People recognize Walter Crane as a famous book illustrator, but far fewer are aware that he was the philosophical leader of a political movement in the arts in late 19th century Britain, combining aesthetics and socialism and expressing his ideas in his writings promoting the Arts and Crafts movement.
Crane’s essays on aesthetics and politics are collected in several books, including The Claims of Decorative Art which includes several good articles on how art relates to commerce and government. I have to admit to not agreeing with many of Crane’s political beliefs, but his essays do provide interesting food for thought. In his essay “On the Structure and Evolution of Decorative Pattern” he wrote:
“The artist must keep in touch with nature and life; he must keep his eye fresh and his heart open if his work is to touch men and dwell in their memories. And it matters not whether he wield the chisel, the hammer, or the brush, or work at the forge, the carpenter’s bench, the stone-mason’s shed, on the scaffold or in the studio; if he feels his work, if he acquires the skill to make a thing of beauty, he is an artist in the true sense of the word.”
Which sums up the idea behind the Arts and Crafts movement pretty well and touches on some universal truths about art which it is difficult to argue with. If you would like to read some of Crane’s philosophy of art, going far beyond the title of this essay, click on the image to the right to access a PDF facsimile of “On the Structure and Evolution of Decorative Pattern” from The Claims of Decorative Art.