William Morris, Art and Idealism

Charles Harvey and Jon Press examine the aesthetic achievements of the multi-talented and pioneering early Socialist.

William Morris was a man of extraordinary creative energy who dedicated his life to the cause of art. Personal experience convinced him that art should not be the preserve of a small minority of professionals of refined taste and sensibilities, but should be a universal activity, natural to life, work and leisure. He wished to live in a society which eschewed the production of inferior, ugly wares, made without pleasure by tormented workers. In a decent society, which strove for beauty and relaxation instead of profit and personal advantage, the only goods worth making would he the necessities of life, and objects which were a source of pleasure to maker and user alike. Hence his famous dictum: 'art which is made by the people and for the people, as a happiness to the maker and the user'.

Born in 1834 into a wealthy commercial family, William Morris had the opportunity and the means to pursue the career of his choice. Abandoning his initial intention to enter the Church, he tried his hand at architecture and painting before turning to the decorative arts. Here he found his true metier. Though he was also to become celebrated as a writer, a pioneer of English socialism, and a geographer and printer, it was above all through his talents as a designer and through the highly successful business which depended upon those talents, that he was to make his mark.

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