It’s A Bungalow? Are you familiar with the Arts and Crafts Movement? For many “Arts and Crafts” refers to a reproduction Morris chair in their den. For others it might evoke Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie style or an antique Stickley dining set. Each of these is born of the A&C movement, but none of them alone does much to define it.
I was as unfamiliar as anyone until we bought our first house. We didn’t know anything about the style, but we liked that it was affordable, well-built and cozy. Turns out it was a craftsman bungalow. Being a history buff, I fell in love with the house and the style. I’ve since come to realize that my A&C ardency has affected my entire writing journey. Perhaps you too are an Arts and Crafts writer and didn’t even know it.
The Meaning Behind the Movement: When I first heard the phrase: “Arts & Crafts,” I thought of hand-knit oven-mitts at a yard sale. Then I came to know it as an architectural style. As it turns out, the A&C movement, born in 19th Century England, did not set out to promote a particular style but rather advocated reform and a critique of industrialization.
Early A&C proponents rejected the ornateness of the Victorian era. A&C pioneer John Ruskin (1819-1900) advocated honest and exposed craftsmanship in architecture. Ruskin’s writings influenced designers like William Morris (1834-1896), who strove to unite all the arts within the construction and decoration of the home, emphasizing nature and simplicity to make it a refuge of beauty and enlightenment. Morris’s influence reached America via popular turn of the century periodicals such as House Beautiful and Gustav Stickley’s The Craftsman.
The Artistic Craftsman:
“Art is not a thing; it is a way.” ~Elbert Hubbard
Craft is about function, measuring success by usefulness. Art’s value is measured outside of utility, and encompasses beauty and emotional impact. If a craft, produced for its utility, can be made to be beautiful or to evoke an emotion without harming its usefulness, hasn’t it achieved artistic value? If so, it follows that there is inherent value in combining arts and crafts.
Proponents of the A&C movement espoused beauty in nature and simplicity of form; craftsmanship through skills gained by practice and dedication. As a woodworker, I feel the most beautiful and functional items I’ve produced are the simplest and most natural. Through woodworking I’ve seen that skills are gained though doing the work. There are no shortcuts.
It’s wise to study and to plan your projects, but a craftsman’s skill is gained through practice. And artistic results are produced by skilled craftsmen. (Is this starting to resemble writing yet? Just checking.)
The Arts & Crafts Writer:
“The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.” ~ Steven Pressfield
“The lyf so short, the craft so longe to lerne.” ~Geoffrey Chaucer
As I look back on my nine-plus years of writing fiction, I can clearly recall many instances in which I wanted to consider a project “done.” But, without exception, I’ve been able to take that same work to another level. I’m not saying this tells me that no project is ever done. What it does demonstrate is that we, as writers, should never consider ourselves done evolving and growing.
A true craftsman knows he will only ever attain the artistic through stretching his skills and then practicing again. The next project’s growth is built upon the foundation of the last project’s practiced skill-set.[pullquote]A true craftsman knows he will only ever attain the artistic through stretching his skills and then practicing again. The next project’s growth is built upon the foundation of the last project’s practiced skill-set.[/pullquote]
Arts & Crafts Fiction:
“If there were a manifesto for 21st century fiction writers, I hope it would go like this: Down with high-flown literature! Cast off genre servitude! The revolution is founded in authorial liberty. It regards story and art as equals.” ~ Donald Maass
You might not expect a guy who has focused on genre work (I write epic historical fantasy) to be talking about simplicity or striving to be artistic. Genre is about storytelling and obligatory tropes, right? There may be an element of truth there but, for example, I’ve found that the micro-element of complex world-building does not preclude the beauty of macro-simplicity. As I practice and strive, I often find myself stripping away the superfluous, and honing on character goals and motivations to deepen conflicts. And I find the result makes for simpler, more effective storytelling. I also believe the simplest and most natural way to emotional impact is through effective story. Thus, my aspiration for the artistic through dedication to craftsmanship.
The Arts and Crafts writer should strive for ever-improving utility of function (storytelling), which in turn sets them on a course toward beauty through simplicity of form, and impact through that which is natural and human (art).
The Arts & Crafts Writing Career:
“Get happiness out of your work or you may never know what happiness is.” ~Elbert Hubbard
I get frustrated sometimes. And impatient. Some days I just want to be “done.” I am a writer, striving to be an artist. But sometimes I just want to be: Vaughn Roycroft, Writer—with a capital W. With books on the shelf, not still in a file labeled: work-in-progress. It’s days like these that I need to remind myself of my Arts & Crafts philosophy. And that philosophy tells me that I am the work-in-progress, not the file.
When I’m feeling down about a project or the state of my so-called career, the best things I can do are to take a long walk in nature, get back to the my roots as a human being, and then get back to work. If ideas won’t flow onto the page, I go to work in the wood-shop. I’ve found that nothing stimulates the flow of ideas like working with my hands. Even raking the yard is better than moping about the progress of my writing.
I remind myself that even after my first book is published, I must then remember that a craftsman continues to grow and evolve. After my fourth book is published, I will need to stretch my skills and practice again in order to find my way to a worthy fifth.
The Arts & Crafts Lifestyle:
“The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.” ~William Morris
The Arts & Crafts writer does not seek fame or a lavish lifestyle. We find our art though dedication and through diverse life experience. We find satisfaction in the work itself. We know that only through practice can we achieve the utility we seek in order to stride ever closer to the artistic. We surround ourselves with beauty, and for us beauty is found in simplicity and nature.
In the best sense of the word, we are eternal students. Even when we are teachers, we are still students. WU is a perfect example of the fact that we all have so much to learn from one another—and always will. We writers are students of nature—human and otherwise. We are students of life.
So, what about you? Ever lived in a bungalow? Did you know it when you moved in? Are you an Arts & Crafts writer? Or are you already famous and living a lavish lifestyle? (If so, maybe don’t tell me—envy is not conducive to the Arts & Crafts lifestyle.)