Useful and Beautiful

I have long been in agreement with the famous William Morris quote:

‘Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.’ William Morris lecture ‘The Beauty of Life’, 1880

I love the fact that he doesn’t necessarily expect things to be both. He allows for ‘unnecessary’ beauty and personal taste and doesn’t say that everyone else should think something is beautiful – only that you should…

I recently saw this on the National Portrait Gallery website (where they are currently having a Morris Exhibition.)

‘Nothing which is made by man will be ugly, but will have its due form, and its due ornament, and will tell the tale of its making and the tale of its use’.  William Morris article ‘Art’, 1891

I assume, given that it is Morris writing, that he is referring to handmade objects. ( Although I question his assertion of man’s inability to make anything ugly, but once again I suppose he is allowing for personal taste).  I like the idea that an object shows the tale of its making and use.

As I have written here before I believe that making something slowly and by hand provides a wonderful contrast to the speed and machine led nature of modern life. It is the reason that I can be found escaping from the computer and stitching quietly and slowly during many of my lunch breaks.

I am currently re reading poet and novelist May Sarton’s ‘Journal of a Solitude’ first published in 1973 and came across this:

‘It is troubling how many people expect applause, recognition, when they have not even begun to learn an art or craft. Instant success is the order of the day; ‘I want it now!’ I wonder if this is not part of our corruption by machines. Machines do things very quickly and outside the natural rhythm of life….So the few things that we still do, such as cooking, knitting, gardening, anything at all that cannot be hurried, have a very particular value.’

Goodness knows what she would have thought of today’s world, but the quote seems even more pertinent now….

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