The Arts of Industry in the Age of Enlightenment

Celina Fox

Publicaton Date
May 2009
Standard Number
Yale University Press
576 pages

This book is about the people who did the work. The arts of industry encompassed both liberal and mechanical realms - not simply the representation of work in the liberal or fine art of painting, but the mechanical arts or skills involved in the processes of industry itself. Drawing on a wealth of primary sources, Celina Fox argues that mechanics and artisans used four principal means to describe and rationalize their work: drawing, model-making, societies and publications. These four channels - which form the four central themes of this engrossing book - provided the basis for experimentation and invention, for explanation and classification, for validation and authorization, promotion and celebration, thus bringing them into the public domain and achieving progress as a true part of the Enlightenment.

The book also examines the status of the mechanical arts from the medieval period to the seventeenth century and explains the motives behind and means by which entrepreneurs, mechanics and artisans sought to present themselves to the world in portraits, and the manner in which industry was depicted in landscape and genre painting, informed by the mechanical skills of close observation and accurate draughtsmanship.

The book concludes with a look at the early nineteenth century when, despite the drive by gentlemen of science and fine artists towards specialization and exclusivity, not to mention the rise of the profession of engineers, the broad sweep of the mechanical arts retained a distinct identity within a somewhat chaotic world of knowledge for far longer than has generally been recognized. The debates their presence provoked concerning the relationship of theory to practice and the problematic nature of art and technical education are still with us today.