22:12, Monday 14 Oct., 2002 Link
Current reading: An essay on typography (1931), Eric Gill's rant on typography and industrial England (review; at Amazon.co.uk). Long excerpts follow, but they're worth it, I promise. From the chapter "Time and Place".
"The world is not yet clothed in garments which befit it; in architecture, furniture and clothes, we are still using and wearing things which have no real relations to the spirit which move our life.
"Now the chief and, though we betray our personal predilectation by saying so, the most monstrous characteristic of our time is that the methods of manufacture which we emply and of which we are proud are such as make it impossible for the ordinary workman to be an artist, that is to say a responsible workman, a man responsible not merely for doing which he is told but responsible also for the intellectual quality of what his deeds effect. That the ordinary workman should or could be an arist, could be a man whom we could trust with any sort of responsibility for the work he does, or proud of anything but that kind of craftmanship which means skill and attention as a machine operator (and that responsibility is purely a moral one) is an idea now widely held to be ridiculous; and the widespreadness of this opinion proves my point as well as I could wish. When I say no ordinary workman is an artist, no one will say I am lying; on the contrary, everyone will say: Of course not.
"Such is the state of affair, and its consequences should be obvious. That they are not is the cause of the muddle in which manufacture is at present to be found. For in a world in which all workmen but a few survivals from pre-industrial times, a number so small as to be now quite negligable, are as irresponsible as hammers and chisels & tools of transport, it should be obvious that certain kinds of work which were the products proper to men for whom work was the natural expression of their intellectual convictions, needs & sympathies, as it was of those who bought it, are no longer either natural or desirable. If you are going to employ men to build a wall, and if those men are to be treated simple as tools, it is imbecility to make such a design for your wall as depends upon your having masons who are artists."
Well, and, I'd say three things. Firstly, my call for cathedrals is almost a century too late, and Eric Gill was marking the passing of spirituality from art and technology in 1931. Secondly, an item created must be true to itself, one that is fit for its purpose, appropriate to its manufacture, environment, gestalt, and so forth, all of which is completely right and true. I agree. But these aren't my points. The third:
That what Gill is struggling with is the role of man in a newly industrial world. And I'm thinking...
Every person had become used to operating within the machine, coherant with industry. And this was an unstable situation -- from the Industrial Revolution onward society was comprised in the main of people absolved of responsibility and accustomed to leaving the big picture to those in charge. It was primed for single individuals to take hold of the entire system and corrupt it completely, cf Hitler and the Holocaust.
There was a social lag, an alternative way for people to work in society was in place without the corresponding checks and balances. So nobody said "hang on, you can't do that, stop it", they just assumed somebody else was looking after that.