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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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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Classificatory disputes about art


Classificatory disputes about art

 

05-Classificatory disputes about art

 

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

 

 

Art historians and philosophers of art have long had classificatory disputes about art regarding whether a particular cultural form or piece of work should be classified as art. Disputes about what does and does not count as art continue to occur today.

 

Defining art can be difficult. Aestheticians and art philosophers often engage in disputes about how to define art. By its original and broadest definition, art (from the Latin ars, meaning “skill” or “craft”) is the product or process of the effective application of a body of knowledge, most often using a set of skills; this meaning is preserved in such phrases as “liberal arts” and “martial arts”. However, in the modern use of the word, which rose to prominence after 1750, “art” is commonly understood to be skill used to produce an aesthetic result (Hatcher, 1999).

Britannica Online defines it as “the use of skill and imagination in the creation of aesthetic objects, environments, or experiences that can be shared with others”.But how best to define the term “art” today is a subject of much contention; many books and journal articles have been published arguing over even the basics of what we mean by the term “art” (Davies, 1991 and Carroll, 2000). Theodor Adorno claimed in 1969 “It is self-evident that nothing concerning art is self-evident anymore.” It is not clear who has the right to define art. Artists, philosophers, anthropologists, and psychologists all use the notion of art in their respective fields, and give it operational definitions that are not very similar to each other’s.

The second, more narrow, more recent sense of the word “art” is roughly as an abbreviation for creative art or “fine art.” Here we mean that skill is being used to express the artist’s creativity, or to engage the audience’s aesthetic sensibilities. Often, if the skill is being used to create objects with a practical use, rather than paintings or sculpture with no practical function other than as an artwork, it will be considered it as falling under classifications such as the decorative arts, applied art and craft rather than fine art. Likewise, if the skill is being used in a commercial or industrial way, it will be considered design instead of art. Some thinkers have argued that the difference between fine art and applied art has more to do with value judgments made about the art than any clear definitional difference (Novitz, 1992). The modern distinction does not work well for older periods, such as medieval art, where the most highly regarded art media at the time were often metalwork, engraved gems, textiles and other “applied arts”, and the perceived value of artworks often reflected the cost of the materials and sheer amount of time spent creating the work at least as much as the creative input of the artist.

 

Theories of art classification

 

The traditional Western classifications since the Renaissance have been variants of the hierarchy of genres based on the degree to which the work displays the imaginative input of the artist, using artistic theory that goes back to the ancient world. Such thinking received something of a boost with the aesthetics of Romanticism. A similar theoretical framework applied in traditional Chinese art; for example in both the Western and Far Eastern traditions of landscape painting (see literati painting), imaginary landscapes were accorded a higher status than realistic depictions of an actual landscape view – in the West relegated to “topographical views”.

Many have argued that it is a mistake to even try to define art or beauty, that they have no essence, and so can have no definition. Often, it is said that art is a cluster of related concepts rather than a single concept. Examples of this approach include Morris Weitz and Berys Gaut.

 

Another approach is to say that “art” is basically a sociological category, that whatever art schools and museums, and artists get away with is considered art regardless of formal definitions. This institutional theory of art has been championed by George Dickie. Most people did not consider a store-bought urinal or a sculptural depiction of a Brillo Box to be art until Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol (respectively) placed them in the context of art (i.e., the art gallery), which then provided the association of these objects with the values that define art.

Proceduralists often suggest that it is the process by which a work of art is created or viewed that makes it, art, not any inherent feature of an object, or how well received it is by the institutions of the art world after its introduction to society at large. For John Dewey, for instance, if the writer intended a piece to be a poem, it is one whether other poets acknowledge it or not. Whereas if exactly the same set of words was written by a journalist, intending them as shorthand notes to help him write a longer article later, these would not be a poem.

Leo Tolstoy, on the other hand, claims that what makes something art or not is how it is experienced by its audience, not by the intention of its creator.

Functionalists, like Monroe Beardsley argue that whether a piece counts as art depends on what function it plays in a particular context. For instance, the same Greek vase may play a non-artistic function in one context (carrying wine), and an artistic function in another context (helping us to appreciate the beauty of the human figure).

 

Disputes about classifying art

 

Philosopher David Novitz has argued that disagreements about the definition of art are rarely the heart of the problem, rather that “the passionate concerns and interests that humans vest in their social life” are “so much a part of all classificatory disputes about art” (Novitz, 1996). According to Novitz, classificatory disputes are more often disputes about our values and where we are trying to go with our society than they are about theory proper. For example, when the Daily Mail criticized Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin’s work by arguing “For 1,000 years art has been one of our great civilising forces. Today, pickled sheep and soiled beds threaten to make barbarians of us all” they are not advancing a definition or theory about art, but questioning the value of Hirst’s and Emin’s work.

On the other hand, Thierry de Duve[3] argues that disputes about the definition of art are a necessary consequence of Marcel Duchamp’s presentation of a readymade as a work of art. In his 1996 book Kant After Duchamp he reinterprets Kant’s Critique of Judgement exchanging the phrase “this is beautiful” with “this is art”, using Kantian aesthetics to address post-Duchampian art.

In the late 19th century, photography and cinema were both considered not to be art, and prominent critics argued that early cubist paintings were not art.

 

Conceptual art

 

The work of the French artist Marcel Duchamp from the 1910s and 1920s paved the way for the conceptualists, providing them with examples of prototypically conceptual works (the readymades, for instance) that defied previous categorisations. Conceptual art emerged as a movement during the 1960s. The first wave of the “conceptual art” movement extended from approximately 1967 to 1978. Early “concept” artists like Henry Flynt, Robert Morris and Ray Johnson influenced the later, widely-accepted movement of conceptual artists like Dan Graham, Hans Haacke, and Douglas Huebler.

More recently, the “Young British Artists” (YBAs), led by Damien Hirst, came to prominence in the 1990s and their work is seen as conceptual, even though it relies very heavily on the art object to make its impact. The term is used in relation to them on the basis that the object is not the artwork, or is often a found object, which has not needed artistic skill in its production. Tracey Emin is seen as a leading YBA and a conceptual artist, even though she has denied that she is and has emphasised personal emotional expression.

 

 

 

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