Private Press Movement

The Arts and Crafts movement, stimulated in part by Ruskin and led by the designer, writer, and socialist reformer William Morris, had an even greater impact on graphic design. Morris emphasized honesty in craftsmanship and the integrity of materials; he rejected eclecticism and stressed the importance of integrating design with production. The power of Morris's aesthetic ideas and examples from his Kelmscott Press cannot be overstated. Commercial publishers, printers, type designers, and illustrators were enthusiastic converts. From 1891 through the first decade of the twentieth century, designers on both sides of the Atlantic claimed Morris as their inspiration. The private press movement in England found eager disciples in America, and a few Americans went to England to train at T. J. Cobden-Sanderson's Doves Press, a press dedicated to the highest standards of design and workmanship in the Arts and Crafts style. Many more joined Arts and Crafts societies founded in cities throughout the United States. Arts and Crafts-inspired work and activities were in evidence between the Chicago Exposition in 1893 and the onset of World War I. Educational theories based on Ruskin's and Morris's philosophy brought concrete changes in the art school curriculum, led to the creation of many new design schools, and increased opportunities for women in the arts.

 

The Private Press Movement

 

Both Arts and Crafts societies and the private press movement ultimately used Morris's ideas to produce beautiful, often impractical, and almost always expensive objects. The societies became refuges from the industrialized world rather than an organized commitment to change the basic manufacturing institutions that deformed the lives of individual workers and created tawdry products. This inconsistency did not escape contemporary critics, such as the economist Thorstein Veblen, who wrote witty, scathing attacks on books produced with hand-set type at private presses and destined for the libraries of wealthy patrons.

 

The Private Press Movement

 

The Private Press Movement

 

Beyond the intellectual elite and some who worked in the private press movement, Ruskin's and Morris's rejection of machine production made little headway in the United States. People who spent their working lives in the physically demanding and harsh conditions of earlier printshops were unlikely to despise the advantages of power presses and machine-set type. The romanticism of handicraft perse was not a compelling force. Morris's tremendous attraction for the graphic design community lay instead in the promise he held to reunite art and production, by his attention to the design of letters, of imagery, and of page composition, and in his commitment to standards of printing. American commercial printers recognized the challenge of assimilating new technology with fine design and the need to rethink older craft values in terms of new technology. The application of art to industry, a theme conspicuous in the trade magazines under the phrases "the art of printing" and "art in advertising," was a response to this challenge.

2017 History of Graphic Design

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