The Industrial Revolution during the period of 1760 to 1840 marked a huge turning point in human history as it ushered in a period of radical technological, social and economic change. Some of its most notable changes included the transition from hand to machine productions, creation of new manufacturing processes through developments of machine tools as well as the rise of factory system.
Artistic movements prior was in stark contrast to the Industrial Revolution. Art movements such as Baroque (1590-1725), Rococo (1700-1785), Neo-classicism (Late 18th century – Early 19th century) were classified as Historicism where patrons of the arts were mostly monarchs or people rich enough to consume such art. Both the Baroque and Rococo period placed emphasise on “Beauty to the eyes” and the works produced featured heavy ornamentation and looked very extravagant. Since it was designed and built by craftsman for the rich to reflect their status. There was a shift brought by Neo- Classicism as they viewed previous styles to be too overly “cheesy” and began to rationalise beauty through the use of geometric shapes and platonic forms with minimal use of colours with the emphasis of “Beauty to the mind”.
The combination of several factors resulted in a favourable climate for the revolution in Britain. The Agricultural Revolution in 18th century resulted in an increase in food production, which meant lower prices for food and thus an increase in consumption for manufactured products. Abundance of natural resources also meant that Britain was able to utilise their minerals to run industrial machines. British Colonialism during this period provided a vast consumer market ready to purchase its manufactured good. This is also aided by the construction of vast Transportation Networks which reduced transportation costs and increased efficacy. Most importantly, Technological developments such as the Steam Engine (James Watt,1785), the Spinning Jenny (James Hargreaves, 1764) and Power Loom (Edmund Cartwright 1785) shaped the manufacturing landscape by allowing greater quantities for production and increased production speed.
The changes brought by the industrial revolution included the following:
1) The use of new basic materials, mainly iron and steel
2) New energy sources (steam power, fossil fuels, electricty)
3) Invention of new machines (and tools)
4) New forms of organisation of work
5) Developments in transportation and communications
Driven by increase in consumer demand, and technological developments and breakthroughs, Industrial revolution focused on the mechanisation of processes to improve efficacy. Invention of New machines and new organisation of work (factory systems) allowed for an increased production with smaller expenditure of human energy as well as mass production of manufactured goods. This resulted in increased job opportunities which increased the overall amount and of wealth and its distribution, enlarging the middle class, lower costs and prices for goods and a shifting role of workers from craftsmen to specialised workers, albeit terrible working conditions and social issues such as child-labour.
The shift in the roles of worker meant that labourers at factory systems would acquire new and distinctive skills, instead of being a craftsman working with hand tools as were the case in prior years, the craftsman now became a machine operator, subject to factory discipline. These new machines and systems replaced the craftsmen system with faster and cheaper production but often greatly inferior results as the critical eye and artistry of the craftsman was sacrificed for speed where the machine now determines the final product. This also meant that the works created were largely similar and not unique. With minimal ornamentation and simpler forms that made it easier to be produced in large quantities at faster speeds. One example would be Chair No. 14 by Michael Thonet in which the different components can be dismantled and put together and thus was able to be flat-packed. This was in contrast to French Rococo chairs by Louis Delanois which were bulky, had curvy forms and featured much ornamentation. This also marked the stylistic difference between Industrial Revolution produced works and the period before. Where the focus was on efficacy and function.
Industrial furniture was simple, practical, easy to mass produce and made to withstand harsh conditions. It was merely for daily work and not considered to be stylish.
At the height of the Industrial Revolution, Sir Henry Cole (1808-1882) a British Art educator and Prince Albert (1819-1861), Husband and consort of Queen Victoria pushed for the organization of The Great Exhibition of 1851, it was the world’s first World Exposition to showcase the industrial and cultural products of the world. Its purpose was to address the problems of taste, design and production in modern society ands also to showcase Britain’s success in innovation science, arts and engineering, establishing itself as a leader in the world’s first industrial leader. The main exhibit included over 100,000 objects from 15,000 contributors and included a range if products and items from modern machinery, cultural objects, jewellery and ornate furniture.
The exhibition took place from 1 May 1851 to 15 October. By the time it closed, the Great Exhibition was seen as a popular success as it had garnered over 6 million visitors, with the international nature of the exhibition giving visitors a powerful sense of a newly wide world. It had gained sufficient profit for the organisers to channel the resources to create the South Kensington Museum (also known as the Victoria and Albert Museum) subsequently. However, the critical reception for the exhibition was not as positive as critics panned the works that were created by industrialised methods to be shoddy and poorly designed. Owen Jones, an English architect and designer said in a journal of the Great Exhibition, “After wondering through the halls of this most wonderful assemblage of the world’s industry, the artist who passes down the nave from east to west will see on either side but a fruitless struggle to produce in art novelty without beauty – beauty without intelligence; all work without faith.” Jones’ comments seems to suggest of the works produced to have been over-decorated with unrelated styles, as though it was art for art’s sake. Jones’ use of the word “faith” in his description also speaks of a spiritual concept in design which is absent in the industrial based works produced during this period.
In conclusion, the distinct characteristic of the industrial revolution is its pursuit of mechanisation automation processes, the result is higher production quantities and lower costs of production however, critics have raised issue on how this had ultimately affected the quality of works produced as it no longer carried the spirit of the craftsman but rather simply machine determined. The values presented in the industrial revolution also set the background for Design Reformation Movements as critics of the period John Ruskin and William Morris decided to respond to such mechanised methods of production.