I’ve quoted William Morris on this blog several times, here and here just to name a couple. It’s amazing to me how relevant his writings and ideas are to contemporary society. I’ve especially found his writings helpful when after having struggled thinking about how to communicate what it is I’m trying to do with my work, and then I’ll read a passage by good old WillMo and he goes and clears things right up.
The quote in the image above, “The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life in elevating them by art”, speaks succinctly to what it is I find so exciting about social practice and creating work that engages with the public in daily life. That line was written in the late 1800s and published in a series of essays called “Signs of Change”.
In the beginning of the essay where that quote is taken from, he goes further into the idea of happiness with a clarity that really resonates with me:
In considering the Aims of Art, that is, why men toilsomely cherish and practise Art, I find myself compelled to generalize from the only specimen of humanity of which I know anything; to wit, myself. Now, when I think of what it is that I desire, I find that I can give it no other name than happiness. I want to be happy while I live; for as for death, I find that, never having experienced it, I have no conception of what it means, and so cannot even bring my mind to bear upon it. I know what it is to live; I cannot even guess what it is to be dead. Well, then, I want to be happy, and even sometimes, say generally, to be merry; and I find it difficult to believe that that is not the universal desire: so that, whatever tends towards that end I cherish with all my best endeavour. Now, when I consider my life further, I find out, or seem to, that it is under the influence of two dominating moods, which for lack of better words I must call the mood of energy and the mood of idleness: these two moods are now one, now the other, always crying out in me to be satisfied. When the mood of energy is upon me, I must be doing something, or I become mopish and unhappy; when the mood of idleness is on me, I find it hard indeed if I cannot rest and let my mind wander over the various pictures, pleasant or terrible, which my own experience or my communing with the thoughts of other men, dead or alive, have fashioned in it; and if circumstances will not allow me to cultivate this mood of idleness, I find I must at the best pass through a period of pain till I can manage to stimulate my mood of energy to take its place and make me happy again. And if I have no means wherewith to rouse up that mood of energy to do its duty in making me happy, and I have to toil while the idle mood is upon me, then am I unhappy indeed, and almost wish myself dead, though I do not know what that means.
If this writing resonates with you at all, I highly recommend reading News from Nowhere by William Morris, published in 1890.