Essay – The evolution of decorative art

The evolution of decorative art


04-Essay - The evolution of decorative art

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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



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

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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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Art Quotes V

Art Quotes V


17-Art Quotes V


If art, all art, is concerned with truth, then a society in denial will not find much in use for it.


There is no logical reason why the camel of great art should pass through the needle of mob intelligence.

©REBECCA WEST, The Strange Necessity

While our art cannot, as we wish it could, save us from wars, privation, envy, greed, old age, or death, it can revitalize us amidst it all.

©RAY BRADBURY, preface, Zen in the Art of Writing

That art is best which suggests most.

©AUSTIN O’MALLEY, Keystones of Thought

For the enjoyment of the artist the mask must be to some extent moulded on the face. What he makes outside him must correspond to something inside him; he can only make his effects out of some of the materials of his soul.

©G. K. CHESTERTON, The Dagger with Wings

The artist, like the God of creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.

©JAMES JOYCE, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

If the world were clear, art would not exist.

©ALBERT CAMUS, The Myth of Sisyphus

Art Quotes IV

Art Quotes IV


16-Art Quotes IV



There is no surer way of evading the world than by Art; and no surer way of uniting with it than by Art.

©JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE, The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe

The great artist when he comes, uses everything that has been discovered or known about his art up to that point, being able to accept or reject in a time so short it seems that the knowledge was born with him, rather than that he takes instantly what it takes the ordinary man a lifetime to know, and then the great artist goes beyond what has been done or known and makes something of his own.

©ERNEST HEMINGWAY, Death in the Afternoon

Art is man’s constant effort to create for himself a different order of reality from that which is given to him.

©CHINUA ACHEBE, Hopes and Impediments

The artist has some internal experience that produces a poem, a painting, a piece of music. Spectators submit themselves to the work, which generates an inner experience for them. But historically it’s a very new, not to mention vulgar, idea that the spectator’s experience should be identical to, or even have anything to do with, the artist’s. That idea comes from an over-industrialized society which has learned to distrust magic.


No art is possible without a dance with death.

©KURT VONNEGUT, Slaughterhouse-Five

Art is the Mirror of our betrayed ideals.

©DORIS LESSING, The Golden Notebook

Art is the one form of human energy in the whole world, which really works for union, and destroys the barriers between man and man. It is the continual, unconscious replacement, however fleeting, of oneself by another; the real cement of human life; the everlasting refreshment and renewal. For, what is grievous, dompting, grim, about our lives is that we are shut up within ourselves, with an itch to get outside ourselves. And to be stolen away from ourselves by Art is a momentary relaxation from that itching, a minute’s profound, and as it were secret, enfranchisement.

©JOHN GALSWORTHY, Vague Thoughts on Art

The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again.

©WILLIAM FAULKNER, The Paris Review, spring 1956

In art as in lovemaking, heartfelt ineptitude has its appeal and so does heartless skill, but what you want is passionate virtuosity.

©JOHN BARTH, attributed, Passionate Virtuosity: The Fiction of John Barth

Art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better.

©ANDRE GIDE, Autumn Leaves

Art Quotes III

Art Quotes III


15-Art Quotes III


It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.

©ANAIS NIN, quoted in The Wordsworth Dictionary of Quotations

All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.

©OSCAR WILDE, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Art at its greatest is fantastically deceitful and complex.

©VLADIMIR NABOKOV, Strong Opinions

All passes. Art alone

Enduring stays to us;

The Bust outlasts the throne,–

The Coin, Tiberius.


It was the job of art to bring true feelings alive. To shock people into awareness.


The work of art is a scapegoat surplus product, a dispensable cliché of form and meaning, having only the value the spectator–the symbol of society at large–gives it as he encounters it in the no man’s land of the gallery or museum. He victimizes it and is victimized by it; he is ambivalent about it as it is in itself. It has a certain amount of authority, yet no more than he gives it by channeling his life-energy in its forms. In other words, it forces him to recognize his own authoritarian style, i.e., his tendency to treat his own identity as a finished form, but at the same time possessed of an energy that contradicts that form by reashing for other identities. The work of art teaches the spectator that he too is communaal cliché and unfinished expression.

©DONALD BURTON KUSPIT, Redeeming Art: Critical Reveries

If they who understand the utmost refinement of any art will enjoy the perfection of it in a manner superior to other men, will they not amply pay for that advantage in feeling more than other men the imperfection of it, which in the natural course of things must so much oftener fall in their way?

©FULKE GREVILLE, Maxims, Characters, and Reflections

Computers creating art is an upsetting concept mostly because of what it means about humans.

©JASON LEE MILLER, “Automated Content Will Unmake Existence”

True art, like nature, ever bears

Suggestions of some higher thing;

As more than form or tint of bird

We prize the song he stops to sing.

©EDITH WILLIS LINN FORBES, “A Landscape in Oils”

Art is not Nature, art is Nature digested. Art is a sublime excrement.

©GEORGE MOORE, Confessions of a Young Man

Art Quotes II

Art Quotes II


12-Art Quotes II


Art is a microscope which the artist fixes on the secrets of his soul, and shows to people these secrets which are common to all.


There are only two styles of portrait painting: the serious and the smirk.

©CHARLES DICKENS, Nicholas Nickleby

Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse.

©WINSTON CHURCHILL, speech to Royal Academy of Art, 1953

Art is not a handicraft, it is the transmission of feeling the artist has experienced.

©LEO TOLSTOY, What is Art?

Every work of art is an uncommitted crime.


It is the glory and good of Art,

That Art remains the one way possible

Of speaking truths, to mouths like mine at least.

©ROBERT BROWNING, The Ring and the Book

Perhaps there is no other way of reaching some understanding of being than through art? Writers themselves don’t analyze what they do; to analyze would be to look down while crossing a canyon on a tightrope. To say this is not to mystify the process of writing but to make an image out of the intense inner concentration the writer must have to cross the chasms of the aleatory and make them the word’s own, as an explorer plants a flag.

©NADINE GORDIMER, Nobel Lecture, Dec. 7, 1991


Art is a jealous mistress.