Morris

Table of Contents
Ideas of Interest from "The Aims of Art"
The Reading Selection from "The Aims of Art"
Related Ideas
Topics Worth Investigating

William Morris, (adapted) Carey, William Morris

About the author …

William Morris (1834-1896) was born in a small village east of London. Educated at Oxford, he formed with Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti a Medieval art group. With these Pre-RaphŠlite friends, Morris set up a business producing decorative art including dyeing, weaving, and stained glass. During this time also Morris constructed epic poems, prose romances, and classical translations. As English industry began to replace the beauty of the Medieval countryside, Morris became active in the socialist movement. As our reading below indicates, he thought work without pleasure was a form of slavery. The story is widely told that when in Paris, Morris spent much of his time writing in the restaurant on the first platform of the Eiffel Tower. When asked if he admired the Tower itself, he is said to reply that he stayed there for the sole reason that was the only place in the city he couldn't see the awful thing.

About the work …

In a pamphlet entitled "The Aims of Art,"[1] William Morris presents an argument that art is an essential component of the life of the individual and of the fabric of society. With the industrialism inherent in the rise of capitalism (the so-called "Artificial Famine"), Morris argues that the use of machinery in the drive for commercial profits leads to class-division and a dearth of genuine art. He believes fine art and decorative art were interrelated before large-scale manufacturing, but with increasing industrialization, fine art will interest only the wealthy and the decorative arts will be subsumed by machine-production. Nonetheless, the great hope for art, Morris believes, is the revitalization of an energizing spirit to overcome weariness in daily work and to provide pleasure for the leisure of society.

Ideas of Interest from "The Aims of Art"

  1. What are the two dominant moods of mankind that Morris describes, and how do these moods relate to the creation and appreciation of art?

  2. According to Morris, what two kinds of persons dislike and condemn art?

  3. What does Morris argue is the aim of "genuine" art?

  4. How does Morris account for what he claims is the decline of art in the nineteenth century?

  5. According to Morris, what is the secret of happiness?

  6. What does Morris foresee as the future of art?

Notes

[1]

William Morris. "The Aims of Art." London: Office of the Commonweal. 1887.