Essay – The evolution of decorative art


The evolution of decorative art

ESSAY

04-Essay - The evolution of decorative art

[ Source Info:  http://archive.org/   ]

The evolution of decorative art : an essay upon its origin and development as illustrated by the art of modern races of mankind (1893)

By Balfour Henry

 

PREFACE

In presenting this short and, as I am well aware, imperfect essay to the public, I feel that it is necessary  to say a few words in justification of my action.  Although, for a proper comprehension of the growth  of Art, it is necessary that its evolution should be  studied from its very simplest beginning, this aspect  of the subject has hardly been touched upon by  writers of so-called * Histories of Art.’ In these,  frequently very excellent works, the history of art is  traced back perhaps to Assyrian and Ancient Egyptian civilisations, and a few writers dwell briefly upon the  characteristics of modern Savage Art. Few of them,  however, offer any study of the Art of the more  primitive of the living races of mankind, with a view  to explaining, by a process of reasoning from the  known to the unknown, the first efforts of Primaeval  Man to produce objects which should be pleasing to  the eye, and gratify his growing aesthetic feelings.

The Art of Design must, we know, have had a continuous history, and have grown up gradually  from simple beginnings, at first by easy stages,  involving but slight intellectual efforts, steadily  progressing until it has become an essential element  in our surroundings, absorbing a vast amount of  complex reasoning, the result of the accumulation  and combination of simple ideas, which are the outcome of experience during countless ages.

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Exoticism in the Decorative Arts


Exoticism in the Decorative Arts

 03-Exoticism in the Decorative Arts

[ Source Info:  http://www.metmuseum.org  ]

 

 

European interest in non-Western art was first stimulated by trade with the East in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (17.190.2045). By the nineteenth century, with the advent of the railroad and steamship, lands that were little known to Westerners became easier to access. As more Europeans traveled beyond the established routes of the Grand Tour, their experiences abroad began to influence their tastes at home. Other influences were a result of England’s massive imperial control over lands in China, India, Africa, and the Pacific. By mid-century, many non-Western forms and ornamental motifs had found their way into the vocabulary of European decorative arts.

“Like Orientalist subjects in nineteenth-century painting, exoticism in the decorative arts and interior decoration was associated with fantasies of opulence and “barbaric splendour,”

 

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http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/exot/hd_exot.htm

 

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Defining Decorative Arts


Defining Decorative Arts

 01-Defining Decorative Arts

[ Source Info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decorative_arts   ]

 

 

The decorative arts is traditionally a term for the design and manufacture of functional objects. It includes interior design, but not usually architecture. The decorative arts are often categorized in opposition to the “fine arts”, namely, painting, drawing, photography, and large-scale sculpture, which generally have no function other than to be seen.

The distinction between decorative and fine arts has essentially risen from the post-Renaissance art of the West, where it is for the most part meaningful. It is much less so when applied to the art of other cultures and periods, where the most highly-regarded works often include those in “decorative” media, or all works are in such media. For example, Islamic art in many periods and places consists entirely of the decorative arts, as does the art of many traditional cultures, and in Chinese art the distinction is less useful than in Europe. Even in Europe, the distinction is unhelpful for Early Medieval art, where although “fine arts” such as manuscript illumination and monumental sculpture existed, the most prestigious works, commissioned from the best artists, tended to be in goldsmith work, cast metals such as bronze or other techniques such as ivory carving. Large-scale wall-paintings were apparently much less regarded, relatively crudely executed, and rarely mentioned in contemporary sources; they were probably seen as a cheap but inferior substitute for mosaic, which in this period must be treated as a fine art, though in recent centuries contemporary production has tended to be seen as decorative. The term “ars sacra” (“sacred arts”) is sometimes used for medieval Christian art in metal, ivory, textiles and other high-value materials from this period, though this does not cover the even rarer survivals of secular works.

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.

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.

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, in 1882, to the English architect and designer Arthur H. Mackmurdo organizing the Century Guild for craftsmen, which championed 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. The influence of the Arts and Crafts Moovement 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”. For the first time works of decorative art could be classfied as works of art rather than design and benefit from the full period of copyright protection previously available only to works of fine art.

 

 

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About Decorative Arts


About Decorative Arts

02-About decorative arts

[ Source Info:  http://www.strawberybanke.org     ]

 

 

Decorative Arts

 

The decorative arts—the furniture, pictures, ceramics, textiles, glass and metal objects—found in early houses are not only pleasing to look at, but tell us much about the people who lived in those houses. The decorative arts help us understand the development of style and taste, and at the same time provide important insights into social and economic history.

 

Some information about the decorative arts is gained from documents. Estate inventories, for example, provide detailed lists of objects found in specific rooms, and also disclose monetary values placed on those objects. From these we can learn about the wealth of an individual or a family and also about how they valued their possessions. Textiles such as linens, blankets, bed hangings and feather mattresses, often accounted for the most valuable portion of an estate. There is little wonder that great attention was paid to a young lady’s training in the needle arts.

 

Paintings and prints, an important category of the decorative arts, are themselves a major source of information about the furnishing of early interiors. As accurate as any photograph, they illustrate how furniture was placed in a room, how curtains were hung and floors covered, how plants were potted or tables set for a meal. These visual records tell us that people 100 or 200 years ago did not use space the same way we do today; their rooms in general contained fewer objects. We also learn that to furnish an early room with pieces belonging to one specific period is to misinterpret the past.

 

 

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Paper Crafts


Paper Crafts

09-Paper Crafts

[ Source Info: 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paper_craft   ]

 

 

Paper craft is the collection of art forms employing paper or card as the primary artistic medium for the creation of three-dimensional objects. It is the most widely used material in arts and crafts. It lends itself to a wide range of techniques, as it can for instance be folded, cut, glued, moulded, stitched, or layered.  Papermaking by hand is also an important paper craft. Painting and calligraphy though they are commonly applied as decoration are normally considered as separate arts or crafts.

Paper crafts are known in most societies that use paper, with certain kinds of crafts being particularly associated with specific countries or cultures. In much of the West, the term origami is used synonymously with paper folding, though the term properly only refers to the art of paper folding in Japan. Other forms of paper folding include Zhezhi (Chinese paper folding), Jong-ie-jeop-gi, from Korea, and Western paper folding, such as the traditional paper boats and paper planes.

In addition to the aesthetic value of paper crafts, various forms of paper crafts are used in the education of children. Paper is a relatively inexpensive medium, readily available, and easier to work with than the more complicated media typically used in the creation of three-dimensional artwork, such as ceramics, wood, and metals.  It is also neater to work with than paints, dyes, and other coloring materials. Paper crafts may also be used in therapeutic settings, providing children with a safe and uncomplicated creative outlet to express feelings.

 

 

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Crafts – Embroidery


Crafts – Embroidery

08-Crafts – Embroidery

[ Source Info: 

http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Arts_and_Crafts_Essays/Of_Embroidery  ]

 

 

EMBROIDERY

By May Morris

 

The technicalities of Embroidery are very simple and its tools few — practically consisting of a needle, and nothing else. The work can be wrought loose in the hand, or stretched in a frame, which latter mode is often advisable, always when smooth and minute work is aimed at. There are no mysteries of method beyond a few elementary rules that can be quickly learnt; no way to perfection except that of care and patience and love of the work itself. This being so, the more is demanded from design and execution: we look for complete triumph over the limitations of process and material, and, what is equally important, a certain judgment and self-restraint; and, in short, those mental qualities that distinguish mechanical from intelligent work. The latitude allowed to the worker; the lavishness and ingenuity displayed in the stitches employed; in short, the vivid expression of the worker’s individuality, form a great part of the success of needlework.

The varieties of stitch are too many to be closely described without diagrams, but the chief are as follows: —

Chain-stitch consists of loops simulating the links of a simple chain. Some of the most famous work of the Middle Ages was worked in this stitch, which is enduring, and of its nature necessitates careful execution. We are more familiar with it in the dainty work of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in the airy brightness and simplicity of which lies a peculiar charm, contrasted with the more pompous and pretentious work of the same period. This stitch is also wrought with a hook on any loose material stretched in a tambour frame.

Tapestry-stitch consists of a building-up of stitches laid one beside another, and gives a surface slightly resembling that of tapestry. I give the name as it is so often used, but it is vague, and leads to the confusion that exists in people’s minds between loom-tapestry and embroidery. The stitch is worked in a frame, and is particularly suitable for the drapery of figures and anything that requires skilful blending of several colours, or a certain amount of shading. This facility of “painting” with the needle is in itself a danger, for it tempts some people to produce a highly shaded imitation of a picture, an attempt which must be a failure both as a decorative and as a pictorial achievement. It cannot be said too often that the essential qualities of all good needlework are a broad surface, bold lines and pure, brilliant and, as a rule, simple colouring; all of which being qualities attainable through, and prescribed by, the limitations of this art.

Appliqué has been, and is still, a favourite method of work, which Vasari tells us Botticelli praised as being very suitable to processional banners and hangings used in the open air, as it is solid and enduring, also bold and effective in style. It is more accurately described as a method of work in which various stitches are made use of, for it consists of designs embroidered on a stout ground and then cut out and laid on silk or velvet, and edged round with lines of gold or silk, and sometimes with pearls. It requires considerable deftness and judgment in applying, as the work could well be spoilt by clumsy and heavy finishing. It is now looked upon as solely ecclesiastical, I believe, and is associated in our minds with garish red, gold and white, and with dull geometric ornament, though there is absolutely no reason why church embroidery of to-day should be limited to ungraceful forms and staring colours. A certain period of work, thick and solid, but not very interesting, either as to method or design, has been stereotyped into what is known as Ecclesiastical Embroidery, the mechanical characteristics of the style being, of course, emphasised and exaggerated in the process. Church work will never be of the finest while these characteristics are insisted on; the more pity, as it is seemly that the richest and noblest work should be devoted to churches, and to all buildings that belong to and are an expression of the communal life of the people. Another and simpler form of applied work is to cut out the desired forms in one material and lay upon another, securing the appliqué with stitches round the outline, which are hidden by an edging cord. The work may be further enriched by light ornament of lines and flourishes laid directly on the ground material.

Couching is an effective method of work, in which broad masses of silk or gold thread are laid down and secured by a network or diaper of crossing threads, through which the under surface shines very prettily. It is often used in conjunction with appliqué. There are as many varieties of couching stitches as the worker has invention for; in some the threads are laid simply and flatly on the form to be covered, while in others a slight relief is obtained by layers of soft linen thread which form a kind of moulding or stuffing, and which are covered by the silk threads or whatever is to be the final decorative surface.

The ingenious patchwork coverlets of our grandmothers, formed of scraps of old gowns pieced together in certain symmetrical forms, constitute the romance of family history, but this method has an older origin than would be imagined. Queen Isis-em-Kheb’s embalmed body went down the Nile to its burial-place under a canopy that was lately discovered, and is preserved in the Boulak Museum. It consists of many squares of gazelle-hide of different colours sewn together and ornamented with various devices. Under the name of patchwork, or mosaic-like piecing together of different coloured stuffs, comes also the Persian work made at Resht. Bits of fine cloth are cut out for leaves, flowers, and so forth, and neatly stitched together with great accuracy. This done, the work is further carried out and enriched by chain and other stitches. The result is perfectly smooth flat work, no easy feat when done on a large scale, as it often is.

Darning and running need little explanation. The former stitch is familiar to us in the well-known Cretan and Turkish cloths: the stitch here is used mechanically in parallel lines, and simulates weaving, so that these handsome borders in a deep rich red might as well have come from the loom as from the needle. Another method of darning is looser and coarser, and suitable only for cloths and hangings not subject to much wear and rubbing; the stitches follow the curves of the design, which the needle paints, as it were, shading and blending the colours. It is necessary to use this facility for shading temperately, however, or the flatness essential to decorative work is lost

The foregoing is a rough list of stitches which could be copiously supplemented, but that I am obliged to pass on to another important point, that of design. If needlework is to be looked upon seriously, it is necessary to secure appropriate and practicable designs. Where the worker does not invent for herself, she should at least interpret her designer, just as the designer interprets and does not attempt to imitate nature. It follows from this, that it is better to avoid using designs of artists who know nothing of the capacities of needlework, and design beautiful and intricate forms without reference to the execution, the result being unsatisfactory and incomplete. Regarding the design itself, broad bold lines should be chosen, and broad harmonious colour (which should be roughly planned before setting to work), with as much minute work, and stitches introducing play of colour, as befits the purpose of the work and humour of the worker; there should be no scratching, no indefiniteness of form or colour, no vagueness that allows the eye to puzzle over the design — beyond that indefinable sense of mystery which arrests the attention and withholds the full charm of the work for a moment, to unfold it to those who stop to give it more than a glance. But there are so many different stitches and so many different modes of setting to work, that it will soon be seen that these few hints do not apply to all of them. One method, for instance, consists of trusting entirely to design, and leaves colour out of account: white work on white linen, white on dark ground, or black or dark blue upon white. Again, some work depends more on magnificence of colour than on form, as, for example, the handsome Italian hangings of the seventeenth century, worked in floss-silk, on linen sometimes, and sometimes on a dusky open canvas which makes the silks gleam and glow like precious stones.

In thus slightly describing the methods chiefly used in embroidery, I do so principally from old examples, as modern embroidery, being a dilettante pastime, has little distinct character, and is, in its best points, usually imitative. Eastern work still retains the old professional skill, but beauty of colour is rapidly disappearing, and little attention is paid to durability of the dyes used. In speaking rather slightingly of modern needlework, I must add that its non-success is often due more to the use of poor materials than to want of skill in working. It is surely folly to waste time over work that looks shabby in a month. The worker should use judgment and thought to procure materials, not necessarily rich, but each good and genuine of its kind. Lastly, she should not be sparing of her own handiwork, for, while a slightly executed piece of work depends wholly on design, in one where the actual stitchery is more elaborate, but the design less masterly, the patience and thought lavished on it render it in a different way equally pleasing, and bring it more within the scope of the amateur.

 

 

©MAY MORRIS

 

 [for the article Full Rights Reserved ©Wikisource Website, May Morris]