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Art for the many

I don't often have good things to say about large corporations. Most of them are amoral organizations who wield far too much power, run by executives who would rape their own grandmothers if they thought it would increase their profit margin.

However, there are some companies that I feel more warmly towards. For instance, Starbucks earns a 100% rating from, meaning that all of its political contributions go to Democrats. Barnes and Noble also gets this rating, plus I think they perform a useful service, bringing a wide selection of literature to places where any culture is hard to come by.

Politically speaking, Target is nothing to write home about; their execs donate most of their money to GOP candidates. But whoever is in charge of their design and marketing is a genius.

To see what I mean, check out their "Design For All" site. (That catchy song, btw, is by a band called The Concretes.) For the past few years they've been hiring major designers to create product lines; Target seems to be embracing the notion that mass-marketed, relatively inexpensive products can be beautiful, and really should be beautiful, since beautiful things--even everyday, household items--make life just that much more pleasant and shouldn't be limited to the well-off.

This was the driving idea behind the Arts and Crafts movement, an art movement from around the turn of the twentieth century: the idea that art, that beautiful things, should be available to everyone.

The most famous proponent of the Arts and Crafts movement was British socialist William Morris. Art as a bourgeois hobby was anathema to Morris, who claimed:

I do not want art for a few, any more than I want education for a few, or freedom for a few.

Some of the artists affiliated with the movement, such as Gustav Stickley, realized that this goal could probably only be accomplished via mass production; Stickley designed furniture that was sold in department stores and catalogs for relatively affordable prices. (Ironically, his work now sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars.) While he preferred the handmade to the machine-made, he recognized that he had to be prepared to exploit many different means if he was truly going to bring art to the masses.

The ideas of the Arts and Crafts have been in hibernation for quite some time. It's nice to see that somebody is at least trying to resurrect them.

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