The Production of Style: Aesthetic and Ideological Diversity in the Arts and Crafts Movement, 1875--1914
AdvisorRagin, Charles C.
Committee ChairRagin, Charles C.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractWhat explains the aesthetic diversity of the Arts and Crafts movement? Typically, artistic movements are characterized by a single style but the Arts and Crafts produced both organic and geometric forms. Examining two Arts and Crafts retrospective exhibitions, I find that organic aesthetics predominated in Great Britain, Scandinavian countries, and Hungary and that geometric aesthetics were more prevalent in the United States, Germany, and Austria. This finding is largely consistent with previous sociological research on artistic form, which has found that stronger political-economies are more likely to produce geometric work while weaker political-economies are more likely to produce organic work. Austria, however, is a contradictory case and here the Arts and Crafts movement was more geometric than the political-economic model would predict.Through a comparative-historical study, I determine that the cause of aesthetic diversity of the Arts and Crafts movement was not per se a region's political-economic situation. Rather--and in contradiction to existing sociological theories of artistic style--the aesthetic variation of the Arts and Crafts was a function of whether, in a given country, the movement was backward-looking or forward-looking which, in turn, was function of which Arts and Crafts principles particular regions privileged. In regions where the members of the movement emphasized the value of labor (Great Britain) or regionalism (Scandinavia and Hungary), the movement was backward-looking and characterized by an organic aesthetic. In contrast, in regions that emphasized the democratization of the arts (the United States and Germany) or artistic unity (Austria), the movement was forward-looking and characterized by a geometric aesthetic. I further argue that in order to make sense of the ideological diversity of the movement, we must appreciate that the Arts and Crafts was a cultural manifestation of a period of political and economic turbulence characterized by the emergence of the first great world-wide depression, the decline of British hegemony, and the rise of American hegemony. The Arts and Crafts movement served to buffer the disruptive effects of this period and, in doing so, helped to usher in the modern age.