Ask a Gallery Owner | Fine Art Vs. Decorative Art?

I recently received an email that is reflective of a number of comments and questions I’ve seen on our social media pages and in other emails. Many artists have wondered what my thoughts are regarding fine art vs. decorative art, as this artist does in her email:

One of the things I’ve noticed about the work you’ve shared as “recent sales” is that these pieces often seem to be “decorative,” as opposed to “fine art.” While I realize that these definitions may be outside of the conversation many art professionals have publicly, I wonder if your gallery sells more of one kind of art than the other. Do your clients typically seek art that enhances the decor of their homes, or do they desire art that becomes an emotional touch point, as well as a visual one? I imagine they do both, but how many are conscious of the difference, or care? Do you see a demographic difference between these types of buyers/collectors?

JK-Artist

I found this email thoughtful and sincere, but many of the communiques I receive on this topic are somewhat combative – “the art you sell,” they seem to say, “isn’t fine art.”

A quick look at the dictionary gives us these definitions:

Decorative Art

noun
1. art that is meant to be useful as well as beautiful, as ceramics, furniture, jewelry, and textiles.
2. Usually, decorative arts. any of the arts, as ceramics or jewelry making, whose works are created to be useful.
3. works of decorative art collectively.

Fine Art

noun
1. a visual art considered to have been created primarily for aesthetic purposes and judged for its beauty and meaningfulness, specifically, painting, sculpture, drawing, watercolor, graphics, and architecture.

Seems pretty straightforward – if a piece of art has some function, it’s considered decorative. If it’s purely aesthetic, it’s fine art. By these definitions most of what I sell fits the definition of fine art.

This clearly isn’t how JK is thinking of the difference, however, and most of the other comments I see in this regard also aren’t drawing the line based on the dictionary definitions. Instead, many artists consider art purchased for its decorative properties (its ability to look good with a couch, or on a wall of a particular color, for example) to be of a lesser value, while true art is purchased for its intrinsic artistic value (?) or maybe not purchased at all because it’s too “fine.”

Riot of Color by John Horejs | Recently purchased by clients who were looking for a piece for their dining room. They love their new painting – that’s “fine” with me!

I may not be understanding the distinction perfectly, but I get the sense a lot of artists feel they’re own work is complex or difficult, and is therefore less likely to be appreciated by the general public and sell. They feel their art is therefore “fine art.” Art that appeals to a broad audience and sells quickly is  “decorative.” In another version of the discussion, the fine art is the work that is going to end up in a museum one day, but not necessarily in buyers’ living rooms.

So what does all of this mean to me as a gallery owner? How much time do I spend thinking about the “fine” nature of an artist’s work before agreeing to represent the artist? Do I feel guilty about selling “decorative art?”

While the question and issue is complicated, my answer is simple: I don’t expend a single thought on this issue.

I feel that fine art is in the eye of the beholder. I look for artwork that interests and excites me and that will bring an interesting dimension to our gallery. As the email above says, I’m looking for art that has “emotional touch point.” That’s my fine art. A visitor to the gallery might feel the same and become motivated to buy the piece, or they may not experience any connection and walk right out the door.

To the email’s point that some buyers may be more motivated by the way a piece will fit into their decor, than the way the work resonates with them, this does happen, certainly, but in my experience this happens in a minority of sales. It’s almost always the case the our clients say, “I love this piece,” and then “where will we place it?”

Are there times when a client comes in and says “I’m looking for art for a particular space”? Sure. Are there times when a client buys a piece because it will match a sofa? Yes. Do I refuse to sell art to these buyers? No.

My hope is that over time I can educate my collectors to have a deeper appreciation for the art and a better understanding of what it is that draws them to a particular piece. Art collecting is a process – taste is refined over time.

I leave the concern about the long term artistic value of the artwork to the museum curators. At the risk of sounding a little crass, I’m in the business of selling art.

More importantly, I’m not at all sure that it would be effective for me to try to determine what’s fine art and what isn’t. I’ve spent a lot time studying art history, and in my reading it seems that it’s very difficult for anyone to know which art is going to be great on a historic scale in the moment the art is being created and on the market. There were heated battles over whether the impressionists were creating fine art. The abstract expressionists were derided as hacks.

Again, the question is beyond my pay grade.

The good news in all of this is that, no matter what you are creating, there are buyers out there to whom your work is fine art. Let’s stop worrying about whether art is fine or not, and get out there and find them!

What Do You Think About Fine Art vs. Decorative Art?

Do you make a distinction between fine art and decorative art? Do you feel galleries should focus on showing more “fine art”. Do you consider your work to be fine art? How much do you think about the historic significance of your work? Please share your thoughts, experience and opinions in the comments below.

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54 Comments

  1. In most of his work the philosopher and art critic Arthur Danto explains the rise of conceptual art. His artistic heroes are Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol, who arguably contributed most visibly to make art what it is today: aesthetic in the critical and reflexive ideas it raises about art, not in the way it represents objects. Duchamp’s urinal and Warhol’s brillo boxes, Danto argues, are not artistic in their materiality. There’s nothing intrinsic to these objects that makes them different from ordinary household objects; from the latrine that Gautier had associated with ugliness and functionality. Their aesthetic qualities, Danto suggests, lie in the way their make us question the nature and existence of art in a radically new and provocative way.

    It is not easy any more to picture to oneself clearly what art is, or how it got that way, or more importantly, how it can be justified. … Until the modern period, art and artists had always been imbued with a quasi-religious as well as a moral and social mission, and art was very much integrated with the social and spiritual orders.”

  2. Jason, you put the issue in perfect perspective, I think. For the artists who worry whether their work is fine, or “too fine” :

    write the words EMOTIONAL TOUCH POINT across your wall. It doesn’t matter how accurately you can detail if the work displays only detail and no soul. Humans covet emotions, and that’s what they want to own. Ownership indicates control, yeah? We want emotions we can control. Send me a dollar for that tip.

  3. I agree with your perspective—what draws people to a particular piece of art might start out about a room’s color scheme, but when we find work beautiful, exciting or meaningful we are usually responding to the artist’s particular take on the visual world, to a particular aesthetic that resonates with our own, or expands our own way of seeing. There is nothing to look down upon here.

  4. This was a good article. I have always thought of decorative art as something purchased at a home decor/crafts (think Hobby Lobby) store while fine art was purchased either from a gallery or directly from the artist. Both have their places for different reasons, and sometimes those reasons are known only to the
    purchaser. Best to snicker at neither.

    1. Exactly. I agree with Nancy and would add that as an artist, personally, I paint subjects which “talk to me” ( is that the good expression?) first, unless it is for a special order. I need to be excited about what I create and then try to transpose that feeling in the painting. Is this fine art or not?

  5. I was told by a gallery owner once that I painted “condo art” meaning condo owners bought it to decorate their rentals or summer homes. So she did not like it. But, I sold in other galleries and art festivals as fast as I could paint when I lived in that area, so….
    Now I live where there are not many festivals and few galleries so I am hoping to sell via the internet. As soon as I feel I am “good enough” (by my own standards) I will try your catalog.

    Thanks for your article, it helps me at this point where I was revisiting her comment and doubting my own work. I will continue to just paint what I enjoy and keep trying to improve my skill at that until I reach a level where my work will again sell.

    I enjoy all your writings, and have learned a lot from you. I know I would have done even better at art festivals if I had read some of your writings back then.

    Thank you! Kathleen
    P.S. I see website is required, I am creating a new one, I found a company that is for artist because my tiny tech knowledge could not keep up with my old company so disregard the raggedy look.

    1. Kathleen, where I live apart from tourists galleries there are no art fairs or real galleries so I sell only online and sure it’s hard work to set up shop and get it looking good but them it’s just a matter of maintaining it and adding your work which by the way is beautiful.

      Try it I’m sure you will be pleasantly surprised. Ta

  6. Great article and comments. I’ve been a weaver for over 40 years and have been a “fine art” painter for 20 years. I have always felt strongly beautifully crafted functional work which one uses every day belongs with fine art we hang on the wall. They work together to enrich our lives, lift our spirits and belong together…in our homes, work places, and galleries.

  7. Here’s how I see it. “Fine Art” was originally defined by White male nobility. Everything else was “craft.” The word, “craft” retained its lower class status so the terms “fine craft” and “decorative arts” were coined. In my opinion, if a work has especially outstanding qualities (which I shall not at this time define as that is a whole other conversation) it is art (whether or not I, myself, like it).

    If the “outstanding quality” aspect is missing, (for example bottlecap on a chain) it’s probably not art. Note the use of “probably.”

    I guess the point is that bias is involved and bias will remain even if it evolves. “Art” is very subjective. Unlike, say, Newton’s Laws of Gravitation. F=Ma is not going to change just because we may not like its effect when we are in a car speeding off the side of a cliff.

    1. Interestingly, much of what we now think of as “fine art” was created by artists who saw themselves as craftsmen. Until the last century or two, western artists learned art like any other trade.

  8. Spend some time in contemporary art galleries throughout the world and I think you have to conclude that what I believe the initial author of the question is driving at is not what is getting into major contemporary art galleries. I could be wrong, but I think she is labeling traditional representational painting and sculpture generally done in oils or bronze as “fine art”. Yes, you will find examples of these techniques and paintings in art museums, but generally they are in rooms of paintings from the past. I also think what she is referring to as “decorative” are works you would find in most contemporary galleries- art has changed over the years. So I try to always stay open and look for work that is being sincerely done by the artist as a means of conveying their unique view of the world through their art. I don’t think it pays to define by labels. Does a work speak to you? Is it well executed in whatever style the artist has chosen to use. Is the work of the artist sincere to them and is it a new idea or concept from that artist that takes the art world forward? I look for that.

  9. Retirement has given me the opportunity to paint and the means to ensure that I do not have to paint for a living. It allows me to paint what speaks to me, not what will sell. That being said, the number of paintings in my studio take up a lot of space and selling a few would provide paint money. I consider myself a Fine Artist. My paintings have meaning to me and apparently meaning to those who buy them. I have done what I consider decorative art and enjoyed the experience of creating –anything. But painting speaks to me in a way other creative/decorative art does not. That, for me, is the difference.

  10. Ultimately, I’m all for shaping my body of work in ways that will enhance sales and still allow me to enjoy the process of creating it. Personally I respond more to paintings that I categorize as “fine art” and less to paintings that I view as “decorative art”. But I know there are a lot of different tastes and trends out there. Consequently I am not opposed to striving for a product that bridges the gap between between the two camps. Lot’s of great artists accomplished that to great extent.

    1. first- LOVED the article. i’ve been a professional oil painter a bit over 21 1/2 years. someone once said to me- “do you really care where they hang it. on the bottom of a murphy bed, above their toilet or over their sofa… the point is that they bought the work. let them deal with the rest…” so no. it equally matters none [to me] how they consider to categorize it. i have very happy clients. i consider my work fine art. as robert says, i bridge the gap between the two camps and whatever enhances the sales and still allows me to enjoy the process of creating it is what i strive for… continuing as a full-time artist is my goal. i love to paint. brush to canvas is palpable to me. that feeds my soul far more than anything. i have honestly let people know- i’ll match your dogs sweater if that is what makes you happy. it’s your painting. if you love my style and color and technique, i can help you with creating the piece you will love… so cheers to whatever it ends up being categorized as and striving to grow and be the best at whatever it is that you are creating.

  11. As a glass artist, most of my work is commissioned to serve a function so by definition and intent, it’s functional art. Pretty, serves a purpose, most often to provide privacy. Occasionally, the work crosses a line and becomes more. I’m just fine with this, the definition is irrelevant to me since I enjoy my work. The projects are purchased before fabrication and I don’t have a collection waiting for a home. When I feel the need to do something more creative, I still have a few windows at my place to display work, enhancing the “showroom.”

  12. Funny you should write this article now. I had a friend comment on a piece I posted on FB who said, “I like this much better than your decorative art”. It stopped me dead in my tracks. I had never made any distinction other than would an audience respond to this? would it sell? Do I like it?
    I had like Sally Smith said, hoped my art was better than Hobby Lobby art but wait…that was art from an artist. Just because it is mass produced shouldn’t make it less of art.Less value because of volume? I don’t know but the statement by my art friend made me question what I was doing and why. The answers I ended up with were that I do what I want. I like what I do for he process and how it makes me feel. I love when viewers say my art makes them happy. I have worried that my art was not “deep” enough. But what is that? Conceptual art confuses me, even as an art history buff. I always feel as if the too fine art is an inside joke. it is too deep, too conceptual, the art historians may celebrate it but the average viewer may not understand it and feel left out. And I say this as a basically abstract artist.
    My conclusion then for me is that art needs no more definition than that it makes the viewer/buyer satisfied. And the artist!

  13. This is a question we deal with at our gallery within ourselves in order to keep the business solvent and to keep ourselves excited about what we sell. We carry art that may not sell, but lifts and educates the community as well as our gallery, and we have art that is popular and well-crafted/painted, etc. We have bowls that are $1200 and ceramics that are $50. I, myself, have a hard time with the distinction since I come from a background of illustration and have moved into fine art. The same boundaries are drawn between illustration and painting, and I feel a piece of fine art takes the viewer worry beyond these boundary lines and into emotion.

    1. There is no finer art than the illustrations of NC Wyeth who was considered a mere illustrator. All the definitions of fine art vs decorative art or just ART are constantly changing. Is art something that comes from within and is unique to that artist? I our time, a producer of Art like I Wei Wei or Damien Hurst don’t really make the art that bears their name. Their “work” is done by many others, yet they are among the most successful artists of our era. I define them as directors of a vision not even in the same category as Rembrandt, Rothco, Bottero, Monet, Blumenschein or Wyeth. Their art came from within and from the skills they developed. You can see their unique qualities & art work in your minds eye even just hearing their names. We need new words for what is happening in art now. In our self involved times it seems like the Museums now curate wonderful spaces in which to take selfies in. Recently, I was in a Museum where the visitors were made to wear disposable covers for their shoes while they walked through a white room with red polka dots and took selfies. I took a picture of the huge trash bag full of one time wear slippers used in this exhibit and showed it to my patrons as abstract art. It was a beautiful picture, everyone loved it. More waste for the landfill – what wonderful art!

  14. It is a huge gray area of distinction. I feel that fine art is a broad term as is decorative art and they do often cross over one another. I some times refer to too fine art as academic art as it is what is taught to us in many art schools. To push the boundaries extend the continuum of art history and push the conceptual aspects. Pretty doesn’t cut it in an art school critique. The problem is that when out in the real world the average art patron is not well versed in all of that. An artist therefore must adapt from their academics to make a living or hope for a slice of a very narrow museum market. It is possible to accomplish both pretty or decorative art and still make an academic or high brow artwork. I personally don’t like ugly art as it is a visual affront to the eyes and it seems unfair to inflict it upon the eyes of patrons. Art ultimately is visual communication so ultimately what is the artist communicating? A feeling an emotion a concept? Or is it just insipid dribble that they think will sell. It is possible that some artist don’t have a lot to say and others say to much.

  15. As a ceramicist, I specialize in vessels, so according to the dictionary term, I create decorative art. My work is purchased, however, for its aesthetic qualities — the vessel itself is the “frame” for an abstract picture that generally evokes a feeling of peace in the viewer. I also do monoprints which elicit similar emotions. No one has ever exclaimed about how beautiful flowers would look in one of my vessels, except ironically when I did Raku, which is strictly non-functional (as I warned the customer via a label on each piece). I consider my ceramics “art,” period. At the same time, I do pay attention to the functionality of the piece: I test each vessel to ensure that should someone desire, it can hold water for flowers.

  16. My mission as an artist is to create beautiful things that will cause positive emotions. It’s also based on reality, although imagination definitely helps. There is nothing more frustrating to me than an artist spending a lot of time on something that is supposed to be ugly or disgusting. To me, the distinction is more between what is lovely, what is lame, and what is ugly, than between whether it is the focal point or the prop. There’s a perfect place for everything and we should be unashamed to do what we do, and do it well!!

    1. Sarah, I never thought of art as “to create beautiful things that will cause positive emotions.” I strive for beauty in my work but one day I produced a piece that brought a flood of memories – something I did not consider at the time. It was only after the piece was complete. Short version (I hope) – my mom was taken by her mother to the cotton fields where she spent all day. Mom never knew her father. One day mom was taken to an orphanage because “a cotton field is not a proper place for a child.” My mom died in my arms over 20 years ago. A beautiful piece will sometimes create other connections, not just positive ones. To me, personal experience connects viewers/consumers to color, or theme, like or dislike. Sometimes it creates discomfort while at the same time drawing the viewer in.

  17. It irritates me to the nth degree if I see ‘patrons’ shopping for so-called ‘decorative’ art. They are cut from the same cloth as the ones who buy books-by-the-yard.
    At shows I see very large originals (6’x5′) with an ‘abstract’ flavor to it. That term is coined by the artist who sees a chance to sell his/her “Wall Wankers” (MY term, so please credit me for it) for a relatively cheap price.
    The fact that they cannot even begin to explain the term ‘abstract’, or what it stands for – is another thing altogether, they churn out these monstrosities on a daily basis – sometimes even hourly!
    Yes, behind their backs the other fine art painters quietly – sometimes openly – ridicule them, and who can blame them?

  18. I really love your perspective on just about everything you have written about.. I actually thought about changing my website to Make Art instead of Barby Cahill Fine Art.

    I strive to make fine art but it is just a joyous experience to make art. My need to express myself through art has nothing to do with the world of criticism out there.

    P.S. I loved your new book & will be rereading it as I go along. Thank you.

  19. When reading the question that Jason received the first thing that comes to mind for me is this person is speaking about representational art (fine art) and non-representational (abstract) art. The history of visual art is a history of representation, landscapes, portraits, still life’s. Abstraction really only appeared in the early 20th century in artists like Mondrian, Klee, Kandinsky, Albers, Picasso, who explored making paintings that were just about paint and canvas. Decorative art is a term likely to be applied to abstract art because artworks most often do not refer to anything out in the real world or to something an artist has visually seen or is attempting to present as a picture on canvas. And in your living room an abstract canvas becomes part of the overall decoration of the space.

    It seem like the validity of non-representational abstract is still being questioned as acceptable fine art. By in large thinking of art in only representation terms is a more narrow historical view. Now in the 20th century we need to open our imaginations more fully to what fine art may be, and maybe just drop “fine” out of the discussion.

    Also for anyone like myself who is exploring digital technology as a tool for making art it is a whole new ball game. There is going to be a lot of expansion pains to accept digitally created still and moving images totally fabricated from imagination and using computer technology to make art. Moreover this new art will probably not be seen as either “fine art” or “decorative art” and will need to be understood in a uniquely new context.

  20. And to think, many artworks may be both fine art and decorative art. I’m a traditional realist painter and am drawn to artwork of similar style. However, that is not to say that I do not appreciate other styles. I think portraits are perfect examples of works that may be defined as either/or. A portrait of a family member may serve a function by depicting family ancestry in an appropriate room. Depending on the quality of the work it may also be considered fine art. I think there’s much ado about nothing other than I disagree with anyone who downgrades art because they don’t like the style or it took only minutes to complete. That, to me, shows tunnel vision.

  21. I like your answer! I’ve asked myself if my work is sufficiently “fine” and the answer I’ve finally come up with is “who cares?” In her book “Big Magic” Elizabeth Gilbert writes about the creative process and how essential it is to our well-being. And how universal. Why would anyone want to discourage someone else’s creativity? I finally came up with a goal for my own work – to create something that brings me joy to create and will hopefully bring joy to others. I want to take someone’s breath away! Or make them curious. I can’t say if I always succeed but I have a lot of fun following my insatiably curious nature. So for me I don’t really care any more if my work is high art or banal, it’s simply my work.

  22. This is an interesting topic of discussion and I am especially engaged by the stream of responses. As an Art Teacher, this topic has been in the forefront of many conversations both in and outside the classroom as you might imagine. But! on a personal note: Many years ago I went on a family vacation to Washington DC. One of the Many activities was to go to an exhibit to see Norman Rockwell’s work. (You know the guy; he was an “illustrator”, not really a fine artist by the “standards of the day”. 😉 I have to admit a tiny part of me actually held a hidden bias. My thoughts at the time… OMG not another museum! is there anything on our “schedule” called “spa time”… :). There wasn’t…. and needless to say, of course I went along. Within a few hours.. as I stood in the gallery before the “4 Freedoms”, utterly humbled. A single tear streamed down my face. One of the beautiful things that art does for us is to break down our constructs, perceptions, labels, judgement and opens us up to one another and ourselves.

  23. Thank you for the timely clarification of a question I have been wrestling with. I appreciate your exploring this topic and your conclusion … and Gail Folsom Jennings comment … “who cares”. Never again will this nagging little, in the back of my mind question interfere with my creativity.

  24. I’m a “black and white” kinda gal….thank you for the definition (differentiation) of the two Jason.
    I suppose sometimes I am guilty of creating both, but MY only concern is to be able to speak intelligently on their differences.
    I waste very little time worrying about what others may think of my work….I am hard enough on myself without opening those doors .

  25. Do you make a distinction between fine art and decorative art?
    Yes, I do, as a fine artist. To explain my distinction, if I see something in a furniture store only there to help sell a couch, especially if if has been produced on a ‘production line’ of multiple copies as we have seen in the past (and a friend of mine did for several years) I do not consider it fine art.
    Do you feel galleries should focus on showing more “fine art”?
    No necessarily, if the gallery makes it fairly clear the market they are selling to, I think they should decide what they sell. Given that, as I paint in a ‘modern Impressionist’ style, I would like more galleries to be approachable about selling my work.
    Do you consider your work to be fine art?
    Yes, I do. I dedicate a lot of time to adding to my qualifications, my education and experieince based on sound principles for drawing and painting, to create work that is original, and hopefully, speaks to viewers on both an intellectual and emotional level that is timeless.
    How much do you think about the historic significance of your work?
    As my work is currently concentrated on the Australian landscape and human interaction with, and impact on it, I hope that it has some historic significance. It isn’t reflective of any current fad, but for rural dwellers and those that think about our natural environment, I hope that in future years, it will indicate and awareness of humanitie’s place within the context of the Australian bush and urbanization.

  26. Wow,LOTS of comments here! I am a new artist,and often wondered if I should put ‘Fine Art’ on my card. In my eyes,the archival quality of a piece helps ME decide if it’s fine or decorative art. I do see some high priced art done on questionable substrates,with hobby grade paints,etc. I guess if I’m paying for a piece of fine art,I would expect the craftsmanship to match. As opposed to decorative,which may fall apart easily or fade in a dark room. But like I said,I’m fairly new at this. I may be all wrong. That’s just my vision when I hear those two terms. I love these emails and I learn so much from them. Thank you for offering this.

  27. I think of “decorative couch ” art as the assembly line paintings that are done over seas, then blasted on tv as a starving artists’ sale at your local big hotel chain.
    To me, all art if it is done to the best of the artist’s ability, and the people looking at it are interested and getting something from it even if it’s controversial , is fine art. Jason, you covered the subject well. You have a way of expressing an opinion as well as giving the facts which cools the snootiness out there and makes all feel welcome to the art world…as it should be.

  28. I really appreciate this article. I’ve wondered for awhile what the difference btwn “fine art” and other art was. It’s good to know that my art, in truth, actually, falls in line in the realm of “fine art”. I’ve often wondered if I was “not good enough for the fine art world with my paintings”, because they didnt fit into this category or that category or just because they weren’t detailed enough!

    Its refreshing to know my artwork is “fine art”.

  29. I had my style lambasted for being decorative when I attended a painting course for adults once. I just felt totally confused by it. The photographer said it was all baloney as I’m was obvious there was a psychic process going on.’

    I just want to meet the people who respond to my work these days too though.

  30. As an Interior Designer and Artist I thank you for clarifying this for people. In the design and museum world we know the difference, as you see when the displays are labeled for visitors. It is very difficult sometimes for designers and architects to bring thier work from the decorative arts mindset to the fine art one. Accepting that your work could serve no other function than it’s own beauty is sometimes a tough transition. At least it was for me since function is such an ingrained part of our education what we do everyday. What is harder for me is hearing peoples misuse of the term craft and art simply because the materials used or style differs from the traditional. It’s a world full of opinions and everyone has one based on background and we hope education. In the end if you like the piece tell the artist if not tell your family in the privacy of your own home.

  31. There is a distinct difference in “my opinion” between “fine art” and “decorative art”. A good example is a still life painted by Cezanne titled: “Still life with a Jug” which hangs in the Boston Museum of Fine Art. Why is this work different than the vast amount of paintings which include apples and could be considered more decorative? When painting this work Cezanne stated that he wanted to paint an apple that would shock Paris. He was intrigued with apples at that time because he said that he wanted to capture the history of the apple, the fleeting delicate colors within these fruits, and break their planes down into something more interesting. He was also very involved with spatial relationships and form. Fine art can at times incorporate things which appear to be decorative; however the artist is trying to say or do something much more than produce something which will enhance a wall. This effort is generally more apparent in their work than an artist who is simply producing something which will look attractive . Decorative art typically has one primary purpose which is to look attractive, or enhance a room. Fine art more than often has more content and can at times be more conceptual in nature, and more challenging to live with. There is an area where work straddles being decorative and at the same time can be considered “fine art”. As a gallery owner I can assure you that the typical person coming into a gallery is looking for something which they connect with, and which will enhance their living or work environment. There are artists whom I consider to be decorative artists , who are extremely successful and command more money for their work than many artists whom I consider “fine artists”. Money is really not the issue. Artwork with emotional content is more alluring to a different sort of customer, who is not necessarily concerned with something which matches the color scheme of a room. Neither area of art is more valid than the other. In fact…I have an artist within my stable of artists whom I consider to be a decorative artist. I know that there is a demand for that type of art, and if I can satisfy that demand, than I am all the more than happy to fill it. The important thing for any artist is to produce artwork which feels good to you. It is also helpful to know who your audience is and find that gallery which caters to that market. Not every gallery is right for every artist. I also feel it is important not to let anyone else define you as an artist. My opinion is just that…”My opinion”, and should only matter to me.

  32. As a former HS Art teacher, the topic of “What is Art”? is something that was a part of my teaching of drawing and painting. Of course everyone has an opinion of what art is. Many would define art that was mostly decorative; that is pretty, illustrative, mastered technique, trite in subject, or kitschy. Very few would define art that went beyond a realistic subject to the abstract or non objective. Work that was conceptual, challenging of our beliefs about art or the very nature of what art might be. As a teacher, I hoped to expand a student’s ideas of what art might be and to allow for knowledge and growth in “taste”. Most of the time a response to a visual object (painting) was I like or I don’t like it. Everyone is welcome to their likes and that is good and important. Likes do and can change and as a teacher I always wanted for a student, when thinking about art to ask the question, Why to I like something? Why might it be art? Decorative or fine, and I think there is a difference, but at the same time there is both good and bad of both. As a painter, I hope to challenge the viewer to see new possibilities of what art might be. “I don’t paint things. I only paint the difference between things”. Henri Matisse “I had to create an equivalent for what I felt about what I was looking at – not copy it”. Georgia O’Keeffe “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see”. Edgar Degas These pose more questions for both the viewer and artist.

  33. There is a difference between fine art and decorative art. I have done many shows over the years, and have met artists who are proud of the fact that they are decorative artists who work with interior design people and sell lots of paintings. Often they do the same image over and over with subtle differences in composition or color. They are often amazing at marketing.
    I believe that fine artists strive to make a dialogue or talk to their audience by leading the eye with edges, colors, shapes, composition, values, textures and line. The artist knows that putting certain colors together, such as discord colors, will create a dynamic or mood, that blurring edges will lessen the impact of that edge, that values can create different moods in a painting.I believe good drawing skills are important. I know many “decorative” artists who know nothing about the ability to control or lead the viewer with these skills.
    Is one better than the other? Not really. I think it makes more of a difference to the artist than to the viewer. If your primary goal is selling and you’ve found the magic formula, why change anything?
    I like to believe that I am a fine artist. I will always want to learn and grow, try new techniques, and I will always need to know how my artistic heros throughout history have achieved their particular statements. I will continue to try and master the basic visual elements.And I will do this at the expense of sales because I am hard wired this way.

  34. Again, there is no bad reason to buy original art, especially from a living artist.
    Fine/decorative/functional/illustrative are compass points with most art in the central area. If you make art work, be proud. If someone buys it, be happy.

  35. Wow . . . To me, (no expert here) I’d have to change your names around just a bit. Decorative art; attractive, but somewhat useful. A potato bin with curly-ques and dutch flowers. Fine Art; a piece that matches absolutely NOTHING in your house, but you JUST HAD TO HAVE IT!! Functional art; nice looking, has some stuff going on to make it less functional, and more art. Cookie jar shaped into some form that belies the fact it holds the mundane cookie.

  36. I think most artists with that attitude think of “fine art” as art created with the techniques the “old masters” used. IE: Acrylic paintings could never be “fine art” in their eyes.

  37. I would never label “Art’. Art for me at least, defies categorization; Words don’t matter, for words are ‘head stuff’, and I believe that real ‘Art’ has a connection with you, body, mind and soul. It’s either a light-weight connection, or a big connection… and only for you. Anyone who doesn’t ‘get it’ the way you do, is simply designed differently.

    When a person looks at one of my paintings, they might cry, they might walk away. Some may call it decorative; many buy it, but all I really hoped for was a connection. I want them to feel something they cannot describe, because I was putting something in that I could not describe. Label the work if you wish. With respect, it doesn’t matter in the end.

  38. Fine art — functional or not — must be ORIGINAL work. The most basic, fundamental requirement of “fine” art is that it be original. One-of-a-kind. I don’t believe the word “original” appeared in Jason’s post. But for me, if it’s not original, it’s not “fine.”

  39. I’m wondering if at the age of 52 if I even have a chance at this career, that maybe my decision to pursue my dream is too late in the making. I guess no one can really answer that particular question though., so my real question is this. Is submitting my work in art fairs or museum contest a waste of my time and money? Oh yeah, I guess I have one more question that weighs on my mind. I am somewhat of a recluse, so I am wondering am I expected to learn how to not be if I am to succeed?

  40. Michelangelo painted Bible stories on a ceiling because the Pope wanted his chapel decorated. Was he a decorative artist or a fine artist? Why should it matter?

    It is the quality (or qualities) of the finished artwork that makes it fine, not who paid for it to be painted, what the intentions of the artist were, whether or not the purchaser displayed it above the couch, or even whether or not it sold during the artist’s lifetime.

    And I agree with Debra that only an ORIGINAL creation should be considered “fine art” (including original prints created by the artist, such as etchings). Mass-produced prints may be reproductions of fine art, but they are not, in themselves, fine art.

  41. The way I see it, the purpose of art is primarily decorative, because if it doesn’t look good in a room, it doesn’t matter how meaningful it is. No one’s going to buy it. Everything visual conveys some meaning, including the most boring art you might buy at Target. Art that is considered purely decorative tends to convey very safe and pleasant meanings, like “peaceful, naturalistic,” or “cool and jazzy.” This level of meaning is considered more of a stylistic quality, rather than something deep and important, but of course it’s all meaning.

    What we consider “fine art” is art that the artist and/or those in power in the art world judge as being more important, complex, challenging, sophisticated, etc., than other more plebian art. This art is therefore considered more valuable, so “fine artists” (traditionally people of higher social standing to begin with) should be given a lot of money for their work. It’s all completely subjective of course, and tends to be classist (with exceptions of course).

    One thing I’m noticing in very contemporary art is that art doesn’t necessarily have to have a lot of meaning to be considered “fine art,” as long as the method of production is sufficiently sophisticated, high tech and costly. Money and social standing don’t buy inclusion in the circle of recognized “fine artists,” but it tends to help enormously.

    All this said, I am in no way dismissing the idea of “fine art,” as I personally think it’s important to acknowledge when art has noble aspirations beyond decoration and style. I always aspire to paint in the most deep and authentic way possible. I actually prefer that not everyone will be drawn to what I do. Even then, I use color relationships and composition that I know have inherently pleasing qualities, because this is what allows the viewer to appreciate the more uncomfortable aspects of the art. Ultimately, if a painting fails as decoration, it also fails as fine art.

    I know skilled artists who don’t have noble aspirations with their art, and they work in the decorative art industry. Their work is pleasing and never challenges the viewer in any way. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s a totally different ball-game.

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