A similar misunderstanding is contained in the terms ‘applied arts’ and ’artisan crafts’. It results from the addition of the word ‘art’ because, here, this word is simply meant to designate a special kind of craft or trade, to upgrade the value and to differentiate it from other crafts or trades. It harks back to the so-called arts & crafts movement, which – significantly supported by William Morris and John Ruskin – emerged in the second half of the 19th century in England in response to a decline in the quality of products through industrialisation. Evidently, industrialisation initially favoured new technologies and efficiency while the quality of the products was totally neglected. Additionally, a completely new market was created through industrialisation, in which the buyers were only components of an anonymous mass. Industrialisation meant mass production and that could not take individual conditions and requirements into consideration.
By referencing the fine arts, the English arts & crafts movement attempted to claim and formulate a new quality, especially in the design of interiors and in architecture and it did so by falling back on pre-industrial production methods and ideas: in his book News from Nowhere William Morris invoked the Middle Ages as a positive design competence. In other words, not a pioneering, but rather a conservative, retrograde concept.
Admittedly, in the Middle Ages and also during the renaissance, the visual arts had built large workshops and had a great command of manual skills, but, gradually, visual art radically moved away from the crafts, gained a great deal of freedom and liberated itself from any kind of direct practicality. “Art is art and everything else is everything else”, stated the artist Ad Reinhardt – thus postulating the independence of art and, as it were, the freedom for art to be radically asocial. Art must not be useful, it realises itself only as art. Design, on the other hand, legitimises itself solely through the option of practical use: the goal of design is to be useful – for whomsoever.
However, this open and clear form of design only emerged at the end of the 1930s in the USA, especially with the work of Raymond Loewy, who had no necessity to present himself as an artist.
But, in certain fields of artisan crafts and also in the naming of museums the sheer desperate upgrading of one’s own work by referring to art persisted. This is simply superfluous because design needs no upgrade by refining it with the word ‘art’.