What is decorative art for you?

What is Decorative Art for you?

Last week, I found myself sitting high up in a London sky rise discussing art with a partner at a notable law firm.  The chap says, “For me there’s two types of art; the art that I love and the art that I would hang in my house." 

The statement has stayed with me long enough for me to want to question how decorative art can be interpreted.

Decorative art is formally defined as art that first and foremost has a utilitarian function and secondly, is beautiful.  Made by artists who are specialised in their craft - it often assumes the form of furniture, ceramics, pottery, textiles or paintings. 

Its utilitarian association means it has a perceived price tag, whereas, valuing the ideas behind fine art is a more subjective process.  Arguably, whilst reducing the financial strain on your wallet, pricing decorative art unintentionally belittles its impact and overall value.  

So the art that he loves is what?  Well fine art, made by artists, exhibited in galleries and museums.  That art which assumes the sole objective of questioning the status quo and striking a chord among its' viewers, such as that of Jasper Johns work above.   They contrast to decorative art, in that it is are “…created primarily for aesthetic reasons and not for functional use.”

In this way, decorative art is categorised differently than art and receives less recognition from critics, collectors and patrons of the arts.

Matisse, La Danse II, 1932

Matisse, La Danse II, 1932

Is 'Decorative Art' Deemed To Have A Lower Status Just By Virtue Of It Having A Mass appeal?

Considering how damning it can be for paintings to be defined as decorative, it is worth realising how close the boundary between fine art and decorative art truly is.  

Intriguingly, Matisse is known for creating art with a decorative character.  In the 1920s he began to paint in a very flat manner, beginning his transition towards his exploration of the cut-out medium towards the end of the 1940s.  'La Danse' above, was described by Matisse as decorative and marked the point when he began to be considered to sit on the boundary between art and decoration.


L'Escargot, Matisse (1953)

L'Escargot, Matisse (1953)

Between 1946 and 1958, Matisse explored the cut-out technique, illustrated above in 'L'Escargot' (1953).  A seemingly simple practice, the creation of cut-out works of art involved the cutting of paper into shapes by the artist, who then attached the geometric forms to a background. The technique was considered to be a move away from traditional art forms, into decoration - 'drawing with scissors'.  

Today, Grayson Perry’s work arguably has a decorative quality as he creates richly textured urns, ceramic pots and hand stitched quilts as well as outrageous dress designs.

Perhaps then, the biggest difference comes down to the intended audience of the two genres.  

But just because decorative art does not attempt to answer the bigger conceptual questions, or refer to a bigger political or social injustice - should it be deemed less highly?

If done with skill, surely decorative art should be able to assume a similar status as fine art?

It begs the question - should paintings be classed as decorative? How do artists feel about this? And what impact does this have on fine art?

Grayson Perry, 'The Rosetta Vase' of 2011. 

Grayson Perry, 'The Rosetta Vase' of 2011. 


*Oxford Art Online. “Fine Arts.”