Ornamental Wares

The sense of beauty and power of expressing it, under the present circumstances, is one of the rarest of gifts, so that the ordinary public have to put up with such pretence to beauty as the so-called ornamental class of wares can furnish to them. Therefore, while the rich man, by spending much money, can gather about him a certain amount of beauty, and while the man of moderate means may be able to attain the same end by taking an infinitude of trouble, the working man, who has no time to take trouble and no money to enable him to dispense with it, must put up with the lack of beauty altogether. Here, then, is a strange thing, that whereas in the pre-commercial ages we had beauty without paying for it, it has now become an article of the market, and, like most other market articles, is so shamefully adulterated that we can scarcely buy it even for our money.

I know that to many people this will seem a small matter, because only those (and how few they are!) who can make their surroundings decent can understand the full horror, the dullness and poverty of life which it involves. For my part, having regard to the general happiness of the race, I say without shrinking that the bloodiest of violent revolutions would be a light price to pay for the righting of this wrong.

For this is not a matter of accident, but springs from the form which the slavery of the many has taken in our days. It is but one of the consequences of wage-slavery. Until that wage-slavery was completed and crowned by the revolution of the great machine industries, there was some attractiveness in the work of the artisan. There is now none, or next to none and the reason why the ornamental wares above-mentioned are so adulterated is because the very ornament itself is but a part of the machine labour, made to sell and not for use whether it be done by human machines or non-human ones.

William Morris, “Unattractive Labour,” Commonweal, Vol I, No. 4, May 1885, pp. 37 (Supplement)

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