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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My conclusions sound a bit one sided, don't they..  At the time they were meant to, as I was trying to make Delores feel better about someone saying that her art looked too decorative...

I was a bit shocked reading all this information this morning.  I thought there might be some hope for us mere mortals. If we practice hard enough and follow the master's secrets, we might improve slowly, only to find out that they traced their drawings. (Probably to speed up their long line of commissions.)
David Hockney the author of the book Secret Knowledge, rediscovering the lost techniques of the Old Masters, says when that he approached several art historians and some of them from Cambridge, with his hypothesis, a few of them were horrified. 

If these learned professors were horrified to even think that the masters were tracing their drawings, when they themselves had spent years studying these paintings with a magnifying glass, and not not noticed the finer details, as pointed out by David, imagine their initial emotions, when they too realized the truth. (Phew that's a long sentence!!)

This of course does depreciate their work.  They were masters in their own right...!!  I am just amused at the truth... :)

Okay, I just wrote a long winded reply to Patricia, went to another page and lost the whole thing. I apologize if two posts appear, essentially to same, from me.

To start again, I've dabbled in calligraphy since the 1980s and have been lucky enough to have had classes with some of the premier calligraphers of the world. I was completely shocked to find that the monks cheated when they produced those gorgeous illuminated manuscripts. Teachers would show photos of old manuscripts that they had viewed in some dusty museum or library somewhere and clearly the monks had 'manipulated' things. The fading of the ink showed how the strokes where joined and what order the strokes where made. (Not necessarily the way we were taught was correct.) It showed mistakes that were painted out, scrape away, or otherwise disguised. I was appalled!

Then the teachers said something that surprised me and that was: "If it works, it's not cheating." We only think it is cheating because we have some preconceived notion of how it SHOULD be done. 

So, I have no problem with a muralist, perhaps Michael Angelo?, projecting an image onto the wall, ceiling or large canvas. It is much easier to draw something that is in scale with your body, than it is to draw something that requires you get down off of the scaffolding every time you make a mark to check that it is correct from 20', 30', 40' away. 

What I do have a problem with is if it is not your drawing that you have projected onto the wall and you still sign your name at the bottom. That is cheating, to me.

I'm also surprised that the old masters left much of the work to apprentices and then came in to do the finish work. Those poor apprentices mixed all the paints (to the masters specifications), drew the image on to the wall where the fresco was to be, even painted in large, flat blocks of color. The master came in and finished the painting. The master got the accolades and the fee and the apprentice washed out the brushes, cleaned the studio, and went home with a pittance for all his work.

I've never read the book Patricia refers to and I think I better find a copy, but I'm surprised that it says there are scholars who are horrified to hear that some of the old masters used camera obscuras, because they were extremely common and they were often mentioned in my art history classes. I'm not sure what the mystery is, so clearly I need to read the book.

Thanks for your input Patricia. Anyone else wish to venture into the camera obscura conversation or anything else, for that matter?


Delores, I found and scanned the relevant page, so that you could read it yourself, and decide your own slant on things... :))


I've just read the page you scanned and then checked online for info about the book and I think I see what I was missing. It seems that the hypothesis was not just that the old masters used camera obscuras, but that that was what prompted the very realistic style of painting that the old masters perfected, rather than the understanding and use of perspective. Hmm...interesting thought. 


Thanks for the tip Delores.

I Googled the book title and found a you tube link to David Hockney's book..  It's a lot faster than trying to read a 1" thick book!!.

 Here is a very basic summary of the 3 video's.

In the 1 video, David says that it was the use of the camera obscura, that prompted the study of the perspective.

In the 2  video the interviewer asked David, "What is your argument"  David answers, I don't know!!  LOL. - So I had a look at the book again.  On the first page David says that his thesis is that the artist's were using optics from the early 15th century..I have included that page as an attachment.

In the 3 video David says that using a camera obscura doesn't distract from the artist's talent.  It's the artist's own marks.

It was interesting to see David in person.  He is not at all controversial, he is just stating the facts..

After watching the 3 video's I feel I no longer need to read the book, and I can happily spend my time productively painting instead. The missing links are connected for me too.... :))

Here's the video link...



Thanks Patricia,

I watched the videos of his interview with Charlie Rose. Very interesting. I'd like to see more of his examples of areas in various paintings that 'prove' his point. They only focused on it for a few moments. I'd be interested to have a step by step discussion with him.


You're welcome Delores,

 There are several convincing photo's and explanations in the book.  :)   I was initially looking for a book on actual painting and compositional secrets by the masters!!  If you know of any good books, I would be interested in knowing about them please.

I rather liked David as person and enjoyed his video's!!  Too far for me, to have a one on one discussion with him... :))

Too far for me too, but one can dream.


Fascinating info, thanks for sharing!

Patricia Jessop said:

... [snip] After watching the 3 video's I feel I no longer need to read the book, and I can happily spend my time productively painting instead. The missing links are connected for me too.... :))

Here's the video link...

Here is an interesting counterpoint essay to Hockney's view. In my opinion, the article pretty much refutes Hockney's claims.




Patricia Jessop said:

I started reading a book this morning, Secret Knowledge, rediscovering the lost techniques of the Old Masters by David Hockney.

Mmm, I didn't read it that way. As an aside, a good friend of mine in the states is the engineer that ran these optical calculations, the science is solid, in that an analysis of a painting does reveal the size and shape of the mirror used.

What fascinates me is the outrage coming from members of that art academy. To me they put the cart before the horse. As Hockney says, they still had to draw the dang thing!

Who cares whether some master used grids, mirrors, cubistic reductionism, plumb-bobs, or a profound knowledge of anatomy to draw a figure well ? I guess some folks care a lot. I see in this case art history as religion, and much the same thing happens in music sometimes. Keepers of the flame wanting to preserve some idealised version of events.

All I want to know is what works? And it seems to me that human ingenuity will find many many ways to solve the same problem.

Doug said:

Here is an interesting counterpoint essay to Hockney's view. In my opinion, the article pretty much refutes Hockney's claims.


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