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Decorative arts

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The front side of the Cross of Lothair (c. 1000), a classic example of "Ars Sacra"
The front side of the Cross of Lothair (c. 1000), a classic example of "Ars Sacra"
Wine Pot,  ca. 18th century, China, Walters Art Museum
Wine Pot, ca. 18th century, China, Walters Art Museum

The decorative arts are arts or crafts whose object is the design and manufacture of objects that are both beautiful and functional. It includes interior design, but not usually architecture. The decorative arts are often categorized in distinction to the "fine arts", namely painting, drawing, photography, and large-scale sculpture, which generally produce objects solely for their aesthetic quality and capacity to stimulate the intellect. "Applied arts" is synonymous with the "decorative arts".

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What exactly is the 'decorative arts?' Is it art made for decoration? Like things that decorate the walls of your house? Well, not exactly. Because a painting can decorate the walls of your house but painting are usually considered fine art. In general, the decorative arts is defined as “the design and aesthetics of functional and utilitarian objects, often with an emphasis on unique and hand-crafted forms. Examples are furniture, pottery, basketry, textiles, metalworks, and stained glass. As opposed to most Fine Arts objects which usually have no other purpose than to be viewed and appreciated, like paintings and sculptures. But as you can tell with my use of words like "in general", "mostly", and "usually" that there are many fuzzy edges to this definition. And in my opinion, also sometimes many problems with this definition. The fuzzy edges often come from question like “well what exactly do you mean by functional and utilitarian?” Are embroideries that are not meant to be used in clothing or furniture, but only meant to be appreciated for their beauty considered decorative arts or fine arts? Wood carvings and woodworking pieces are usually considered to be decorative arts, but what exactly is the utilitarian function of a ceremonial wood carving? Unless you consider religious devotion to be "utilitarian." But by this definition, paintings used in church altar pieces are also used for religious devotion, but those paintings are usually considered to be fine art. One of the problems is that historically, in Western European cultures, objects that were considered to be "decorative art" were considered distinctively different from the fine arts, and in many cases also less worthy of appreciation and academic study. This separation of the definitions doesn’t apply to every cultures in the world. For instance East Asian, Islamic and Indigenous American cultures historically did not make a separation between decorative and fine arts. Chinese lacquer works, jade carvings, and Ming dynasty vases were considered just as artistically sophisticated as ink wash paintings. Japanese origami would be considered a decorative art by western standards, but most East Asian cultures consider paper cuttings and paper folding to be a sophisticated form of fine art. Many Islamic periods were dominated by works like rug weavings, embroidery, ceramics and mosaics. However, in the context of Western European categorization, works made by entire cultures were categorized as decorative arts, often viewed through the lens of utilitarian objects rather than sophisticated works of fine arts, which offers some insight into these cultures but are not always the best way to view these objects. Another issue is that things like basket weaving, textile, and pottery making were historically artistic realms that women actually had an opportunity to excel in, as opposed to disciplines like painting and sculpture, which women were essentially restricted from participating in. But because practices like pottery, basketry and textiles were not considered to be fine art, and thus not considered worthy of being displayed, sold on the art market, studied, or appreciated. And thus, this perspective further marginalized, diminished, and even erased women's accomplishments throughout history. Nowadays, many contemporary artists no longer subscribe to this distinction between the fine arts and the decorative arts. Many artists work in a mixture of media that include traditional practices such as painting, drawing and sculpting, but also things like woodwork, textiles, metalwork and ceramics. For example the artist Carl Beam was known for his mixed media paintings composed of oil, acrylic and photo transfers, but he also produced works in woodworking and ceramic pottery. The artist Christi Belcourt also often plays with viewers' expectations by producing works that are inspired by Indigenous American bandolier bags, but are made with acrylic on canvas. So, in this instance, similar to many other instances when studying history and culture, broad and generalizing terms can be helpful in aiding our understanding, but it can also be limiting. I find it interesting to consider how artistic expressions can be interwoven through everyday life and every day objects, and doesn’t have to be limited to those things we make in art class or those displayed in galleries. In the comments please let me know of an artwork, or type of artwork that you enjoy but would be considered "decorative arts” based on the aforementioned definition, and tell me why you like it. And if you enjoyed this video and would like to see more please hit the subscribe button so you can see more in the future. [snaps fingers] Bye! Subtitles by the community


Distinction from the fine arts

Surahi, Mughal, 17th Century CE. National Museum, New Delhi
Surahi, Mughal, 17th Century CE. National Museum, New Delhi

The distinction between the decorative and fine arts essentially arose from the post-Renaissance art of the West, where the distinction is for the most part meaningful. This distinction is much less meaningful when considering the art of other cultures and periods, where the most valued works, or even all works, include those in decorative media. For example, Islamic art in many periods and places consists entirely of the decorative arts, often using geometric and plant forms, as does the art of many traditional cultures. The distinction between decorative and fine arts is not very useful for appreciating Chinese art, and neither is it for understanding Early Medieval art in Europe. In that period in Europe, fine arts such as manuscript illumination and monumental sculpture existed, but the most prestigious works tended to be in goldsmith work, in cast metals such as bronze, or in other techniques such as ivory carving. Large-scale wall-paintings were much less regarded, crudely executed, and rarely mentioned in contemporary sources. They were probably seen as an inferior substitute for mosaic, which for the period must be considered a fine art, though in recent centuries mosaics have tended to be considered decorative. The term "ars sacra" ("sacred arts") is sometimes used for medieval Christian art executed in metal, ivory, textiles, and other more valuable materials but not for rarer secular works from that period.

Chinese bowl, Northern Song Dynasty, 11th or 12th century, porcelaneous pottery with celadon glaze
Chinese bowl, Northern Song Dynasty, 11th or 12th century, porcelaneous pottery with celadon glaze

Influence of different materials

Modern understanding of the art of many cultures tends to be distorted by the modern privileging of fine art media over others, as well as the very different survival rates of works in different media. Works in metal, above all in precious metals, are liable to be "recycled" as soon as they fall from fashion, and were often used by owners as repositories of wealth, to be melted down when extra money was needed. Illuminated manuscripts have a much higher survival rate, especially in the hands of the church, as there was little value in the materials and they were easy to store.

Renaissance attitudes

The promotion of the fine arts over the decorative in European thought can largely be traced to the Renaissance, when Italian theorists such as Vasari promoted artistic values, exemplified by the artists of the High Renaissance, that placed little value on the cost of materials or the amount of skilled work required to produce a work, but instead valued artistic imagination and the individual touch of the hand of a supremely gifted master such as Michelangelo, Raphael or Leonardo da Vinci, reviving to some extent the approach of antiquity. Most European art during the Middle Ages had been produced under a very different set of values, where both expensive materials and virtuoso displays in difficult techniques had been highly valued. In China both approaches had co-existed for many centuries: ink and wash painting, mostly of landscapes, was to a large extent produced by and for the scholar-bureaucrats or "literati", and was intended as an expression of the artist's imagination above all, while other major fields of art, including the very important Chinese ceramics produced in effectively industrial conditions, were produced according to a completely different set of artistic values.

Arts and Crafts movement

Arts and Crafts movement "Artichoke" wallpaper by Morris and Co.
Arts and Crafts movement "Artichoke" wallpaper by Morris and Co.

The lower status given to works of decorative art in contrast to fine art narrowed with the rise of the Arts and Crafts movement. This aesthetic movement of the second half of the 19th century was born in England and inspired by William Morris and John Ruskin. The movement represented the beginning of a greater appreciation of the decorative arts throughout Europe. The appeal of the Arts and Crafts movement to a new generation led the English architect and designer Arthur H. Mackmurdo to organize the Century Guild for craftsmen in 1882, championing the idea that there was no meaningful difference between the fine and decorative arts. Many converts, both from professional artists' ranks and from among the intellectual class as a whole, helped spread the ideas of the movement.[1]

The influence of the Arts and Crafts movement led to the decorative arts being given a greater appreciation and status in society and this was soon reflected by changes in the law. Until the enactment of the Copyright Act 1911 only works of fine art had been protected from unauthorised copying. The 1911 Act extended the definition of an "artistic work" to include works of "artistic craftsmanship".[2][3]

See also

References and sources

  1. ^ "Arts and Crafts Movement". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. 2012. Retrieved 5 June 2014.
  2. ^ "Section 35(1)", UK Legislation, Copyright Act 1911
  3. ^ Edmund Eldergill (2012), The Decorative Arts and Copyright, Lagoon Contemporary Furniture
  • Fiell, Charlotte and Peter, eds. Decorative Art Yearbook (one for each decade of the 20th century). Translated. Bonn: Taschen, 2000.
  • Fleming, John and Hugh Honour. Dictionary of the Decorative Arts. New York: Harper and Row, 1977.
  • Frank, Isabelle. The Theory of Decorative Art: An Anthology of European and American Writings, 1750–1940. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.
  • Campbell, Gordon. The Grove Encyclopedia of Decorative Arts. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • Thornton, Peter. Authentic Decor: Domestic Interior, 1620–1920. London: Seven Dials, 2000.

Further reading

External links

This page was last edited on 26 November 2018, at 15:25
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