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Art Deco

Art Deco Collage

Started: 1900

Ended: 1945


Summary of Art Deco

The Art Deco style manifested across the spectrum of the visual arts: from architecture, painting, and sculpture to the graphic and decorative arts. While Art Deco practitioners were often paying homage to modernist influences such as Cubism, De Stijl, and Futurism, the references were indirect; it was as though they were taking the end results of a few decades of distilling compositions to the most basic forms and inventing a new style that could be visually pleasing but not intellectually threatening.

The Art Deco style originated in Paris, but has influenced architecture and culture as a whole. Art Deco works are symmetrical, geometric, streamlined, often simple, and pleasing to the eye. This style is in contrast to avant-garde art of the period, which challenged everyday viewers to find meaning and beauty in what were often unapologetically anti-traditional images and forms.

Key Ideas

Art Deco, similar to Art Nouveau, is a modern art style that attempts to infuse functional objects with artistic touches. This movement is different from the fine arts (painting and sculpture) where the art object has no practical purpose or use beyond providing interesting viewing.
With the advent of large-scale manufacturing, artists and designers wished to enhance the appearance of mass-produced functional objects - everything from clocks and ashtrays to cars and buildings. Art Deco's pursuit of beauty in all aspects of life was directly reflective of the relative newness and mass usage of machine-age technology rather than traditional crafting methods to produce many objects. The Bauhaus school was also interested in industrial production, but in a sense The Bauhaus is the polar opposite as it refrained from artistic embellishments - preferring clean and simple geometric forms.
The Art Deco ethos diverged from the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts styles, which emphasized the uniqueness and originality of handmade objects and featured stylized, organic forms. That crafted quality was emblematic of a kind of elitism in opposition to Art Deco's more egalitarian aim: to make aesthetically appealing, machine-made objects that were available to everyone.
Streamline Moderne, the American version of the Art Deco style was a stripped-down and sleek version of the more elaborate and often bespoke European Art Deco style. In many ways, the American style grew and evolved to have a much bigger following and use in the U.S. than in Europe.
Relief above 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City (entrance to the NBC Studios and The Rainbow Room)

"To return decorative art…to the important place it occupied in the past," Francis Jourdain said, defined the intent of Art Deco. In every design richly employed decorative elements conveyed luxurious modernity.

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