Decorative vs. Fine Art
Updated: Sep 28, 2020
Design for a Cassone, Italian, 16th Century, Anonymous, MMA. Textiles were included in Cassone as an important part of a lady’s dowry.
Decorative Art, Definition
Sadly most people do not know the definition of decorative art, albeit decorative arts are represented at every major museum across the globe (where the term is employed). Decorative art differs from fine art not in quality (in the vernacular sense of “fine”), but in medium. Dictionary.com defines the term: “art that is meant to be useful as well as beautiful, as ceramics, furniture, jewelry, and textiles.” We know that fine art encompasses sculpture and painting (however you will find museum galleries that group Decorative Arts and Sculpture together). Since ancient times many kinds of decorative art, such as textiles, were more costly and considered “finer” than painting or sculpture; this was true in the Renaissance when luxurious textiles were an important part of a lady’s dowry. Moreover, fine art can be considered purely “decorative”, as the aesthete Oscar Wilde once put it in his essay to art students on the topic:
“What is the difference between absolutely decorative art and a painting? Decorative art emphasises its material: imaginative art annihilates it. Tapestry shows its threads as part of its beauty: a picture annihilates its canvas: it shows nothing of it. Porcelain emphasises its glaze: water-colours reject the paper. A picture has no meaning but its beauty, no message but its joy. That is the first truth about art that you must never lose sight of. A picture is a purely decorative thing.”
Original Post: July 8, 2014