Hi all,


I'd like to hear your comments on the differences between Decorative Arts and Fine Arts. Just what is the difference? What constitutes one or the other and why?I admit that I don't have any idea, but I do have a few suspicions/theories and I'm wondering what your thoughts are.


Again, remembering that I don't have any real understanding of the differences, (because no one will tell me) here are my thoughts and I welcome your contradictions, explanations, clarifications, etc.


Everything changes and art is no different. Each area of the world has it's own idea of what art is and how to make it. We in the western world take our cues from European art, even though we are finally accepting art from outside of the western world as art and not just anthropological oddities. The pull of the eurocentric ideas about art is strong, but even so it has been evolving as new people, ideas, tools, techniques, etc. are accepted.


When the center of the art world (European) moved to New York and Modern art became the driving force in the art industry it took hold with a vengence and cutting edge is the norm. If an artist wishes to follow their own path that doesn't follow this 'norm' it is frowned upon. Should you wish to explore the early Dutch Masters or the Italian Renaissance artists, the Greenburgs of the art world black ball your work. You must stay with the modern genre. You have to push the envelope. Just making something pretty is naive and passe. Art can no longer be pretty. It can no longer be art for arts sake, it must have a message, an underlying meaning.


I equate this conflict with Paul McCartney's lament, "Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs. What's wrong with that, I'd like to know?" I feel that decorative art is the "silly love song" of the art world, dismissed as fluff, meaningless, with very little thought given to the talent of the artist, only that it isn't cutting edge. It isn't conceptual or made from recycled materials found within a 5 block area of your studio. It doesn't make you think about the political climate or the injustices of the world. It doesn't shock you. It doesn't make you think. It may make you smile when you look at it, but that's it. It's just pretty.


I consider this highly unfair. If the piece is done with skill, why can't it be just a 'silly love song' AND Fine Art?


So, what do you think? Am I missing a key point? I look forward to your comments.





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Simple.  Fine Art is painted by a male.  Decorative Art by females.

I'm thinking of changing my name, signing an obscure John Singer Sargent giclee with my new "nom de art" and submitting it to a snotty gallery with an outrageous price tag.  I'll have my good-looking younger brother deliver it as if it were his masterpiece. 

Makes ya' wonder ?

Ha! Kristine you made me laugh my head off! I hate to think how true it likely is.


I found this concise answer on the www

'Fine Art is considered a visual object with no functional purpose except to be admired and contemplated, while Decorative Arts are also visual, but serve a function such as furniture, tableware, textiles, etc.'

Some Fine art paintings or drawings have the appearance of being 'decorative in style' due to the intentional use of  repetitive design or pattern and some paintings are executed with techniques that are craft associated.

Design is function. Art is thought and emotion, both are inevitable human products and fill us with whatever we choose to create. I would tend to think design and art as is on asectrum between silly and profound and is in the eye of the recipient. 

Terry-jean Carr said:
I found this concise answer on the www

'Fine Art is considered a visual object with no functional purpose except to be admired and contemplated, while Decorative Arts are also visual, but serve a function such as furniture, tableware, textiles, etc.'

Some Fine art paintings or drawings have the appearance of being 'decorative in style' due to the intentional use of  repetitive design or pattern and some paintings are executed with techniques that are craft associated.

Hi Terry-Jean and Suzy,

See...these definitions do not explain why Fine Art is elevated above Decorative Art and Craft. In my last painting class before I graduated the teacher said my last painting looked more like Decorative Art and there was a definite, "I'm disappointed" attitude and tone. I don't understand why it is 'less' if it is beautiful AND useful, plus the above "decorative in style" while still Fine Art, blurs the boundaries. It's confusing and seems hypocritical to me.


Art is in the eye of the beholder! 

However I understand, see and  feel the difference between the statue of  David and the ceramic replica of my Yorkie.

You're right Dorian! There is a lot of gray area, but I'd say those two fall completely into the black and white areas. :-) Thanks for the comment.


I know this was posted a while ago, but I honestly often feel this way, being drawn to the old masters time and time again and feeling often uncomfortable and not a  'real artist' because of it.


However, you gave me a marvelous insight by quoting McCartney, who I know, just not this particular quote :) 

So, I make silly (love) songs in paint.  The world suddenly became a bit brighter.   


Thank you for that thought.  

Thanks for the reply W.M. I know exactly how you feel! The quote was from one of McCartney's songs, I've forgotten it's title/name. 


I started reading a book this morning, Secret Knowledge, rediscovering the lost techniques of the Old Masters by David Hockney. I was hoping to find some tips to improve my own work.  Well what I found was not what I expected..... The Old Masters like Vermeer, Hans Holbein, Ingres and Caravaggio used optical lenses or the camera obscura. 

Rembrandt knew about this quick methods and I am not sure whether he used them or not, haven't read that part in detail yet, but indeed his students were using them...

David, the author spent 2 years proving his theory and he clearly shows that they did not use perspective and also the little tell tales lines that clearly shows that in fact they were tracing...

We are just ordinary artists, in the 21 century,  with all the latest means of producing art at our fingertips, and yet we try to imitate the old masters, whom we thought were genius artists, when in fact they were cheating...  !! 

So here we are trying to do the right thing, and slogging away day by day, trying to do the best we can, and someone says that our art isn't good enough...    I find this totally hilarious...

I'm way off the question but you made me think about what art is. I have a tryptych of  beautiful Japanese woodblock prints on my wall. In Japan, when they were produced a couple of hundred years ago, prints like them were regarded just as 'advertising' and used for wrapping paper. They were certainly not 'fine art'. I recently visited a Monet exhibition and I was very disappointed with his enormous blurry originals though i like some of the prints made from them. I don't care how Vermeer did it, I would love to have his 'Girl with a blue earring' on my wall. It's the most attractive original I have seen and it's better than the prints of it.

The most beautiful piece of art i have seen recently was a black and white Japanese inspired quilt made by a friend and the second most beautiful was a series of large sculptural coloured eggs in a local public gallery. My very favorite picture is of a very happy young girl jumping into waves at the beach painted and drawn by a three year old. I think what i am saying is that in the end 'art' is in the eye of the beholder not what critics tell you is art and for each person it's what they want to live with.

Unless you are very good, if you want to sell stuff probably you have to keep in mind currently fashionable decorator colours not what makes great art!

@Patricia  (and hello again!) 


Allow me to stir that fire a bit ;) all in good spirits!


Though I understand your point, I wouldn't call it as big as cheating.


These means were surely not seen as cheating at that time, because originality or authenticity was not an issue at that time the way it is now.  The way art/an artist was valued was vastly different from today.

Imitating life for a market that indeed valued realism, was very important.  I don't find it illogical that artists would use tools for it.

Even if we would frown upon them today (and is that entirely justified? I'm compelled to frown along with you, but I do want to give it more thought) 

It's unlikely these artist weren't able to draw in perspective. More likely, they chose an easier option that costs far less time. 

But more importantly, if we look at many of these wonderful studies and sketches these craftsmen left behind, there is no shadow of a doubt these artist were indeed masters, or at least, very fine draftsmen. 

And what about grand scale pieces that are not set in a room? but encompass a much greater space and countless of figures?  

I admit that not every great draftsmen or woman is a great painter and vice versa, but right now it  feels (and maybe I am incorrect in that assumptions) as if you feel/believe all these old masters are frauds, and that I really cannot agree with.


I doubt they would not have been able to get any kind of similar result without these lenses, exceptions made. 


But perhaps I am wrong. I did not read the book, after all.

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