The Great Exhibition and The Grammar Of Ornament

Blog, CCS, Visual Communication



This Critical and Contextual Studies lecture was about The Great Exhibition (The Crystal Palace Exhibition) in 1851, and the social issues surrounding it. The exhibition was set up be Henry Cole and Prince Albert and was the first exhibition to showcase manufactured products, they held it in a purpose built Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, which was then disassembled after it finished. Lesley spoke about the idea of it being in place to teach the lower classes about culture and “Good taste”, in order to distract the masses with consumerism and away from revolution. As only two years prior you had revolutions sweeping across Europe(1848) from Paris to Poland. Meaning there was a general fear in the establishment of the same happening here. Over 6 million people attended the Exhibition, from all classes, and from all across the country. It housed 100,000 objects, from 34 nations, mainly mass-produced work as well as hand crafted pieces that would be seen as exotic. They also put on cheap trains to encourage people to attend. Some of what was shown was then housed in the South Kensington Museum as part of its first exhibition. The South Kensington Museum would later become The Victoria & Albert museum. So we are to think about this history and ideas of class, “good taste”, who the displays and exhibitions are people are aimed at, what is “bad taste” etc. when attending the V&A next week.

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We then had our seminars where we discussed ideas surrounding the history of the Quatrefoil, and Owen Jones’s The Grammar Of Ornament, the history of design and how we think it has changed or if it has, and what significance we think design stories such as these have for visual communicators? As well as what significance the idea of “good taste” has on contemporary practice? And whether it still exists.

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