3D printing, the Arts and Crafts Movement and the Democratization of Art

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* Master's Thesis: "The Art and Craft of the Machine": 3D printing, the Arts and Crafts Movement and the democratization of art. Patokorpi, Lassi. 2014. University of Tampere. 75pp + 7pp bibliography.

URL = http://tampub.uta.fi/handle/10024/95658 [1]


Excerpt from the examination report, J. Toikkanen, K. McGinley:

The question of who does art belong to and who has the licence to produce art is one that has persisted through the ages. In his MA thesis, Lassi Patokorpi undertakes the task of observing this issue from the perspective of a specific cultural analogy. The thought of the Victorian author William Morris and the famous Arts and Crafts Movement he helped inaugurate is set in comparison with 21st-century technological developments such as 3D printing, and the theme of democratization of art is identified as the one connecting the different eras.

As Patokorpi tells us, in terms of methodology, his MA thesis "falls within cultural criticism, applying comparative analysis based on a wide range of materials" (p. 3.). It follows that no specific theory is applied, and instead, Patokorpi sensibly focuses on making the all-important connection between the Victorian period and the 21st century as convincing as possible. For the purpose sections 3 and 5 that pivot on Morris and John Ruskin, and their lasting impact on the Arts and Crafts Movement, are respectively followed by sections 4 and 6 that clarify the corresponding phenomena in today's world. In addition to 3D printing, they include the "new, arguably socialistic ideas" (p. 25) of peer production and open source practices which, according to Patokorpi, recall the 19th-century ideals of Morris and Ruskin.

In section 7, the final part of the discussion, the thematic arc of the democratization of art is further traced from the 1800s to the 2000s through authors such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Benjamin and Lewis Mumford who have been selected for their influential views on the role of the "machine" in this very process. Patokorpi's point is that whereas thinkers like Morris and Ruskin rejected the machine, later intellectuals embraced the potential it proved for the democratization of art, and this insight culminates in Patokorpi's claim about the revolutionary potential embedded in the 21st-century technologies. For instance, he argues that, by redistributing the capitalist division of labour, 3D printing could "transcend debasing industrial working conditions" (p. 65) in which the worker is subservient to the machine. By the same token, should peer production and open source practices become the presiding norm in today's world, they might revive the discussed Victorian ideals by advocating "a kind of socialism that proposes the common good and good quality products in themselves as more important than individual gain and profits" (p. 73), as Patokorpi points out in the conclusion.

Lassi Patokorpi:

The Arts and Crafts Movement of late 19th century England professed to democratize art and the production wares. The most prominent character of the Movement was poet, craftsman and socialist William Morris. I claim that today open source philosophy and peer production combined with 3D printing technology represents a similar philosophy about the democratization of production as the 19th century Arts and Crafts Movement. 3D printing is a nascent technology which allows the physical rendering (prototyping) of computer models. As The Arts and Crafts Movement was opposed to machines, I try to ascertain to what extent the Movement’s opposition toward the machine extends and what it is based on. Therefore, I discuss the machine’s two-sided role as, on the one hand, the destroyer of art, and on the other hand, the saviour of art.

The Arts and Crafts Movement and 3D printing along with its related philosophies are connected by their endeavour to make the production of wares more accessible to ordinary people. They also share ideas about co-operative work, the strive for quality instead of profits, and a kind of socialism. In the upcoming future, if current trends persist, it is foreseeable that progress toward an Arts and Crafts vision of society will take place. The concepts of art, handcraft and machine work have been, and still are, in a state of constant change. This entails that other related concepts will change, too, such as the concepts of authenticity and uniqueness, which are definitive concepts of the era of handmaking, and they will begin to denominate new, contemporarily more relevant phenomena. My discussion of Lewis Mumford’s concepts (Megamachine, polytechnics, monotechnics) details that the role of the machine as the destroyer or the saviour of art is contingent on the ideology of the man who wields power over the machine. In this light the Movement’s opposition toward the machine appears more as opposition toward the prevailing capitalist system rather than as simple Luddism.

I study the Arts and Crafts Movement through the texts of its members paying special attention to the writings of its father character William Morris. As 3D printing is still an emerging field of technology my study material, aside from academic articles, also includes news articles, popular literature, lectures and interviews that I have conducted myself. Study material on peer production and open source is based on academic literature. This thesis falls under cultural criticism in which I apply comparative analysis.

Keywords: Arts and Crafts Movement, 3D printing, open source, peer production, William Morris, John Ruskin, Lewis Mumford, additive manufacturing, machine, craftsmanship