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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53 Comments

  1. My website says “fine art photography” but if a customer considers it decorative and functional, that is just fine with me. I think it can be both.

  2. I have always had a problem with trying to distinquish between “fine” and “decorative” art. I have never met a collector, or ANYone looking for art, that chooses a painting that doesn’t resonate with them simply because it “goes with my couch.” A painting can have perfect colors, perfect composition, and perfect, well “everything,” and if it does not resonate, or speak to, or inspire, or provoke an emotional response with them… they will still walk by it an not purchase it. Ultimately, even if they are buying it for “above their couch,” a painting needs to have meaning for them.

  3. The first thought that popped into my head when I began reading this was, ‘surely that’s in the mind of the viewer’. I admit a certain distain when I hear someone talk about whether the art will “go with” their color scheme. It’s bothersome, but I try to shrug it off and realize not everyone has a true understanding about art. This is somewhat overlapping the “bread and butter work” post you had earlier Jason, and I’m sure many of us struggle with that on some level, conscious or unconscious. But if a person is an artist their goal (and motivation) is to create. Leave the definitions to others.
    This post did remind me of an hilarious Frasier episode where he’s on a blind date with a woman artist and excitedly tells her about a painting he’s just purchased that he thought would “set off the duvet” on his bed nicely. Of corse it didn’t end well, she left, screaming “man who uses the word ‘duvet!’

  4. Hello Jason,
    Thanks for very interesting topic. There is a strong difference between fine art and decorative art in my eyes. A work reproducing fine art is always unique and doesn’t look as a previous one. It is a process or result of a long life pictorial research where artist tries to expand the horizon of aesthetics and develop his own original language… Decorative (or handicraft and sometimes design) art represents a mass production of beautiful things where the work is also unique but seems to be identical or very similar as a previous one. Today, many art works look like walpapers. And they don’t represent fine art but decorative art. Helen

    1. Helen,
      This is an interesting observation but I’d like to offer a friendly challenge based on your definitions… Looking at VanGogh’s works, the style is consistent as is the palette. The subject matter is still lifes, landscapes and portraits. Looking at Picasso’s cubist works the palette is consistent, the style and technique is consistent, the subject matter, again, is still lifes and figurative or portrait work. Finally, look at Monet’s water lilies series with the same palette, same style, same subject. How is this not, as you term it, “mass production of beautiful things where the work is also unique but seems to be identical or very similar as a previous one.”?

      1. Dear Dan,
        Monet did not pursue the GOAL of creating identical works. In every work showing water lily he tried to catch an unique state
        of lighting and impression, pushing the boundaries of impressionism. There are nearly 250 of original NOT IDENTICAL water lilies representing his research. This is a true fine art… Regarding Van Gogh and Picasso – I do not know any work that looks identical. These artists hadn’t consistent style and palette, they had different periods (Millet period of Van Gogh, blue period of Picasso) representing their research. But the most important aspect is that the goal of this research wasn’t to DECORATE the interior.
        On the other side, the decorative artists create mostly identical beautiful works that can not be distinguished from each other. These works don’t represent any research and should DECORATE the interior. Nothing more

        1. I am in total agreement with fine art being fine art and pretty art that is always the size the computer can print and in colour. They tend to be similar whereas fine art, each piece is different. If you know your art, you will notice the anove mentioned artists all went through periods of experimentation. In museums devoted to their art, one can appreciate their development in art and progression of ideas.

    2. Helen – then you do not think Monet is fine art because he produced a lot of water lily paintings and garden paintings that look quite similar? Or Degas did not produce fine art because he painted a lot of ballet dancers in various poses?

      1. Dear Candy,
        Monet did not pursue the GOAL of creating identical works. In every work showing water lily he tried to catch an unique state
        of lighting and impression, pushing the boundaries of impressionism. There are nearly 250 of original NOT IDENTICAL water lilies representing his research. This is a true fine art. On the other side, the decorative artists create identical beautiful works that can not be distinguished from each other. These works don’t represent any research and should decorate the interior. Nothing more.

    3. This is my definition too. Fine art is unique, each piece is created with a different premise although it may within an overarching style. Decorative or design art is art where the premise is repeated over many works. For example, an artist who paints still lifes and creates a different composition for each piece is creating fine art. By contrast, someone who creates several paintings of the same still life with the same composition is creating decorative/design art.

  5. I don’t give this issue any thought either. I think more about if my art is unique and if it expresses feelings that I wish to express. The art most certainly will not appeal to everyone, but there are buyers out there for all types of art. I love this quote by Anais Nin, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” We all bring our memories, likes, dislikes and assorted feelings to the art when we look. But, I don’t find labels to be helpful when looking at art. We can enjoy them for their uniqueness and how they make us feel. If we feel nothing it’s just time to move on to the next piece.

  6. For me, the term fine art is used to indicate that the piece has an emotional touch point, but also that it exhibits a certain amount of technical skill within the general parameters of that medium.

    As a small-time collector, I seek out art in many different forms with which to create the ambience in which I wish to live. This means that I look for furnishings and artwork that meet the following criteria: the work provokes an emotional response in me, the work is technically very well-done and shows a level of skill that can only be developed by the artist over a variable period of years, months, and days of practice, and the work positively contributes that almost indefinable something when considered in the context of the rest of the space that I am creating.

    So the raku pottery vase on the teak sofa table with an antique tatted lace runner under it, holding flowers and grasses and branches from my own gardening efforts each contribute some of that “flavour” into my living space — and each part of that display is evocative, indicative of high levels of skill in many fields of endeavor, and expresses a portion of my own personality and emotional weather.

    Individually, the components are fine art in my eyes — together, they are an expression of my own very individual taste and aesthetic skill at building a welcoming, evocative space for myself, my family, and my visitors.

    Some would argue that this is strictly decor: I say not, because the sum is greater than the whole of its parts, and the parts are greater than the sum of THEIR parts. It’s fine art, and humans recognize that when they see it, even if they do not have the words or framework to express it adequately.

  7. My own wrk would be considered fine art based on the definitions you share which IMO help clear up the question asked. Each ‘type’ has its own merits yet I would add the some decorative art (aka ‘useful’ art) can also be fine art. There are some outstanding vessels like bowls and pitchers that I would never actually use but display as a work of art. I try not to spend any energy on the debate either.

  8. The only time I ever think about “fine” art vs “decorative” art is when an artist approaches me about it. This question never comes from a buyer / art collector. I don’t quite understand an artist’s concern about their painting matching a decor. I would never say it so crassly but I often have two thoughts when this happens: 1) “Do you want to sell your art or not?” and 2) “What’s the reason you ask the question about the other art in my gallery being decorative ?” No buyer would spend $1000+ on original art unless it meant something to them, whether it matches a certain space or not. Maybe someone can enlighten me. Thanks for the great topic.

    1. Karen, my thoughts exactly! I do basrelief sculpture and frequently paint backings to mount them on. What expresses what I wish to transmit is the sculpture itself -the mounting… I will frequently ask the buyers what color scheme they want. If it helps them place my piece in that premium spot in their home, BECAUSE it matches the couch and color scheme… that can only be all the better for me! 🙂

  9. Thank you, Jason, for your well-thought-out reply to this question. It’s a breath of fresh air! Perhaps if we all spent less time worrying about ‘fine art’ vs. ‘decorative art’ we might have more time to get on with making art and improving our own contributions to the vast world of art of all kinds. In the world of art, there’s room for everyone.

  10. I had not thought about this until I bumped into it when approaching a particular gallery. I had found a space where I felt my work would fit, had a connection with one of the art consultants who then carried my portfolio book to the gallery director. After a little time, my connection brought my book back to me and told me that while they thought my work was very nice, but too “decorative” for their gallery. Of course, any rejection stings, but this was one that I have not completely understood, except that they somehow felt my style didn’t really fit with what they were doing in their gallery.

  11. I read a helpful explanation of art in which the style is based on the artist’s intention. The author (sorry, I don’t have the book with me and can’t remember his name) described art as Decorative, Representational or Expository. Each category can be represented by work that runs the gamut from realistic to abstract. In Decorative work, the artist’s main goal is to create something beautiful, balanced and pleasing to the eye. In Representational work, the artist is trying to show a place, time or object. For the Expository artist, the purpose is to convey a message, as much political and religious art does. This explanation puts the artist’s intent above outside categorization.

    1. Anne Moore, if you can locate that book or remember the author’s name, please let me know. I’d like to take a look at those definitions you refer to, and whatever else the author has to say. Thanks in advance!

      1. Mary, the book is You are an Artist: A Practical Approach to Art by Fred Getting, 1965… my husband remembered the name of the book:-) Thr author’s categories helped remove the stigma of decorative art for me.

  12. I totally love what you said, Jason, in the following paragraph:

    “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.”

    While I’m an artist myself, my husband and I have collected art since the mid 1990s. We couldn’t afford expensive pieces, so we bought prints (mostly those produced by Greenwich Workshop) Since then, we’ve bought some original art.

    I’m super glad we only brought prints because our tastes (and specifically my tastes) have changed over the decades. What we first bought as prints could be defined as “illustrative”. Our first was by Tom Lovell, and I especially liked the work of Frank McCarthy. Both these artists were illustrators before they moved into what they considered “fine art” and started selling at galleries. But I have to say the content of their art didn’t change that much. They just went from painting movie posters and book covers to selling at galleries. I would supposed that the folks who spend millions on collecting originals by Howard Terpening wouldn’t say they are merely illustrations!

    Yet, today, I’m attracted to a variety of styles of work – pretty much equally for the work’s own merit, and those styles vary from realism to impressionism and contemporary iconic works. I’ve discovered Alphonse Mucha posters, and I just adore them. I also like colorful collages and representational works that have a contemporary edge.

    You’re absolutely right, the definition of the “fine art” resides in the experience of the beholder. I”m so glad there’s a bounty of collectors out there who like different kinds of work! That helps all of us artists.

  13. Good afternoon,
    Fine art and decorative art, interesting definitions of what loosely falls into the “art” basket! I’ve been what many call a studio furniture maker/designer for the past 40 years and have always seen my work as fine craft. The definition of fine craft includes the idea that there is a function that is involved with the piece. So a chair made with intricate carving on its surfaces is first functional and second beautiful. A cabinet covered in marquetry is a cabinet first and beautiful next. Some times it may be beauty first and function second but function is always a part of the fine craft equation.

    So decorative art and fine craft may be the same as they both include function as a central component to their existence. I personally prefer fine craft as a means of differentiation between fine art and art that includes function. So at the end of the day I sincerely hope my clients will buy the piece of fine art the gallery hangs above my fine craft side board or spirits cabinet!

    Cheers!
    Clint

  14. Yes! Art is truly in the eye of the beholder. How wonderful to read that other art connoisseurs purchase pieces that ‘speak to them’…just because.

    It’s like a buffet – experience what you want.

  15. Thanks for the great article Jason. I encountered this recently while critiquing work for a local art group. Most of the work was of the Fine Art category but there was one painting in the group of a cluster of grapes painted similar to what is seen in Tole painting. None of the grapes overlapped, the leaves were flat, the background was a single color. I asked if the intent was to be realistic or decorative in the result. The artist mentioned they were striving for realism but they were still going to leave the background a single color. I saw this piece as decorative as it reminded me of the “Sears store paintings or what you can find at Bed, Bath and Beyond or Pier One. While it was nicely done the stencil-like approach and flatness made it feel decorative in my opinion.

    1. Dan, Good point and one I would agree with you on. Apparently, I don’t have a very narrow description of what I consider ‘decorative’ or ‘fine art’ based upon what I’ve read on this topic so far. Although, I wonder if there is a point when a style or theme in art becomes so pervasive and is used in so broadly that it becomes more decorative than fine art. Perhaps when I get tired of seeing it at every turn I think of it as decorative.

      I do believe that taste is very personal. My first gallery in Colorado had a gift shop. The gallery owner carried several different sets of my unlimited castings of bookends in her gift shop. She ‘sold the fire out of them’ and referred to them as “art for the common man.” In her opinion the people that purchased them were buying fine art even though for myself as the artist, I considered them as being decorative.

  16. I have personally found that attaching a purpose to my art drastically increases sales of the piece. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “I love it, I just don’t know where I would put it ” in regards to one of my free standing Sculptures. This may be more common with sculpture than painting. My Door Knockers for example. Yes they are Door Knockers but i put just as much care skill and detail into them as any figurative piece i do. The what is art question used to drive me nuts all the way back in Art School. Ultimately if your goal is to make a living as an artist your work has to sell. It doesn’t matter how meaningful or pretty a piece is, if no one wants to buy it, it’s just a curiosity.

    1. I suspect you are correct that the issue of “love but don’t know where to put” is more true for sculpture than painting. Some of my favorite pieces of art are the switchplates purchased from an artist who makes multiples of various styles. They are useful, delightful and bring me joy. They may not be fine art, they are good art. Quality crafted and designed works deserve to be as highly valued as those made for non-practical enjoyment. Don’t we all love our tools and have favorites? They may not qualify as fine art, but, as with fine art, we would be the poorer without them.

  17. Awesome post, Jason! It’s all art – fine or decorative is in the eye of the beholder, if they choose to consider it. Ultimately, it all rests with the artist producing work and somehow attracting the viewer who becomes a buyer. So just keep arting and letting the world know about it, one way or another.

  18. Thank you for your insights, Jason. I am so sick of people trying to categorize artists work. If you take a commission for a mural, its “decorative” yet if you put that same image on a canvas its “fine art”. Artists make their living any way they can. As long as we use our skills to create beauty, I don’t want to be labeled one or the other. An artist who works in commercial situations is no less of an artist than one who struggles to create on canvas. Part of our job as artists is to help clients understand that when they hang art in their homes, they should get pleasure out of seeing it every day. Other than seeing a “Velvet Elvis” in someones home, art is always personal and up to the beholder!

  19. This is similar to discussions writers or, more to the point, literary critics have about “accessibility” in writing. Some wonderful poets are dismissed as being too accessible – too easily understood. These discussions belong to the critics as far as I’m concerned, whether it’s art or writing or even music. Is jazz “decorative” or “accessible” and Mozart “fine”?
    If someone wants to buy one of my paintings to match the couch, I’m happy to sell it because the painting will bring pleasure to the buyer even if it’s just to hear friends ask where he or she found a painting in those colors! There’s the emotional connection and that’s good enough for me. I don’t expect every buyer to be knowledgeable about techniques or the dynamics of color or any other matter that only concerns the artists.
    My guess is that questions about the distinction come from people who want to have a good investment and when money talks, it rarely says anything beautiful.
    If, by some chance, a buyer asks me if my art is fine or decorative, my answer will be “Yes.”

  20. Years ago I recall hearing the term “decorative” as a put-down by art critics and college art professors meaning that the art is merely a pretty decoration and not serious or historically meaningful. Sometimes art that is focusing on a serious topic isn’t going to be the type of art that an individual would want in their home, but it might be meaningful in a museum show or in a public space. For example, if I could figure out a way to make paintings about current issues such as human refugees, or homelessness, I might have to look for a different type of client than the people who buy landscapes or animal paintings.

    I don’t think art that is pretty or beautiful and looks great in a home or office is less worthy than art that is more intellectually stimulating or more conceptually original. Beautiful objects can be healing and uplifting, and that matters. However, some of the art that is the most powerful and meaningful will end up being historically significant.

  21. I do decorative art on wood, abstraction, realistic and impressionist work…I guess I would like to say that I explore all media and love it all, so it’s very hard to tie myself into anything that “sells” per se. Oh, well, I love everything I do so it is what it is!!
    People often say, “IS that your style” or even “WHAT is your style”…I have to just forge ahead with my artistic life whatever it is!

  22. ” You’re not buying this painting for the Right Reasons!! Get thee from my gallery, and never come back!!”

    I had the above flash amusingly thru my mind and pictured a “Far Side” -style cartoon illustration to go with it 🙂

    Excellent article, Jason.

    1. That’s it in a nutshell, Nancy! Thanks for the giggle.
      And frankly, I don’t buy art that doesn’t appeal to me and “fit in” with my own furnishings, either, so why would I look down on art because it fits someone’s comfort level? How many people buy art that makes them uncomfortable every time they walk past it and hang it in their homes?

  23. Ha ha ha! These thoughts are long lived and never die! When I was a student in art school back in the early 1970s, our painting teacher sat us all down one day and told us that if we wanted to be “real” artists we would be painters of sculptors and not jewelers, wood workers or ceramicists (Not sure where print makers fell in this hierarchy). So where this come from? I think it was a response to the worry that the best art students were moving away from painting and sculpture to explore the more innovative and exciting (and yes, more saleable) fine craft areas (decorative, I expect). So now I have been an artist for many years since then and I spend some of my time in a 2D mixed media, printmaking and painting studio and some of my time in a clay studio. I am here to tell you that I don’t use my “fine art intellectual brain” on the days I spend in the 2D studio and my “non-artist decorative brain” on the clay studio days. The clay studio actually holds more intellectual challenges- more inherent technical problems to solve and more science to calculate. So, be what it may be, all mediums are used by me as a way to share message about what I consider important to share artistically and convey ideas visually. It’s all good- some of it is not “finer”than others depending on how it is created.

  24. Ah, labels! Art is as subjective as beauty. A lot of art was installed in homes but in the course of time, respect elevated it to the fine art category. So what was it before? The same piece, only viewed differently.
    Examples that come to mind; Alexander Calder’s mobiles were decorative until an art critic decided it was more than something to fill empty space.
    There is a glass maker a few miles from me who makes art pieces from blown glass. His original lighting designs hang in corporate headquarters and hospitals. Some would call them utilitarian/decorative but they are stunning sculptures of light.
    What about Faberge eggs? Decorative but taken to the highest level of skill … definitely art.
    The Navajo Yeibetchi rug displayed on my wall is artistry in fabric.
    One comment about the “doesn’t match my couch” cliche. This won’t work all the time but it did once. I answered a buyer, how long did she intend to keep her couch. She hesitated and said probably 10-15 years. I told her I paint to give pleasure for a lifetime and if it didn’t match she needed to replace her couch. She bought it and did.
    Furnishings and decorations have a limited shelf life … that is the difference to me and honestly, even that doesn’t matter (not the JK that wrote the letter). Beyond that, it is what you consider your art.

  25. From the perspective of an interior designer… I can confirm that there is definitely a difference between fine art and decorative art, within that field. I am constantly contacted by art reps that cater to the design profession. And the art is typically marketed to “ fit” within a theme or color scheme…AND you can get it in any size… lol.

    Some times these pieces are painted by an artist that had every intention of being considered fine art… while many pieces are definitely painted for the commercial mass market.

    FYI… typically…. when a designer is purchasing art for an interior project, they are looking for something to just fit into the decor, particularly if the client has little involvement in the process. And typically, art and accessories are the last items to be s lected to finish off a project… and the budget has almost been depleted.

    My approach with clients was to insist that they become involved n the art selection process… and that the art had to speak to them. My point to them was that a piece of art they loved did not need to “fit”… it should stand on its own.

    Many times, rather than selecting new art work, I’ve taken the client’s existing possessions and have had then rematted and framed to bring out the hidden beauty… Just look at what is called a gallery wall in a residence … which is often a collection or mismatched art works, of various sizes and subjects… and they portray so much personality and interest…

    the point is, if a designer is making the selections for their clients, it isn’t likely to involve any emotional response on the clients part.. unfortunately. This is even truer if the project is not a residential project.

  26. The older I get, the more I dislike labels, and i think labelling any original art as “decorative” simply because it doesn’t push boundaries and strive for great meaning to be elitism at its worst. A poster of a Degas dancer purchased to match the decor might be decorative, but the original wasn’t. Assuming that a bowl of fruit is decorative, merely because others have painted fruit for centuries doesn’t make the original painting any less “fine”. But maybe I’m biased – my work definitely doesn’t strive for deep meaning – I paint what I love because I want to paint it! – yet it seems to resonate with people (or at least, they don’t buy it to match the couch) so I wouldn’t class it as decorative, either. How about we do away with labels and just try to get along?

  27. I know that when I buy an artwork I have to be able to live with it. So yes, the “decorative” aspect is part of the art buying decision. It doesn’t need to match the couch, but I don’t want to have to witness a gruesome visual battle between the art and the decor every morning before I have had my coffee.

    There are many profound and beautiful paintings that I love to look at in galleries and museums that I would not be able to live with every day in my home (even if I could afford them!) I have several very good paintings that do stir emotion, thought and memory, but I don’t have to study them all the time to enjoy their beauty and the skill in their making. That’s the “decorative” part. I also own several decorative craft pieces that I enjoy looking at every day, because they are pretty and well made. A potter or tuner does not ask any more of me.

    If a painter is painting for themselves, or for the ages, or for a church, or for some grand public project, then the painter rightly places meaning and feeling first. But if a painter is expecting that the paintings will be hung in someone’s home, there should be no fear of the “decorative” label – and the the painter may make it “fine” by giving the art buyer something more than surface, too.

  28. I regard my Artwork as Fine-Art, however I have no doubts that not everyone will agree with me & some buyers/collectors buy it to match their decor. I really do not care about the distinction between Fine-Art & Decorative-Art when it comes to my Artwork. I need to sell my Artwork, whether that is to museums or people that see it as a Piece to match their couch or carpets. History is the best judge of what constitutes Fine-Art…

  29. I view the supposed distinction between fine art and decorative art (other than the dictionary definition, with which I agree) to really be a matter of attempting to establish a status hierarchy whose goal is generally to make the person making the distinction feel better than or more important than others. The range of what is “art” is incredibly broad, as is the range of those who make up its audience. The goal of the gallery is to get each piece of art in front of those audience members who will love it and then cause them to trade money for it. Whether or not the buyer had a particular environment in which to display it in mind at the time the buyer buys the art really seems to me to be a trivial concern. What is important to me is that the buyer enjoys having the art in his or her life. If the buyer loves it and it becomes an important part of their life and personal environment, so much the better.

  30. As a handweaver, spinner, knitter, crocheter,quilter, seamstress, bookbinder, and watercolor painter I must say I believe beauty and joy ARE functions. Perhaps two of the most important ones.

  31. Decorative art in my part of the country has a very clear meaning spelled out by gallery owners themselves. Birds,fish,cow heads, oysters, single subjects filling the canvas in bright colors often combined with calligraphic lines.

  32. I have fine art in my business title but I really do not spend any time thinking about this issue. I am about creating and getting my work out for sale. If someone wants it for decorative purposes that is good. I would hope that my work touches them emotionally and that it speaks to them at a deeper level, but if not there will be people who will see my art and have a response.

  33. After pondering this question a bit, I realized that I do think of some art as decorative, and it’s usually art that I don’t think is very accomplished, or has too much of a “gimmick” – the same simple design, with maybe slight variations in color, size or placement. If it’s something that’s relatively innocuous looking that I don’t personally like, but others do, I’d probably call it (in my head, I don’t like to hurt anyone’s feelings) “decorative”. That said, I’m sure there are artists out there who would not value my work because it’s too “pretty” and think of it as decorative art. Fine art is in the eye of the beholder.

  34. If I hand-dye a length of sheer linen, then design a garment that highlights the unique pattern of the dye against the fabric, and I put in every stitch by hand with loving care and the skill of years, and someone wears this exquisite garment because it makes her feel beautiful, and every moment I put into my work was a moment of joy and love, what do I care if you call it art or craft?

  35. There is no bad reason for buying original art, especially from a living artist. If you buy it because it matches the couch- great! If you buy it because it tells you and interesting story-great! If you buy it because it provokes an emotional response, deep internal questions, or just makes you weak in the knees- great! If it is because you just like the subject-also great. There are real categories (decorative, fine, illustration, functional, etc.), but what matters is “do you love it?” since you will be living with it. I have recently been told my work is not “art” because it is drawn on paper from a live model.

  36. This is an interesting discussion. What about the influence of Bauhaus? I consider myself a Modern Formalist and primarily create art for aesthetic value. If it has any context at all, it is subordinate to the aesthetic properties. This is not to say I don’t do highly contextual art sometimes but it is not what generally motivates me. I also have what I refer to as my “product line” which are castings from molds that I have made from original clay models of my own creation. But I consider all my work fine art or fine craft.
    To consider “decorative” art less important than “fine” art is just not appropriate in my opinion. Unless you are talking about something you picked up from a craft or hobby store to hang on your wall or set on the table for a season and you will toss it when you redecorate. I guess that would be decorative art.

  37. So much is subjective in art, even about what “fits” or “works with” and what doesn’t. I suspect some of that is a western/European attitude and am entranced at cultures around the world that put together all manner of eclectic colors and patterns or use them in ways not familiar to me. For me, it’s like those who say one must have neutral colored walls to show art. I have often laughed that if I love it, it will work on my walls. One of my favorite galleries has deep green walls that allow the photographs to stand out against them like shining jewels. It is both beautiful and a refreshing change from stark white walls. And much that is fine art and quite expensive (does that make it better?) I would never hang in my home-some I don’t care for, even if I recognize the skill of the artist, some I may like, but wouldn’t be comfortable with or it doesn’t fit due to scale or temperament. The one piece of advice I consistently hear about buying/collecting art is to buy what you love. Usable art/craft has a special beauty and includes the tools I delight in using because they are effective, well balanced, fit in the hand and show the love and wear they receive as they are handled.

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