Arts and Crafts

Prehistory and Ancient Civilisations

For thousands of years, the creative arts and handmade crafts have provided people with forms of self-expression and enabled them to create items that are valued both for their aesthetic and practical qualities. Prehistoric cave art and carved figures depicting people, animals and deities could also have deeper cultural and spiritual significance. When representing the world around them, early humans typically used materials such as stone, wood and animal products. The rise of civilisations led to people also using materials such as metal, glass, ceramics and textiles, along with more advanced tools and techniques. Specialist artisans emerged, creating increasingly complex work that both shaped and was shaped by the societies within which they were made. Our ancestors typically had a more direct tactile connection to their environment than many of us living in today’s digital world.

Arts and Crafts in Medieval Europe

Traditionally artists and artisans passed on their knowledge to the next generation, which could involve them teaching their sons, daughters and other young people in the local community the skills which would enable them to earn a living. In Europe during the medieval period, guilds were established that provided standards of excellence by which to measure the work of artisans. Those wishing to follow a particular art or craft underwent years of learning in an apprenticeship, until they were recognised as having achieved the necessary level of skill in their art or craft. In museums across the world there are examples of artefacts created during previous centuries and they can give us an insight into how people lived and worked in the past.

The Industrial Revolution and the Arts and Crafts Movement

The Industrial Revolution disrupted traditional arts and crafts, as it became possible to mass produce items more quickly and sell them for less than it was possible for skilled artisans to compete with. The fears voiced across society during that period regarding the future of life and work, have their parallels in the twenty-first century as people across the world contemplate the impact of rapidly changing technology. During the nineteenth century concerns about social, cultural and environmental consequences of industrialisation led to the emergence of the Arts and Crafts Movement. The movement was shaped by the ideals of people such as John Ruskin and William Morris, whose work has inspired subsequent generations of artists, designers, artisans and architects.

Arts and Crafts In Contemporary Society

The fabric of the world we live in today was built upon the inventions developed by those who lived before us and the social structures they built. Although the modern world is shaped by mass production and consumer society, there is also a recognition of the importance of the creative arts and crafts. There are individual artists, designers and artisans earning a living by making and selling handmade items online, through craft fairs, markets and shops. The process of using practical skills to make items that can be of both aesthetic and practical value is also promoted by many teachers, who understand the many benefits they can provide. Learning and regularly practising an art or craft can promote the development of improved creative thinking, problem solving and social skills.