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When Ralph Waldo Emerson writes in “Experience” (1844) that “men seem to have learned of the horizon the art of perpetual retreating and reference,” he means that we see through our current moment by looking forward. The “art” that Emerson evokes to describe the restlessness and expansiveness of the nineteenth century is the art of perspective: we gain perspective, in other words, when we project for ourselves an image of the world in which everything takes shape in relation to something else. “All our days are so unprofitable while they pass,” says Emerson, because we orient our present toward our prospects; taking the long view “degrade[s] today” by distancing us from where we are. We retreat from our momentary positions to be part of the big picture. We want to stay relevant, but Emerson looks askance at our constant need to look toward the emerging pattern of events. “The men ask, ‘What's the news?‘” he says, “as if the old were so bad” (472).
When edwin austin abbey, with eleven other artists and all the ritual of a new male order — round table, cob pipes, stone bottles of cider — founded the Tile Club in 1877, his sobriquet was “The Chestnut.” If not boating down the Erie Canal or on holiday in Easthampton, the men would make tiles for the home, ceramic wares of Shakespeare or rustics and florals, in the style of William Morris and his decorative arts. Twenty years before Charles Eliot Norton's Society of Arts and Crafts, such Tilers as Abbey, Augustus Saint–Gaudens, and Elihu Vedder would draw on the same crafts ideal, namely, an aesthetic for hard work and the “simple” productions of artisanal labor as an antidote to urban luxury. The club would find in guild fraternalism a weekly hobby, twelve men with sardines and crackers, noms de plume and seals, to revive a handicraft seen as both republican in its ethic and fashionably medieval. If modern life meant the enervation of Veblen's foppish and leisured class, the Tile Club was an authentically male pastime.
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