William Morris - Arts and Crafts Designers

William Morris's Insights on Pattern Designing

Here's just one of the many beautiful things I have read from Morris's preachings, from one of his lectures 'Some Hints on Pattern Designing' at The Workingman's College in 1881, when he had been designing for 20 years.

Morris: "You may be sure that any decoration is futile, and has fallen into at least the first form of degradation, when it does not remind you of something beyond itself. This might be taken as an attack on the abstract element in pattern making; but he does not intend that mere naturalization shall be sufficient. Now, to sum it up, what we want to clothe our walls with is 1) something that is possible for us to get; 2) something that is beautiful; 3) something that will not drive us either into unrest or into callousness; 4) something that reminds us of life beyond itself, and which has the impress of human imagination strong on it; and 5) something which can be done by a good many people without too much difficulty and with pleasure. Now I have been speaking of what may be called the moral qualities of the art we are thinking of; let us try, therefore, to shorten their names, and have one last word on them before we deal with the material or technical part. Ornamental pattern work, to be raised above the contempt of reasonable men, must possess three qualities: beauty, imagination, and order.

'Tis clear I need not waste any words on the first of these. You will be drawing water with a sieve with a vengeance if you cannot manage to make ornamental work beautiful. As for the second quality, imagination: the necessity for that may not be so clear to you, considering the humble nature of our art; yet you would probably admit, when you come to think of it, that every work of man which has beauty in it must have some meaning also; that the presence of any beauty in a piece of handicraft implies that the mind of the man who made it was more or less excited at the time, was lifted somewhat above the commonplace; that he had something to communicate to his fellows which they did not know or feel before, and which they would never have known or felt if he had not been there to force them to it. Now as to the third of the essential qualities of our art; order. I have to say of it, that without it neither the beauty nor the imagination could be made visible; it is the bond of their life, and as good as creates them, if they are to be of any use to any people in general. Let us see, therefore, with what instruments it works, how it brings together the material and spiritual side of the craft. I have already said something of the way in which it deals with the materials with which nature gives it, and how, as it were, it both builds a wall against vagueness and opens a door therein for imagination to come in by. Now, this is done by means of treatment which is called, as one may say technically, the conventionalizing of nature. That is to say, order invents beautiful and natural forms, which, appealing to a reasonable and imaginative person, will remind him not only of the part of nature which, to his mind at least, they represent, but also of much that lies beyond that part. I have already hinted at some reasons for this treatment of natural objects. You can't bring a whole countryside or a whole field into your room, nor even a whole bush; and, moreover, only a very specially skilled craftsman can make any approach to what might pass with us in moments of excitement for an imitation of such-like things. These are the limitations which are common to every form of the lesser arts; but besides these, every material in which household goods are fashioned imposes certain limitations within which the craftsman must work. Here again, is a wall of order against vagueness, and a door for the imagination. For you must understand from the first that these limitations are as far as possible from being hindrances to beauty in the several crafts. On the contrary, they are incitements and helps to its attainment; those who find them irksome are not born craftsmen, and the periods of art that try to get rid of them are declining periods. Now this must be clear to you, if you come to think of it. Give an artist a piece of paper, and say to him, 'I want a design,' and he must ask you, 'What for? What's to be done with it?' But if you say, 'I want this queer space filled with ornament, I want you to make such and such a pretty thing out of these intractable materials,' straightaway his invention will be quickened, and he will set to work with a will; for, indeed, delight in skills lies at the root of all art. :)"

Morris's Love for Nature and Gardens

In one of his letters, he wrote about his garden, showing his true love of plants and opening up his core, which naturally oozes from what he sees and loves.

Morris: "The fields are all butter-cuppy. The elms are mostly green up to their tops: the hawthorn not out, but the crabs beautiful, and also that white-beam (I think they call it) with the umbelliferous flowers. In the garden, we have lots of tulips out looking beautiful; the white bluebells and some blue ones; some of the anemones are in blossom, and they all soon will be: they are very lovely. Apple blossom for the most part only in bud, but the cherry tree near the arbour opposite my window is a mass of bloom. The heartsease's are beautiful; a few of the Iceland poppies are out: the raspberries are showing for blossom."

Morris's Famous Sayings and Philosophy

Morris even excites the imagination of the mind in his writing by capturing the same thought that we see from the printed, woven fabrics, wallpapers, and tapestries which he designed. Of course, two of his most famous sayings of all time, which we have come to love and respect him for, are:

Morris: "We should have nothing in our houses, which we did not either know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."


Morris: "Art is the expression of man's delight in his labour, a joy to the maker and user; but art could only be this on the condition of social equality: it must be for all; a necessary part of the great human birthright, or it will die."

Researched and written by Tony Geering.