The Slow Movement
The 'Slow Movement' is a term describing a wide range of efforts taking place around the world today that seek to connect us more meaningfully with others, with place and the environment and with ourselves. It began in the 1980s with the concept of ‘slow food’ as opposed to ‘fast food’ and has since emerged as an effort to counteract the fast–paced, commodity–focused, unbalanced and impersonal nature of much of modern consumer culture. Slow is a paradigm for living sustainably.
Slow is a a form of ‘positive globalisation.’ Far from being parochial, the movement’s explicit intention is to form a network of global connections, embracing new media in order to disseminate its ideas worldwide. It has at its heart the philosophy ‘Think Global, Act Local,’ a phrase first coined by Patrick Geddes and central to Green thinking today. It envisions a multi-local distributed economy and promotes an alternative idea of development that runs against the apparently inevitable trend towards centralisation and standardisation.
Slow can manifest itself in any design, object, space or image that encourages promotion of local artisans, local designers, local flavours. The main tenet of the Slow Movement is that by taking the appropriate amount of time to experience the various activities of our lives, we are able to get in touch with what is deeply satisfying and fulfilling. It is about downshifting. We are engaged in constant fast-forward motion whereby we are often overscheduled, stressed and rushing towards the next task. This is not restricted to our work environment - we rush our food, our family time and our leisure. Our fast-paced life has weakened the connections we have between people, place and culture.
The Arts & Crafts Movement
Inspired by the writing of John Ruskin (1819 - 1900), William Morris (1834 - 1896), The Arts & Craft Movement advocated a revival of traditional handicrafts, a return to a simpler way of life and an improvement in the design of ordinary domestic objects. These artists and thinkers wished to counter the deadened, mechanical materialism of contemporary art and design; the belief was that a growth of industry had removed both skill and the pride a craftsman could find in his work. At its height between 1880 and 1910, it was a reaction to the excesses of Victorian culture, capitalism and industrialism. Artistic ideals were combined with strong political beliefs and many of those in the movement also advocated economic and social reform.
The Arts & Crafts Movement was also all about revival - about looking to the past for inspiration yet accepting the conditions of the modern age. Artists looked to medieval, romantic or folk styles of decoration and new designs were created based on patterns in flora and fauna. William Morris was perhaps the most important designer and thinker of the early movement. He held socialist ideals and believed that art should improve the lives of ordinary people. Morris’ company produced book designs, furniture, textiles, wall coverings and objects for home consumption. Kelmscott press, his printing works, inspired a revival of private presses across Europe and America, influencing both typography and graphic design.
The Scottish movement occurred in the late 1880's and 90's, more than 20 years after Morris had established his first shop in London. The Glasgow School of Art (GSA) was the centre of the Arts and Crafts movement in Scotland.
Patrick Geddes (1854 - 1932) was a Victorian polymath. He was a radical, wildly eclectic and aspirational thinker about places, communities, cities, cultures, histories, regions, nations, and about the world. He had great support for the ethos of the Arts & Crafts movement because of its pioneering spirit, the appreciation of the joy of craftsmanship, the quality of the materials and the value it placed on beauty as well as life.
Often described as an ecologist, biologist and sociologist, and by some as the ‘ father of the Green political movement’, Geddes is probably best remembered for his pioneering work in planning cities. His ideas are only now finding their way into wider social consciousness, perhaps because the problems he addressed are more valid and current than ever.
He was an active thinker and practical doer, always searching for solutions to problems, whether economic, physical, social, or environmental. His talent was to think across boundaries, integrate ideas from various disciplines and apply these ideas in practice. He believed that learning should be rooted in real life experience and that the best original thinking is a creative process.
One of Geddes' many initiatives was his series of Summer Meetings, where people came together to learn about progressive thinking and new ideas. These meetings attracted an impressive range of writers, speakers and key thinkers of the time. They involved a full programme of talks, lectures, social and cultural events such as evening musical concerts as well as opportunities to learn ‘life skills’ and crafts, including architectural work, building construction, woodwork, furniture and art.
Among the many titles given to Geddes, the one he himself preferred, allegedly, was ‘gardener.’ The garden to him became a symbol of the creative interaction of human beings and nature. Above all, Geddes' aim was 'to see life whole,' to achieve a better understanding of human beings in their natural, social, cultural and social environments and to create conditions for the flourishing of all life, both cultural and natural.
The Celtic Revival
The Celtic Revival in Scotland (1860-1930) witnessed a flowering of artistic, literary and cultural activities. The movement owed a great deal to the pioneering foklorist Alexander Carmichael (1832 - 1912), who brought to light a vast amount of Gaelic material. Oral traditions and the traditional performing arts – poetry, storytelling, song and music – all played a vital part.
In 1885, Patrick Geddes formed The Edinburgh Social Union which became part of an attempt to faciliate the revival. It included a number ofsignificant figures in the Arts & Crafts movement. The idea was not to replicate, but to understand, absorb and release the Celtic past into the present, drawing on ancient history, literature, myth and art to produce work in a modern idiom. Geddes employed John Duncan (1886 - 1945), with Charles Hodge Mackie (1862 – 1920) to paint mural decorations in rooms at Ramsay Garden. Duncan also directed the Old Edinburgh School of Art in the heart of the Old Town of Edinburgh where students engaged in arts and crafts practice, including the design of modern Celtic ornament for wide application in metalwork, wood, leather and plaster.
Geddes’ seasonal journal The Evergreen (1895 – 6) was the principle outlet of his international Celticism, bringing together artists, writers and thinkers of the time to explore the relationship between culture and nature. The name alludes both to Scottish cultural history and to nature: itevokes Allan Ramsay's collection of poems, 'The Ever Green,' first published in 1714 and the tree as a metaphor for life. The first edition appeared in 1895, containing essays, poems and illustrations structured around the themes of Nature, Life, The World and the North.
This revival movement was about re-evaluating the past to learn lessons for a both a Scottish and international future. The shared belief was that, as a nation, Scotland could only be creative when it was actively seeking to implement its own vision of a ‘commonweel,’ with collectivity, rootedness in place and community involvement at its heart. This revival was radical in the true sense of the word. Radicalis means ‘to form the root.’ The key point here is that this process was not seen as a ‘break’ from history: it was a future vision developed with, not against the past.