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O’Neill, Morna.- "Cartoons for the Cause ? Walter Crane’s The Anarchists of Chicago

jeudi 2 juillet 2015, par pierre

Art History, Volume 38, Issue 1 (February 2015)

The correlation of artistic authorship to meaning is never straightforward. But some political cartoons nevertheless seem to offer a tantalizing certainty. While satirists such as James Gillray and George Cruikshank surveyed all politics with a sardonic eye, it is usually taken as given that a positive political image is an expression of the artist’s own views. Take, for example, the cartoons of Walter Crane, the Arts and Crafts artist and committed socialist. By 1885, Crane was an active member of various socialist organizations and had become a conspicuous voice in contemporary debates about art and politics. With designs such as The Worker’s Maypole, a cartoon from 1894, Crane foregoes satire, parody, and caricature in favour of idealism, in particular the evocation of a pastoral idyll that condemns the industrial present.

While it was not unusual for Arts and Crafts artists such as William Morris and Crane to openly declare their political commitments, the dynamic between their politics and their artistic practice was often considered a matter of form rather than content. The movement was inspired by John Ruskin’s lament that modern workers had lost the art of their work, defined as the joy of imagination in creative labour inspired by an idealized understanding of medieval craftsmanship.1 In most accounts, the handcrafted objects produced by the Arts and Crafts movement – tapestries, textiles, wallpapers, ceramics, and the like – are thought to embody their very meaning in their making : beautiful and useful, these objects manifest the ideals of craftsmanship, fitness of purpose, and sensitive use of materials that implicitly, rather than openly, condemn industrial production and resist the capitalist marketplace.2 Crane in particular viewed the Arts and Crafts movement in activist terms, and its exhibitions and publications constituted a radical attempt to bring a new understanding of artistic labour to the fore.3 And these artistic efforts extended beyond the walls of the Arts and Crafts exhibition. As I have argued elsewhere, his work as a painter and illustrator engendered a different relationship to the politics of the crafted object, as Crane considered the propagandistic possibilities of both form and content.4 Most of Crane’s political cartoons began as pen and ink drawings that were then passed along to newspapers or printers for publication and dissemination, an endeavour far removed, for example, from the hand-crafted books of William Morris’s Kelmscott Press.5 Instead, cartoons such as The Worker’s Maypole gave visual form to the ideals of preindustrial community and craftsmanship, ideals that were both artistic and political.


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