By: Sophie Edens, Public Relations & Marketing Intern
“It’s just a room of chairs, right?”
The sheer number of times I heard this question as a guard at DOMA was both understandable and saddening. Off the West Gallery and the Ball Brothers Foundation Gallery, there lies a pink hallway with two rooms called the John J. and Angeline Pruis Gallery. It is fondly named Deco, or Decorative Arts. There’s pottery, fine dining silverware and china sets, vases, jewelry, and — yes, chairs!
“But why are chairs considered art?” you may ask. Well, there’s more than one type of art. Fine art – paintings, sculptures, photography, etc – is not the only type of art, though it is likely the first that pops into your head when you imagine when populates a museum gallery.
There is also Decorative Arts, which are art pieces that serve a functional purpose. Items such as candlesticks, furniture, weavings, pottery, cutlery, and other beautiful but useful objects fall into this category. They are to be appreciated for the skill that produced them and the thought process that went into the ornamentation and beauty of the design. However, they are meant to be used. According to SmartHistory.org, “historically, many works of art and nearly all architecture were intended to serve some purpose beyond the aesthetic.”
Craftspeople use their skills in industries such as woodworking, textiles, ceramics, and metalworking. All of which we associate with functionality, but perhaps we do not associate with art.
“Okay, but still, why is it considered art? Why are these things in a museum?”
Well, let’s think about decorative arts in comparison to another type of art: commercial art.
Commercial art includes advertising, graphic design, branding, logos and book illustrations. Commercial art and fine art were separate and clearly in defined categories until the 1960s. Pop artists such as Andy Warhol merged fine art and commercial art, such as his Brillo Boxes. The boxes he created perfectly matched the supermarket originals, and caused quite the controversy, as that number one question was asked: why is it art?
It is art because of the system in place which defines what art is.
Lumen Learning, an education technology company, defines art as “a highly diverse range of human activities engaged in creating visual, auditory, or performed artifacts— artworks—that express the author’s imaginative or technical skill.”
According to Britannica, the definition of art is “a visual object or experience consciously created through an expression of skill or imagination. The term art encompasses diverse media such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, drawing, decorative arts, photography, and installation.”
It is the ever-expanding and ever-developing art community which comes to define what art is. Artists, art galleries, their employees, curators, and art critics wield the power to define what art is, notice where it is going, and open their imagination to the creation of others. There is no single set of laws, traits, or values when it comes to identifying what is art and what is not. Whether a painting or a silver spoon, both are art.
So what is art to you? Do you consider decorative arts to be a true art style?
Next time you visit the David Owsley Museum of Art, come to the Decorative Arts hallway to see the pieces of display and develop your thoughts!