• Morris, Watts, Wilde and the democratization of art

    Ruth Kinna (see profile)
    Victorian Studies
    Idea (Philosophy), History, Arts, Handicraft, Socialism, Wilde, Oscar, 1854-1900
    Item Type:
    Book chapter
    William Morris, G.F. Watts, History of ideas, Arts and crafts, Oscar Wilde
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    This paper examines the politics of Morris’s understanding of art in socialism. At the centre of the analysis is the claim Morris makes for art’s democratisation and his commitment to the transformation of labour – into productive leisure – through art. The conditions for this transformation, namely, the abolition of commerce and the realisation of communism, are now well established. The interest of this paper is in the issues of cultivation, improvement, expression, autonomy and experimentation in art, which Morris’s politics implies. To discuss Morris’s position, I contextualise his thought by looking at the alternative ideas of two contemporaries: G.F. Watts and Oscar Wilde. Watts and Wilde shared many of Morris’s concerns about the degeneration of art in commercial society but developed very different ideas about the purposes of art and the conditions for it flourishing. The exploration of their ideas is designed to highlight both the richness of the discussion about art and politics at the end of the nineteenth century and the peculiarities of Morris’s position within it. Finally, the contrast helps indicate the boundaries of Morris’s libertarianism and the uncompromising radicalism of his contention that art had died.
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    3 years ago
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