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The Influence of Art Schools on the Arts and Crafts Movement

Art Schools on the Arts and Crafts Movement
Deborah Upshaw journalist

by Deborah Upshaw

Devotee of the 1900's arts & crafts movement. Professional social media advocate. Inquisitive lover of the finer things.


The Arts and Crafts Movement, a significant cultural and artistic revolution of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, brought forth a renewed appreciation for craftsmanship and the handmade. Central to this movement were the art schools that played a pivotal role in shaping and fostering its ideals. In this article, we delve into the profound influence of art schools on the Arts and Crafts Movement, examining their educational philosophies, notable practitioners, and enduring impact on the world of art and design.

Art Education as a Catalyst for Change

During the Arts and Crafts Movement, art schools emerged as powerful catalysts for change, challenging the prevailing industrial mindset and revolutionizing the way society perceived art and craftsmanship. These institutions played a crucial role in shaping the movement's ideals and promoting a renewed appreciation for creativity and skillful handiwork. Let's delve into how art schools became a driving force for change during this transformative period.

The rise of industrialization in the late 19th century brought about a wave of mass production and a shift away from the handmade. Art schools recognized the negative consequences of this shift and sought to counteract it by emphasizing the value of individual creativity and craftsmanship. They challenged the notion that art should be limited to the privileged few and instead aimed to make art and craft accessible to all.

Art schools during the Arts and Crafts Movement placed a strong emphasis on fostering individual expression and creativity. They encouraged students to explore their unique artistic voices and to break away from the constraints imposed by the industrialized world. By nurturing a sense of artistic freedom, these institutions played a pivotal role in fostering a new generation of artists and designers who embraced originality and innovation. An example of one such school was the Macclesfield School of Art.

In addition to nurturing creativity, art schools focused on reviving and preserving traditional techniques and craftsmanship. They sought to counter the devaluation of skilled handiwork brought about by mass production. By teaching students traditional skills such as woodworking, ceramics, stained glass, and metalwork, art schools reinforced the importance of craftsmanship and its integration into everyday life.

Art schools embraced the concept of the "total work of art" or "Gesamtkunstwerk," which advocated for a holistic approach to artistic creation. They encouraged students to consider the complete artistic experience, from the design of furniture and textiles to the layout of interiors and even the architecture of buildings. By integrating various art forms and design elements, art schools challenged the compartmentalization of artistic disciplines and fostered a more comprehensive and cohesive approach to creativity.

Beyond nurturing individual creativity, art schools during the Arts and Crafts Movement aimed to bring about broader social change. They believed that by instilling a sense of beauty, craftsmanship, and artistic integrity in everyday life, they could improve the overall quality of society. These institutions sought to bridge the gap between art and the public, advocating for art's integration into public spaces and promoting a more aesthetically pleasing and harmonious environment.

Art schools played a pivotal role as catalysts for change during the Arts and Crafts Movement. By challenging the prevailing industrial mindset, emphasizing individual expression, reviving traditional techniques, embracing the total work of art, and fostering social change, these institutions reshaped society's perception of art and craftsmanship. Their influence extended far beyond the classroom, leaving an indelible mark on the artistic landscape and shaping the ideals of the movement for generations to come.

Shaping Artistic Ideals

Art schools played a pivotal role in shaping the artistic ideals of the Arts and Crafts Movement, instilling a deep appreciation for traditional techniques, skillful craftsmanship, and the integration of art into everyday life. These institutions became the breeding ground for a new generation of artists and designers who sought to challenge the prevailing industrial mindset and revive the beauty of handmade creations. Let's explore how art schools shaped the artistic landscape during this transformative period.

One of the core values instilled by art schools was a reverence for traditional techniques. In an era dominated by mass production and mechanical processes, these institutions emphasized the importance of preserving and revitalizing age-old craftsmanship. Students were taught time-honored skills such as woodworking, ceramics, stained glass, and metalwork, encouraging them to delve into the intricacies of these disciplines. By immersing themselves in traditional techniques, artists developed a profound understanding of materials, processes, and the artistry required to create exquisite works by hand.

Skillful craftsmanship was highly regarded in the Arts and Crafts Movement, and art schools played a significant role in promoting its significance. Students were not only taught technical skills but also trained to strive for excellence in their craft. The pursuit of perfection and the mastery of their chosen medium were paramount. Art schools nurtured a culture of meticulous attention to detail, where every stroke of a brush or chisel, every stitch or joint, carried profound meaning. The emphasis on craftsmanship elevated art beyond mere aesthetics, highlighting the skill and dedication required to create exceptional pieces.

Art schools also focused on integrating art into everyday life, a principle central to the Arts and Crafts Movement. They advocated for the idea that art should not be limited to galleries and museums but should permeate every aspect of human existence. Students were encouraged to design objects that seamlessly blended beauty and functionality, such as furniture, textiles, and household items. Art schools nurtured a holistic approach known as the "total work of art," where all elements of design, from the smallest detail to the grandest composition, harmonized together to create a unified and visually stunning environment.

Moreover, art schools nurtured a sense of social responsibility in their students. Artists were encouraged to create meaningful works that addressed the needs and aspirations of society. They were taught to consider the impact of their art on the well-being of individuals and communities. By infusing art with purpose and relevance, art schools fostered a deeper connection between artists and the world around them.

Art schools of the Arts and Crafts Movement became hallowed spaces where artistic ideals flourished. Through their teachings, they inspired a generation of artists to embrace the beauty of traditional techniques, to strive for impeccable craftsmanship, and to create art that resonated with everyday life. The impact of these institutions extended far beyond their classrooms, influencing the larger artistic landscape and leaving an enduring legacy that continues to shape our understanding and appreciation of art today.

Curriculum and Teaching Approaches

Art schools during the Arts and Crafts Movement took a distinct approach to their curriculum and teaching methods, recognizing the importance of hands-on training, nature studies, and the exploration of various artistic disciplines. These institutions embraced a holistic educational philosophy that aimed to nurture creativity and develop well-rounded artists. Let's delve into the curriculum and teaching approaches that made these art schools stand out.

One of the defining features of art schools during this period was their emphasis on hands-on training. Recognizing that artistic skills are best acquired through practice, students were immersed in a rich and immersive learning environment. They spent countless hours honing their craft through practical exercises, guided by experienced mentors who shared their expertise. This hands-on approach allowed students to develop a deep understanding of materials, tools, and techniques, enabling them to translate their creative visions into tangible works of art. By engaging in a process of trial and error, students learned valuable lessons and gained the confidence to push the boundaries of their artistic abilities.

Nature studies also played a pivotal role in the curriculum of art schools. Artists and educators believed that a deep connection with nature nurtured the artist's soul and inspired creativity. Students were encouraged to venture outdoors and observe the natural world with keen eyes. They would sketch landscapes, flora, and fauna, capturing the intricate details and organic beauty of their surroundings. Nature studies not only honed their observational skills but also instilled a sense of reverence for the environment and the intricate patterns and forms found within it. This deep appreciation for nature permeated their artistic creations, leading to the incorporation of organic motifs and natural elements in their designs.

In addition to hands-on training and nature studies, art schools of the Arts and Crafts Movement placed great importance on the exploration of various artistic disciplines. The curriculum was designed to expose students to a wide range of artistic mediums and techniques, fostering versatility and encouraging artistic experimentation. Students had the opportunity to delve into disciplines such as painting, sculpture, pottery, textile design, and metalwork. This multidisciplinary approach allowed them to develop a well-rounded artistic skill set, encouraging cross-pollination of ideas and the ability to approach their work from different perspectives. It also nurtured a spirit of collaboration, as students from different disciplines often worked together on projects, exchanging insights and pushing the boundaries of their respective crafts.

The teaching approaches employed in art schools of the Arts and Crafts Movement were rooted in mentorship and individualized instruction. Students benefited from close interaction with their instructors, who provided personalized guidance and critique. This intimate teacher-student relationship allowed for tailored instruction, addressing the unique strengths and challenges of each student. The emphasis was not only on technical proficiency but also on nurturing artistic sensibilities, encouraging students to develop their own artistic voice and express their individuality through their work.

Art schools of the Arts and Crafts Movement embraced a progressive and hands-on approach to education. By prioritizing practical training, nature studies, and the exploration of various artistic disciplines, these institutions empowered students to unleash their creativity and develop a deep understanding of their craft. The curriculum and teaching approaches fostered a sense of artistic curiosity and provided students with the tools and inspiration to become well-rounded artists capable of making significant contributions to the Arts and Crafts Movement and beyond.

Empowering Women: Art Schools as Catalysts for Independence and Voice

During the Arts and Crafts Movement, art schools played a pivotal role in empowering women and providing them with a newfound sense of independence and voice in the community. Breaking away from the constraints of traditional gender roles, these educational institutions became transformative spaces where women could freely express themselves and challenge societal norms. Let's explore how art schools became beacons of empowerment for women during this significant period of history.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, women faced numerous societal barriers that limited their opportunities for self-expression and personal fulfillment. However, art schools emerged as a haven where women could explore their creativity, develop their artistic skills, and find a voice that resonated with their unique perspectives. These institutions welcomed female students with open arms, recognizing their immense talent and potential. By providing equal access to education, art schools shattered the prevailing notion that artistic pursuits were reserved primarily for men.

Art schools offered women a platform to showcase their talents and gain recognition for their artistic achievements. Through the rigorous training and mentorship provided by experienced artists and educators, women honed their skills, expanded their artistic horizons, and gained the confidence to pursue their passions. This newfound artistic prowess not only gave them a sense of accomplishment but also served as a catalyst for their independence and self-sufficiency.

The artistic environment of art schools fostered a sense of camaraderie among women, creating a supportive network where they could connect with like-minded individuals and form lasting friendships. In these inclusive spaces, women could freely exchange ideas, collaborate on projects, and challenge one another to reach new artistic heights. The mutual support and encouragement within art schools helped women overcome the barriers they faced outside the classroom, providing a vital sense of solidarity and empowerment.

Art schools also played a crucial role in providing practical skills that empowered women to carve out successful careers as independent artists, designers, and craftswomen. By equipping them with the necessary technical expertise, business acumen, and entrepreneurial skills, these institutions enabled women to establish their own creative enterprises and contribute to the economic and cultural fabric of their communities. Through their artwork and crafts, women found avenues for financial independence and gained agency over their own lives.

Beyond the realm of artistic expression, art schools instilled in women a sense of self-worth and self-assurance. By challenging traditional gender roles and celebrating the unique perspectives of women, these institutions helped women recognize the value of their voices and the importance of their contributions to society. Art became a means through which women could address social issues, advocate for change, and challenge the status quo. The confidence gained through their artistic endeavors transcended the studio walls and spilled over into other aspects of their lives, empowering women to take an active role in their communities and assert their presence in male-dominated spaces.

Art schools during the Arts and Crafts Movement were instrumental in empowering women and granting them a newfound sense of independence and voice in the community. By providing equal access to education, nurturing artistic talent, and fostering a supportive environment, these institutions broke down societal barriers and allowed women to flourish as artists, designers, and creators. The skills, confidence, and sense of agency acquired through art education enabled women to overcome limitations, challenge societal norms, and become influential voices in the cultural landscape. The impact of art schools on women's empowerment during this era is a testament to the transformative power of education and the enduring legacy of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

Fun Fact…  Did you know that the influential English artist and designer William Morris, one of the key figures in the Arts and Crafts Movement, actually attended art school at a relatively late age? Morris enrolled at the age of 22 in the University College of Oxford, where he studied medieval history and architecture. His time at art school played a significant role in shaping his artistic ideals and laying the foundation for his future contributions to the Arts and Crafts Movement.


Art schools played a vital role in the development and propagation of the Arts and Crafts Movement, fostering a generation of skilled artisans, designers, and thinkers who embraced the principles of craftsmanship and sought to redefine the relationship between art and society. Their influence continues to resonate today, reminding us of the enduring value of art education and its power to shape artistic movements and cultural revolutions.