Industrial Revolution, Alienation, and the Silent Artistic Revolution

During the rise of the industrial revolution there was a shift in the mindset of society that embraced the notion of machine mass production over the handmade craftsmanship of a tradesman, builder, or artist. “The Industrial Revolution is a symbol of dehumanization and alienation where man is reduced to objects of merchandized”[1]. For the handmade crafts to survive, it had to adapt to the rapid changes taking place, alienating itself from its truest form. Art effectively moved away from nature and imitative[2], and centered itself around sharing the truth about social issues and religion. The industrial revolution alienated artists through its technology and change, creating a hidden artistic revolution for the artist to keep up with industry.

Art found it lost its identity as what took an individual a considerable amount of time and material to craft was now taking less time, less material, and without the touch of the artist’s hand. Formerly “manufacturing was often done in people’s homes, using hand tools or basic machines. Industrialization made a shift to powered, special-purpose machinery, factories, and mass production”[3]. The advancement of the machine made it difficult for small businesses, craftsmen, and artists to sell their creations to the public. It became increasingly easier to imitate and reproduce replications. “The new steam engine driven machines replaced the craftsmen system with faster and cheaper production but often greatly inferior results. The critical eye and artistry of the craftsman was sacrificed for speed”[4]. Style was alienated from crafts, as society turned to the bland simplicity of machine production, rejecting the Classical style that previously ran rampant.[5][6] Authenticity was questioned, as it became unclear whether man-made or machine-made held the truest value.[7]

The craftsman and artist first had to embrace the machine in order become relevant in society. Instead of rejecting industrialization, many had embraced it and found opportunities. The movements of Romanticism, Realism, and Impressionism were the result of accepting the changes in society and changes in technology. New scenery, subjects, and inspirations were depicted in art, crafts, and buildings. New techniques, mediums, and styles were formed due to innovation. It became easier for artists and craftsmen to purchase supplies for their pieces due to factory production, and with cheaper materials and supplies allowed more diversity and opportunity in art from a wide range of social classes. The industrial revolution created an artistic revolution that ran along side its machine oriented society to soften the effects of harsh reality during that time period.

Cities, where many flocked to for jobs, wealth, and opportunity “became, progressively, in and of itself, landscape”[8], removing the fabric of nature from the ground. Trees, grass, flowers, wildlife, and the natural elements no longer had a place within a city, instead seen as a resource, fuel, tool, or even a nuisance. The industrial revolution led the arts toward the craftsmen movement and style, from where society realized the machine took away and alienated nature from their lives. Society chose to value nature once again through materiality, landscape paintings, and discovering the harmful effects of industry to the environment. The idea of sustainability was born during this time, and sought to bring man back to nature and to his true form while embracing what technological advances society has produced.

Bibliography / Footnotes:

[1] “The Industrial Revolution: A Symbol of Dehumanization and Alienation in America.” The Industrial Revolution: A Symbol of Dehumanization and Alienation in America | Kibin. KBin, n.d. Web. <>.

[2] Plowright, Phillip. “Module 5: Meaning.” Design Theory. Lawrence Technological University, Southfield, MI. Lecture. Web.

[3] Staff. “Industrial Revolution.” A&E Television Networks. 2009. Web. <>.

[4] staff. “How the Industrial Revolution Spawned the Arts & Crafts Movement.” The Origins and Impact of the Industrial Revolution. Graphic Design History, 2011. Web. <>.

[5] Prowright, Philip. “Module 5: Meaning”. Design Theory. Lawrence Technological University, Southfield, MI. Lecture. Web.

[6] Mitrovic, Branko. Philosophy for Architects. New York, NY: Princeton Architectural, 2011. Print.

[7] Plowright, Philip. “Module 5: Meaning.” Design Theory. Lawrence Technological University, Southfield, MI. Lecture. Web.

[8] Picon, Antoine. “Anxious Landscapes: From the Ruin to Rust.” Grey Room 1 (2000): 64-83. Web.

Class: Design Theory, Master of Architecture, Lawrence Technological University

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