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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103 Comments

  1. I feel that art is emotional. And honestly I think it’s too bad that there are people that have to make the separation and divide, yet one more thing in this world. Art is art. It’s a beautiful thing. Let it be just that.

  2. Thank you so much for this post, and great point about the historical aspect. I’ve been struggling for a long time with how to define my photography and ended up dividing it into two different businesses; one with limited and open edition “fine art” prints; one with more “farmhouse shabby chic” “decorative” prints that I just refer to as “photography prints”.

  3. First of all and personally I create art because I feel it in my heart. If it happens to match a sofa so be it. But at this stage of my artistic endeavors I paint what I feel like painting. The same with the clay sculptures I create. If I have a piece that is unfinished when I wake up in the morning that is the first thing I think about as to needs to be done to make me happy. I am not in galleries, but I do sell in some shows and from my studio. Jason you mentioned in another article that we should not ignore our acquaintances and friends when it comes to selling art. This is another way I sell some of my pieces. They come for dinner look at a piece and ask “are you selling this piece” of course my answer is yes, and they walk out with that piece after they pay me of course. I never push for a sale but I do explain why I created and what I was thinking of that day I created. They love to hear the story, “short of course” and that is it. One more point, I will not create art which the client starts giving me directions as to what they want, be it color, style, or subject. For that I politely tell them that perhaps they should check places like Target, Hobby Lobby and such. That is something that can drive me up a wall. LOL>
    The problem I sincerely find is that galleries want to sell one style, one subject, very expensive and sometimes the galleries have not given thought that not everyone can afford a $10,000 painting or sculpture. Specially now with all the on-line galleries I think. But I do understand that galleries have to make a living just as much as artist.

  4. This kind of argument used to upset me, but after owning my own gallery for 11 years, I ignore it too! I am interested in the connection people have with images that move them emotionally, whether because of color, texture or content.I paint and sell lots of “serious ” landscapes, horses, wildife, but what brings people in to the gallery are my crazy burro paintings…which may be decorative, but its with a laugh and a smile that people buy them , so that’s reason enough for me to paint them…I think joy is a very important thing these days.

    1. Hi Barbara,
      I was at Spectrum San Diego last year.
      Your work is definitely first class art no matter how viewers want to categorize
      art .
      I’ve been an admirer for a long time.
      Every time I’m in Santa Fe , I look for your new work. You are unique in your approach and that’s what sets you apart!
      Marlene

  5. I agree on every single point you just made. These are my thoughts exactly when I consider remixing the artists hosted in our gallery. Thank you for sharing your experience(s) from every perspective via your blog posts and helping artists and all of us sell their work.
    Keeli Crewe, co-owner & gallery director
    Area 61 gallery | Chattanooga TN

  6. The whole notion of “fine art” is irrelevant today. Fine art used to distinguish the unique artworks made by professional artists from the commercial mass-produced artworks many people had in their homes. Usefulness isn’t a fair measure of what is “art” either, some people consider that distinction to be the difference between art and craft–but even that line has been blurred to the point where art and craft are used interchangeably.

    Any artwork made by an artist is art. Yes, some artists are more talented than others, but even that is no measure of sales success. It is time we lose the words “fine art” as an antiquated remnant of the past. Although it is important for artists to understand what sells and what does not, the terminology simply doesn’t matter.

  7. I think there is a definition that falls between Jason’s and JK-Artist’s definitions of Fine Art and Decorative Art. Art dealers and appraisers of 19th and early 20th century art used to tell me that unsigned paintings, especially when the artist is unknown or not listed, or signed and unsigned paintings by amateur artists, would only have “decorative” value. They referred to those pieces as decorative art and their value would be based on what a decorator might pay for the piece because of its colors, size , and shape orientation.

    1. Peter, I suspect the reason for that is because, without the signature, the dealers and appraisers cannot establish provenance.

  8. An interesting discussion. I paint, so I’m creating what would be defined as fine art. But when someone acquires one of my paintings, I hope it is because that painting will enhance their surroundings and environment, evoke memories and positive feelings, and bring them an emotional reward. In that sense, my paintings are intended to be — useful in daily life. Which sounds like decorative art!

  9. The artificial distinction between “fine art” and “decorative art” is caused by confusion that exists only in artist JK’s mind. There can be no such distinction in the real world, because buyers have the right to enjoy a piece on its aesthetic merits, on its power to resonate with them as an emotional touchstone, and on its harmonious integration into their house decor.

    After all, as aesthetically satisfying and emotionally moving though the artwork may be, who wouldn’t also want it to look good in its environment?

    An implied judgement that JK is also making is that art that looks to JK as “merely decorative” could not also be art that, for some clients, genuinely provides emotional resonance. To deny buyers their right to be moved by art that they like is to judge their emotions, their thoughts, and their highly personal aesthetic choices.

  10. Dear Jason,
    thank you for your answer! I have been quite confused about this topic. One of my mentors once told me very gently that he thinks my art is more on the decorative side. His arguing was that fine art is in fact art that has deeper meaning, thoughts and ideas that can be interpreted. He does indeed wonderful work in that direction. What disturbs me about this is that selling is almost considered a minus, like selling yourself out (he was a university professor teaching art). I have master’s degrees in languages and maybe got quite enough of the “what did the poet think…” idea. My art reflects what I have seen and love, hoping that others understand my feeling of happiness, awe… Or sometimes just being so impressed by a canyon, cave… that I need to paint it, and see that I can recreate that feeling of being in there. The biggest complement for me was someone saying “wow, fantastic, that draws you right in”. To me that is a huge compliment. Mission achieved. For myself I decided I do not care what kind of art my art is, I just hope that people like it. And selling, to me, looks like a big compliment.
    I really like your father’s “Riot of Colors”! Going by the little picture of it – it looks like an energizing painting to me. Gives life to the room and energy to the viewer.

  11. This is so interesting. I agree that art is art. I met with a gallery recently who said they liked my work but that it was too decorative and that I should contact interior designers At first I was a little put off but then realized every gallery has a look and feel and I was just not a fit for them. Onward hi!

  12. Great article, Jason, and great discussion. I’m glad you included the dictionary definitions, too. I loved Ana’s comment, and I feel the same – I paint from the heart. And, if someone buys one of my pieces to match their sofa, it makes no difference to me. I recently had someone, in a jury situation, tell me that my work was “decorative”. It was quite evident by the manner in which she made the statement that my work being “decorative” was not a desirable thing. Unfortunately, I see a lot of snobbery in the art world, and now I’ve experienced it firsthand. As we all know, art is subjective – it speaks to you or it doesn’t – period.

  13. I come from a slightly different angle. I am a fiber artist (silk & resin sculptor, and silk painter) and fiber arts have been traditionally looked down upon by the fine art community. There is now a trend to be more accepting of fiber art… but there are still quite a few galleries and museums who will not consider hosting a fiber art show. I prefer to paint wall-art pieces, but I keep in mind – that some galleries etc. might reject me out-of-hand simply because I don’t paint in traditional mediums.

    I think it really comes down to the old adage “art is in the eye of the beholder”. What I might consider art and want on my wall, is far different than what other people might desire – and that’s OK!

    1. I’m also a fiber artist, and it amuses me that we are looked down upon — what do many “fine artists” paint on? Fabric. Canvas is fabric.

  14. Both of my children got BFAs, and from many conversations with them, I became aware of those haughty attitudes about Fine Art vs Decorative Art. My own education was in veterinary medicine, and I am grateful to have been spared direct exposure to this snobbish attitude.

  15. This subject is something I’ve been mulling over myself for a few years, especially because, even though I can produce both fine and decorative art, I feel that the market for each appeals to a different type of buyer and therefore, should be marketed (aka presented) differently.

    To me, the criteria for determining if something is fine art or not is if the work has elements about it that cause the viewer to not only respond with deep emotion, but it must also be “about” something, (i.e., it possess the ability to cause the viewer to become involved in the “why” or its existence or the “what” of the meaning its creator is attempting to convey), rather than being just something pretty that one can hang on their wall, wear, look at or use in some way, but that doesn’t…and isn’t meant to….elicit anything deeper than visual appreciation. The work I feature on my newly published web site could, in fact, could be appreciated on both of those levels, though one needs to actually spend the time it takes to read my BIO and ABOUT pages to appreciate it deeper.

    That said, I’m marketing that work directly to galleries, museums and collectors themselves, etc. However, I intend to market a different and more accessible style of work through the on-line, Fine Art America site….controversially named in my opinion, because ironically, very little of the work they feature is actually fine art…with the idea of hopefully being able to see quicker results from a larger volume of sales. FAA, for the most part, appeals to a larger, even though less sophisticated market of people who seem to spend money on art as often as serious, fine art, collectors do, but usually at a lot less of a price point. So, selling more visually oriented work there will hopefully make it so that I can keep doing the more meaningful work I prefer to do for collectors.

  16. I once shared a studio space with an “artist” who said to me “I just make this stuff because it looks cool.” There was never any discussion about what was behind the work or creative process. In my opinion, this is an example of “decorative art.”

    1. Exactly. “Decorative art” as most painters use the term is superficial and easily cloned. By comparison “real” art, if we must use that term, even though i am not wanting to make a value judgement, is something that is infused with its own unique living spirit, like any living being. To elaborate on that metaphor, many related animals (humans included), can appear very similar, but each is fully alive individually, not cloned.

      Jason seems to be implying some people think his father’s work is decorative. I don’t agree. Even though John is a prolific painter of specific subject matter, i see life/soul in each piece.

  17. Thank you for this subject, Jason. The misunderstanding of the term “fine art” by so many people, including artists, has always been one of my pet peeves. I think the problem stems from many believing the word “fine” describes the quality of the work instead of it being created by the artist purely for their own personal expression. As an example, a graphic or commercial artist creates art for a practical function such as advertising but can also create his or her own “fine art” strictly for it’s beauty or emotional value. I’ve always wanted a person to purchase one of my pieces because they relate to it and want to “live” with it but if it’s because it matches their decor, that’s fine too. I still consider it “fine art” because I wanted to and felt the need to create it.

  18. it’s kinda the same way I feel about art fair art and “real” art, to me most of that art is decorative art with a gimmick, quick, easy to produce usually with a twist….I go back and forth about that myself since I do a few art fairs but consider my pieces one of a kind original art and different but actually I’m probably wrong about my art as being different…….I mean we do talk about it sometimes…….and end up going back and forth..

  19. Many years ago I visited an art ” factory”… The artists were certainly skilled, but each one was surrounded by ten or twelve canvases on which they were methodically reproducing the same painting – usually one section at a time as if on a carousel. These were intended for the mass market – hotels and offices that were looking for something a step up from print reproductions.
    This is what I’ve always thought of as”decorative art.” Created only for the market, and not from the artist’s heart.

  20. I don’t know how to get my computer out of italics. There are tangents in the following, but it’s all related in my head, so bear with me. I feel like I’m going to anger people by falling on the other side of many comments. Sorry.

    I think art school added some snobbery to my views, and my art business class may have poisoned me. I have adhered to these art business rules taught in that class, when I bend rules in the studio and in all other areas of my life. I am ready to let go.

    I react against the idea of decorative art and have distinct opinions on art, yet I believe artists should make what they want. I think the galleries generally do a good job sticking within one realm or another, call those fields what you will. I think my art is not decorative, and in fact, goes the other way. I find many galleries showing what I consider “safe art”, easily accessible, pretty, and easy to sell–even in the “fine art” realm. On the other end of the spectrum, I find galleries that just show experimental art that really can’t be sold, like an instillation with performance art. I struggle to find galleries that are willing to push boundaries away from the decorative and yet not off the spectrum. I miss when it was the galleries’ job to introduce the avant guard to the public.
    I haven’t thought of the definition that you’re looking for in nearly 20 years, but the people who mentioned depth and meaning felt right to me.
    On the other hand, I had an art teacher say Hung Lui’s work is decorative, and I disagree. I see where he’s coming from technically, but meaning and depth hold true here. To each his own, I suppose.

  21. If the defining factor is “functional”, then how could kinetic art be fine art? Just being kinetic implies function doesn’t it? As you say, the distinction is in the eye of the beholder.

  22. I think that this discussion is really one about how some people want to feel superior to other people. When I buy art, and I buy a lot, the only question I have is, “Is this something I want to look at every day for the rest of my life?” (Okay, I also ask myself whether I can afford it.) When I create art, my goals are to make something beautiful and to learn something new. That’s enough for me.

    Everybody perceives a work of art differently. When an artist and a viewer separated in space and time make a connection through the work, it is a beautiful thing, regardless of whether the work is an oil painting, a woven basket, a blanket, a turned bowl, or an arrangement of found objects, all of which I own and all of which are “art” to me.

  23. Noting that photography was not mentioned in either definition, I have to suggest that you check out some photography forums and their discussions about whether photography is art, etc.. The posts are almost comical at times from people denying they could possibly be an artist or make art because they’re a photographer. I completely agree with you in your post, though. One person’s decorative art could easily be another’s fine art, too, going by the way many use the terms. Even with the dictionary meanings, it isn’t a solid black line separating the two. And so what if it weren’t? Why does there need to be a difference in name and implied difference in quality? We all have walls on which to hang what we want to see. Who cares what we call it?

  24. Its a great question and one that many artists including myself grapple with. As the former exhibition designer at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, part of the American Art Museum, the question of decorative, functional and fine art is core to the museum’s curatorial mission so it’s a question for a “higher pay grade” than me too! My experience is this: After studying deconstructionism, post modernism and conceptual strain in art school I didn’t know what I wanted to paint. I thought decorative= bad, fine art/conceptual = good, creative pretzel=immobilized. A few years ago I drove down the Pacific Coast Highway after being away for many years from California where I grew up. When I returned to my studio I discovered a small, very crude painting of a surfer gliding down a wave from high school art class- way back in the last century! I thought, my god, the sea is what I love, why am I not painting it? I haven’t stopped painting it since. The aesthetic/conceptual underpinnings have grown up, around and into my work organically as it has matured, interestingly, not the other way around. My advice is find what you love, whether it be obsessively conceptual or unabashedly decorative and work it. As you grow a body of work- what ever it is- the world will tell you where it belongs. Just do the work and don’t worry about the labels- that’s for those at a higher pay grade!

    1. Exactly True! Once in awhile I have someone ask if I ever have, or ever would paint a particular thing – i.e. local scenery, or the ocean. Of course I want to sell my art, but I can only paint what inspires me from the heart. I agree – just paint on, and don’t worry about what it’s called or by whom.

  25. Well, my idea is to just do the best you can and in as elevated way as possible. The market will decide what is “fine art” and what is merely “decorative.” If you can knock out the same piece time after time, chances are it is more in keeping with making a room nicer. And that is legitimate.
    But really, time spent shouldn’t be the arbiter.
    A friend goes into furniture store, checks out the abstracts and then knocks them out at home for half price or so.
    In the end, though–is it worth it? Only you can decide. I guess I’m one of those “from the heart” people. Because it’s not just the destination, it’s the journey as well. And we shouldn’t take ourselves so seriously.
    (LOL–I should’ve been an engineer!

  26. I still have difficulty with this issue. When I was in my 20s, an older gentleman had exclaimed over one of my paintings, ” how decorative! “. I was crushed, having a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Now I really could care less. If my art speaks to you, let’s work out a way so you can purchase it. If not, oh well.

  27. As an artist, my extreme pleasure is derived from the creation of my paintings. As a person who needs sustenance, I’m nearly as happy when a painting sells to an interior designer or a patron who wants a painting to enhance their environment. I hope they will enjoy the work and it will be passed on to their children and subsequently to their children. But, most of the time I will never know. It would really hurt to know that one of my paintings was tossed out with the coffee grounds and old newspapers when the wall color was changed. I’ll just go on being happy thinking my work met the former fate and was considered “fine art”. As for the giclee prints one sells on FAA, these may be an economical good start for young folks who have to watch their budgets for now. In future, they may grow into serious collectors and support our work. Why do we have to judge and pigeonhole, we should be doing a happy dance, as artists our work is pleasurable, we are usually happier, healthier and live longer than most folks.

  28. For me, art is emotion. You see and feel something. For me there is no fine or decorative art. Art is art. Art is the physical manifestation of emotion. As for the concept of beauty? This is subjective.

  29. For me, art is emotion. You see and feel something. For me there is no fine or decorative art. Art is art. Art is the physical manifestation of emotion. As for the concept of beauty? This is subjective.

  30. Thanks Jason for your comments. To me Art is Art – some things I see in pricey galleries or museums look like the work of a 3rd grader, such as “Starry Night,” other things are beautiful! It’s all in the eye of the beholder! No one can actually decide this is” fine art” or this is”decorative art,” it’s a mute point because we as individuals each make our own decisions about art. We all like different things and I wouldn’t buy a piece of art that didn’t go with my home colors or decor. Yes, there is a lot of snobbery in the Art World. Some 20 yrs. ago I took some of my art to a Gallery in the K.C. area & honestly my Zebra art was better than what they had on the wall. The woman looked at mine very quickly and looked down her nose at me and said “Take it to a Furniture Store.” If I were to think in terms of fine art or decorative art I guess I would say tole painting is decorative art and probably factory line type paintings where several people work on the same piece. Absolutely loved your Father’s piece of art shown in this blog!

  31. Thanks for the post. As I enter my third year of learning all I can about Watercolor, for the most part by just wetting my paper and allowing the magic to happen, I worried about being judged by those who spent years in school learning, from those who chose to teach their take on the subject but after having shown my work, sold my pieces I am very grateful for going against what others said about the medium being too hard and having the time of my life.

    Art is good for the soul and having just retired from being a female trucker, for 38 years and yes there was also an art to backing up a 80′ rig in America’s big cities. So be fearless and create your own art and quit worring if it is as good as theirs. I have seen many piece I would never hang in my home and I am sure many of mine you would not rush out to hang in yours I say who cares just have fun!

    1. I agree 1000 %…I am in the same place with watercolor….Live, enjoy, learn, appreciate and ignore the snobs:>)

  32. Anything that you bring into your enviroment that stops and makes you smile on a daily basis should be beyond the need for a category, self validation, or investment thought.

  33. I have given this dichotomy quite a bit of thought, especially after completing a two year post-back at an art school that expected students to explain and justify the concepts behind their art work.
    Several years later, I find that I tend to think of most art as somewhere on a continuum with one end representing art made purely for aesthetic enjoyment and the other end representing art that is intended to convey ideas. I no longer think of these opposite ends of the decorative to conceptual spectrum as good or bad, merely different ways to enjoy or appreciate art. Some of us relate to a shark sawn in half and suspended in formaldehyde; others prefer an exquisitely rendered vase of flowers. Most of us enjoy and appreciate a wide range of artwork. As Jason mentioned, people know when a work of art speaks to them, no matter what the intent of the artist. Every artist has their “sweet spot” on the decorative to conceptual spectrum. I seek to create art that satisfies, first and foremost, my own sweet spot. If people want to enjoy my work purely for its visual aesthetic, great, but if they like art with some meaning behind it, well, that’s there too.

  34. One of my favorite quotes:
    “Art is not art until it’s sold. Until then it’s merely a storage problem.”
    ― Frank Wynne, I Was Vermeer: The Rise and Fall of the Twentieth Century’s Greatest Forger

  35. Jason,
    What a wonderful discussion we spawned!
    When I posed my questions to you, I was hoping for INFORMATION (mostly, about sales,) not opinion – but the ideas everyone has expressed are wonderful and fascinating! I don’t consider “fine art” better than “decorative art,” regardless of the definitions. I see differences, but both are certainly valid.
    Thanks for using my questions as a “touchpoint” for a great discussion.
    JK

  36. Rather than worry about the distinction between fine art and decorative art, I often wonder about whether I should paint “generic” scenes in my landscape genre. I pride myself in interpreting scenes of places in Europe which I have visited. If a painting is of a recognisable place (e.g. Paris, Eiffel Tower, Seine River), then it might evoke an emotional response for a collector. But if the place depicted is unknown, then it must rely on something else to appeal to a collector. However, if the composition could be anywhere, or even a figment of my imagination, then it must stand on its own merits — well executed, good colours, excellent brushwork, and well balanced. In many respects, its appeal will depend solely on the interpretation of a collector.

  37. When someone picks a painting that they love because it matches the couch I always remind myself that they picked the couch because it spoke to them. What people choose to put in their homes is a reflection of what they love to be surrounded by.
    How can we say art that is useful is not fine art? If it fills your heart with joy, does it make it not fine art if you can use it?
    I have a beautiful elegant bowl made and given to me by one of my students. I use it ever chance I get. It is a wonderful unique piece of fine art.

    1. What people choose to put in their homes is a reflection of what they love to be surrounded by.——What a wonderful comment and so true!

  38. It is easy to get caught up in labels. They mean different things to people and take your pick which is valid. Even then it is subjective.
    Rather than “decorative” I’m inclined to gather work into a “commercial” category instead of the realm of fine art. One could take issue with the “functional” description; some is, a lot is not.
    I’d like to add another classification, that of social art. I’m speaking of posters, Banksy-style graffiti, those poignant images that become iconic in culture.
    Fine art can be commercially profitable whereas some commercial work is only worth a current price for a short time. Five years later the piece may be worth nothing but scrap. Or, commercial work gains esteem over time. I’m reminded of illustrators who produced art for periodicals … some of the finest art ever created that has gotten its due only in late years.
    We’ve all seen ridiculous installations in respected museums that have us shaking our heads. Someone decided it was “fine art” … beware of art critics. A few years later the piece is quietly moved to the basement.
    Anything that gives a patron pleasure has value to them regardless what label one places on it. Whether it has value to posterity or the general art world is incidental. There is nothing wrong with that.
    I’ve commented before I’m not interested in painting souvenirs. I don’t create “decorative” pieces. I consider myself a fine artist and produce work under that umbrella. I know, traditional studio art may be boring to some but my style or subject matter won’t change. I won’t alter my focus to produce “whatever sells.”
    I’ve presented this argument to several people before trying to impress upon them an artist’s calling. I’ve asked them, “If you were never compensated for what you do would you still do it?” Rarely, anyone other than artists respond, yes.
    Finally, create what inspires you.

  39. As a ceramacist, my work usually fits under the function umbrella, although i am yet new enough in it that i see this dialogue in a different way I am still at a stage where i see my work as mostly appealing to art fairs with only 2 pieces as being gallery quality. Theres alot of intangible in that assessment, based on feelings about how well i was able to push the boundaries I feel these are as much fine art as pieces evoking a mood or telling a story or expressing deep emotion

  40. This discussion reminds me of the old college days at UCBerkeley and our graduate school seminar discussions. Two people are looking down at a burnt mark on the carpet in the shape of a clothes iron. One person says it is just an image of an iron caused by an accident – a hot dropped iron. The other says it is purposeful art. How could it not be done on purpose? It is the perfect imprint of an iron. What is it really? Both were moved by what they saw. Does that make it art or just a subject of interest? Does the subject have value? Can you buy it? And if you can’t buy it then does it not have any value?
    In my eyes and mind as an artist I do not let these discussions prevent me from creating what I feel. Some people may find my art to be just interesting while others find them to be interestingly “fine”. I consider most of the pieces that I do to be fine art. However some are definitely more decorative than others though not easily duplicated. My opinion has always been that if you can look at a piece, and it seems to be ageless, (it attracts the viewer for some reason) regardless of how long ago it was painted it is “fine art”. For example I have pieces I painted 40 years ago that people think I painted yesterday. These I consider fine art. Pieces that the viewer becomes bored with or considers to be “fadish” I consider to be decorative with a short lifetime if any. However, if the gallery owner decides that he wants to display or sell either one I have no objection to it. Its all very subjective. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Fine art should not be defined by price.

  41. I love the explanation given for the fine/ decorative art positions. I will now submit my work for acceptance in your gallery.

  42. What a great reply! Many museums I have been to include furniture, jewelry, crafts, ceramics, etc. right along with works of art from the period. It is all creative and beautiful.

  43. My distinction is more toward psychological vs representative painting. It seems necessary to do the latter to support the first. Upon reading these posts I realize I think of the representative painting is “lesser”. Sigh Art is so complicated. If something is generated from within, unique to the creator it is fine art. That is what happens in art school. Your own journey comes from inside. Mastering a medium is easy compared to that.

  44. “Decorative” verses “fine” art. These terms are a moving target. If a buyer chooses a painting to go with a sofa, does that make it decorative art. What if the painting comes first and then a sofa is chosen to look good under it? Does that change the status of the painting to fine art. Museums are full of portraits created during eras such as the Renaissance for wealthy patrons to grace the walls of their homes and palaces. By one definition they were nothing more than decorative art at the time of their creation but now these priceless paintings are the quintessential examples of fine art. Mozart, Beethoven et al. wrote compositions for the entertainment of those who could afford to pay for such things (popular/decorative) that are now the foundation of the classics in the music world. I was in the Oriental rug business for over 40 years and yet I was never clear on why some rugs were considered to be decorative while others were not. Elvis on velvet or Warhol’s Campbell Soup cans only serve to further muddy the waters of this discussion. I’m with you, Jason. Don’t waste your time thinking about it.

  45. My definition of fine are and Decorative art is somewhat different. I feel that fine art or any good art should communicate something to the viewer of the art. There are plenty of examples of insipid art that communicates nothing at all . These insipid pieces might match your sofa and therefore have a Decorative purpose. There are also plenty of high brow Contempary pieces that have deep meaning to the artist but require a written treatise in way of explanation of what the artist meant to communicate. I feel that if you have to read something to understand the art then the artist has missed the challenge of effectively communicating through their art . There is a huge gray area between good art and insipid art … fine art and Decorative art. All of this spectrum of art has its place function and audience. I guess it is up to the artist the gallerist and the audience/collectors as to what they want. I am guilty (if that is the right word) of painting insipid meaningless artwork from time to time. But I have also painted artwork that has really moved people and both types have sold so who is to say?

  46. This is thought-provoking. I’m guilty of considering mass-produced giclee’s at World Market or Walmart “decorative,” while were they in a gallery, I might consider a few of them “fine art.” The $30 print might move someone in the same way as the same gallery piece would for someone with more money to spend. Here we get into the demographics question stated at the beginning. Art is Art, and it moves different people in different ways. It’s snobbish of me to think that because it’s mass-produced, it makes it less, or that the person buying it has less culture or aesthetic awareness. This hits home, as I recently (in private) laughed and shook my head over a wealthy person who considers their faded, ’90’s watercolor prints (in signed editions of 1000’s) to be valuable art. My opinion doesn’t make it less ART to them. If it brings the owner joy, and also matches the couch, who am I to judge whether it’s decorative or fine, or intrinsically valuable (though I believe it’s worthless)? I’ve considered some of my original paintings decorative because they’re quick, require little thought, and are easy to sell. It’s all art in the eye of the beholder who’s moved enough to make it a part of their life. I’m really glad I read this, and I’ll remember it next time I’m in World Market.

    1. I fall into this pit of judgement occasionally. Like you Sonja, I will remember this discussion. My objective is to make a living. That requires selling. I would prefer to have professional sales persons working with me on this. I am learning and I am getting better. I would rather be painting. I love the guidance Jason provides in this respect. Do my homework, put my prices within the margin and make contact… It is coming together.

  47. There is another label, Folk Artist, that can be used as an insult by persons wearing the MFA label. Or your portfolio can be described as work created by a second semester sophomore.
    Millions of people create art for a world that has only a few slots for work so remarkable it is called fine. The art world maybe the cruelest of all. Belittling the efforts of creative types who waste their youth chasing the broken line.
    Buy the work of artist you are fortunate enough to know. Have it handsomely framed and let it decorate your empty walls. If it becomes valuable it will be a burden.

  48. I think ‘decorative arts’ come the thinking that began in museums, where a soup tureen or dinner set was a useful object decorated to enhance it’s value. Since the twentieth century there has been a whole new thinking. When I was in art school the term “fine crafts” came into being. But really, it’s all art. Both require an artist who has their view of the world, has researched their media, perfected their art and wants to move that view from their head and heart to that of the viewer. Simple. A sculptured chair can speak just as loudly as a beautiful painting that grabs a collector. Many artists in clay, metal and fibers consider their medium to be their ‘canvas’. When I was a metalsmith I used tools to draw on holloware pieces. I never thought of it as ‘craft’. When you’re cooking up the idea and making it with your hands it doesn’t really matter. Maybe it’s art snobs that make the differentiation!

  49. The missing issue not mentioned in the previous thoughts is the issue of originality and whether the art is a cliché either of other people’s artwork or for the artist a cliché of their own work. We all must make our own decisions about how original our work is. Whether it is “decorative” or “commercial” or “fine art” becomes a matter for the marketplace. An artist must set their own standard and hope that the market will treat them accordingly. Alternatively, the artist will bend to match their perception of what the market demands. Either is a choice. Some more easily find the happy medium. The gallery is an important specific meeting place between the artist and their creativity and the marketplace.

  50. Dear Jason and Artist Friends – Thank you all for responses which prove excellent reading and personal overviews. For myself I am sure the people who have purchased my work over many years have enjoyed them equally because they relate to the subject/image as well as emotional intellectual content and for the work to be pertinent, relevant and also a decorative enjoyment for their home and or work environments. Diana Windsor NSW

  51. 1. Whatever you wish to put in your personal environment has value to you. It might be your kindergarteners framed crayon drawings, It might be movie posters. It might be original works purchased directly from an artist.
    2. Decorative art has no function other than to look good. Or, perhaps, to make the owner look good.
    3. Fine art is an artist’s communication of or commentary on their own philosophy/environment/politics, etc. The term ‘Fine’ is misleading to most. It doesn’t refer to skill or visual beauty in these days, but rather intent on the part of the artist.

    Most people buy art on an emotional basis. This doesn’t mean they aren’t buying thought provoking work too. What many artists don’t realize, is that thought can be provoked with beauty as well as ‘not beauty’. Does this provoke clarity on the subject? probably not, but this is an argument that has been around since people have been discussing art. Galleries sell what sells. Artists should be making work because they are compelled to.

  52. Hi Jason,

    Just getting to read more of your posts. My friend Deborah Kommalen took your artist training and raved about you:)

    I am working on a series currently, after listening to allot of your YouTube videos. I am a commissioned portrait painter, but all the exhibits and international shows I get into are all my figurative paintings. Usually my theme is women and theatrical as that was my background.
    My question to you is, if I go off my usual and execute genre paintings in this series as it has a humanist concept, would that confuse gallery owners? I have been in Principle gallery, Eisele and a few others with women painting women exhibits and other women paintings, but now I have a few that are older men that are artists that got into some shows. So, I want to include anyone that fits into my concept.
    I have never submitted to a gallery and intend to, so just doing all the research as to my best approach:-)
    Thank you so much. I love reading and listening to you! ☮

  53. Thanks for the post Jason! Hmmmm I have strong thoughts about this. A very well known portrait artist told me that my figurative pieces have a distinct style that everyone recognizes… it’s decorative. I didn’t know how to react to her statement. So I put the question back to her… what is decorative and unique about it. She is s traditional portrait painter represented by portraits inc… which I have been trying to avoid. as I think they can be formulaic. She responded by saying my lighting on women subjects was very frontal and my backgrounds 2d and had decorative elements. Yes they do as I intend them that way and those paintings get into high profile exhibits and win awards . They also work in homes that don’t have wall space and are modern. I am a contemporary realist that fuses Classical with contemporary. Isn’t that what Klimt did?
    My point: it doesn’t matter as long as the client loves it. This purist attitude of being a fine artist that comes along with the purist mentality of “Real artists paint from life” and everything needs to recede in space to be considered fine art is not valid in the 21st century. Moving forward in the art world is supposed to be progressive.
    In the end… do you make money painting your art or is it collecting dust in your basement?
    I am in total agreement with you Jason. There are all types of buyers!!!!

  54. Great post Jason! Hmmmm I have strong thoughts about this. A very well known portrait artist told me that my figurative pieces have a distinct style that everyone recognizes… it’s decorative. I didn’t know how to react to her statement. So I put the question back to her… what is decorative and unique about it. She is s traditional portrait painter . She responded by saying my lighting on women subjects was very frontal and my backgrounds 2d and had decorative elements. Yes they do as I intend them that way and those paintings get into high profile exhibits and win awards . They also work in homes that don’t have wall space and are modern. I am a contemporary realist that fuses Classical with contemporary. Isn’t that what Klimt did?
    My point: it doesn’t matter as long as the client loves it. This purist attitude of being a fine artist that comes along with the purist mentality of “Real artists paint from life” and everything needs to recede in space to be considered fine art is not valid in the 21st century. Moving forward in the art world is supposed to be progressive.
    In the end… do you make money painting your art or is it collecting dust in your basement?
    I am in total agreement with you Jason. There are all types of buyers!!!!

  55. I find it interesting most people here (and in America) get insulted when discussing “fine art” vs “decorative art” and think people are trying to “feel superior” when calling work “fine art”. Unfortunately, we have little education regarding art in the US, I was one of them. Until my 3rd year of college majoring in art I had no understanding of fine art whatsoever. We only had one large print on cardboard in a huge gold frame from Woolworth that hung over our sofa growing up. When people from Europe visit my booth at art shows, their knowledge of art is astounding. Many of you say you believe “art is in the eye of the beholder” – then is a Frank Lloyd Wright house the same as a generic neighborhood house? Is a Ford the same as a Lamborghini? Is a Tiffany lamp the same as a Target lamp? And I am not talking about price. It seems there are areas where it is obvious that knowledge, design and creativity elevate, but perhaps art is so broad that it becomes harder for people to distinguish. I personally do think there is a big difference. I create two types – fine art and decorator art, and realize the intent when creating them. I usually have different markets for each. Honestly, my decorator art sells much easier. But, I am thankful that I can earn a living as an artist.

  56. I like your take on this topic. In my 40+ years as an artist, I have worked in both genres as I have created paintings, fiber art, ceramics, sculptures, jewelry and more. To me, it is about being drawn to a color or medium and letting the hidden firm emerge. If someone else likes it, then I’m happy. I just want to create and not worry about where some art historian will categorize me in the annals of art history!

  57. Jason,
    You took issue with the premise of the original email but didn’t address the questions, which in fact clarified the premise you challenged and, to my reading, did not emphasize a value-judgement on the writer’s part, simply a practical distinction:

    “..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?”

  58. What a great discussion. I’m an abstract artist with a coastal flair. While I thought my art would be considered “decorative” since my main clients right now are interior designers, I was surprised to be told by a well respected art coach in New York that my art is definitely fine art. But, as an artist, what matters to me most is that the person buying my art finds continued joy and serenity in their lives every time they look at it. Before I decided to become an abstract artist I created some paintings that took 30+ hours to complete. While I loved their outcome, they really didn’t serve me well as a selling artist. I would have to price them way too high; I don’t want to be one of those artists who is happy to make back their supply money and put such low prices on their work that it seems artists with realistic prices are overpriced. While I sometimes feel inferior to other types of painters, I have to remind myself that I have chosen this as a career, not a hobby, and so long as my art resonates with someone, I will still create it. Thank you Jason, I’ve been a fan for such a long time.

  59. Reading this topic, I thought of one example of decorative art: hotel room images so forgettable that visitors never even think of stealing them.

    Why do some artists still cringe at making money from our work? Profit is what gives artists a future, so we can keep painting (and capturing) what speaks to our hearts.

    Which is my definition of fine art (as many others have explained here).

  60. Wonderful, cogent article, Jason. I so enjoy finding pieces where function meets form and beauty. I also buy and enjoy art that I can afford and that speaks to me. Whether a museum will ever want the piece matters not to me. When I buy, it must appeal to me on a joyous level and I must be able to have a place for it in my home. Otherwise, it stays in the gallery. Fine vs decorative – I could care less.

  61. I too am of the opinion that art is in the eye of the beholder and cannot be quantified. I build my art pieces with the intent to create an emotional response, and to get those thoughts and emotions out of me and into my piece. I get the statement about pieces being too complicated and not understood by the public, but I know there is one person out there that can identify with some piece of mine, that is my customer. Now getting enough exposure to get the volume of exposure to make that work is the hard part.

  62. -with no disrespect intended, I am moved to point out that the artistic endeavors under discussion are really attempts to create a ‘product’ for sale-decorative or otherwise. Such activity is not necessarily anything to do with the world of making Art, nor does it preclude this. Definitions are always on the move, this is the world we live in.

    In one sense, surely, a drawing(Art) is created to better come to terms with the object(thought) under scrutiny with a view to gaining a greater understanding by moving the object into the light, not with the aim of producing a piece of work for sale, though in many cases that be an interesting byproduct.

    Part of the need to have this discussion arrises from the fact that we are all chasing the same dollar & that being said, if I can give the impression that my product is ‘Fine Art ‘
    & yours is ‘decorative’ then I can harness a higher price point.(Usually)

    It used to be, when I was starting out, that patrons(remember them?) would buy work to support the artist-to encourage & fuel further development. Nowadays work is often purchased with one eye to the future appreciation of the work’s value on the Secondary Market (Did I say ‘one eye’? That’s probably an understatement)

    I’m not saying that’s good or bad, but I’m glad I’m not just starting out…

    Sincerely, a Monday morning cynic,

  63. My paintings are all about emotions, I don’t paint places or things, I use sky and water as my means to convey the emotions I am feeling, and my goal is to make an emotional connection with the viewer, and to send them on their own journey. Whether someone would look at them and call them fine art or decorative art is completely irrelevant to me, and quite frankly I feel that denotes a sense of snobbery in the speaker….makes me wonder why people have the need to always classify, sort, divide…. So speaking for myself, I don’t really care what you want to call it, if it has evoked an emotion in you, I have been successful.

  64. Great discussion!
    As an artist, I believe decorative art is a piece that is made purely for decorative purposes. If I’m making it I surely know which it is! I taught for a while at a drink wine and paint place because I enjoyed helping non-artists learn to create a piece of art themselves. The subject matter had to be something they could paint (not too difficult) and something they’d be attracted to and want to paint and hang in their home. Any paintings I created as examples/demo pieces I considered to be purely decorative art and not something I’d put in one of my art shows or sell. They are however pieces that I’ve given away to family members to use as decoration. I do know people who paint things only because they are popular and will go with the trends of things like the pantone color of the year~ to me, that’s decorative art.
    My “real” artwork is created with a lot more consideration for all the things that make good art, composition, light and shadow, values, edges, color palette, etc…. not the point… but I am not at all offended if someone wants to select one of my fine art pieces to go with their decor. Thing is, I didn’t create it because it would go with a blue room or rustic furniture, etc. I wouldn’t expect someone to buy a painting that didn’t fit in their environment. I do take issue though with someone picking a piece (or not) only because the frame matches their furniture. Frames are replaceable.
    I also do not think of functional art as necessarily being decorative. Some are, some are art. I guess here it depends on how unique it is and also if it is something mass produced. I create functional (wearable) art jewelry. The pieces are original, one-of-a-kind and hand-crafted.

  65. Jason,
    I didn’t have time to read everyone comment but it reminds me of rants an artist friend back in upstate New York used to present me about “Fine” and “Commercial” Art.
    At that time I was painting murals in outdoor advertising, a lot of photorealism of cars, movie stars, polititions running for office. etc. It was quality realism… he wanted to depreciate it as it was commissioned for promoting product sales. I liked the job because I got to practice painting and had steady income having a wife and 2 young sons. He alway wanted to argue about it and it made him nuts that I wouldn’t argue.
    Ideally, I’d like to produce paintings in both these areas, I think the “Decorative” paintings might be more relaxing and less intense to produce and the “Fine” will give me more design and story appeal challenge. Deeper thinking. “Fine” for me in this next season will be “Imaginative Realism.”

  66. Thanks for taking the position that the key is the emotional connection to a piece of art. I would add the idea that creating art that becomes part of a individual’s “collected home” is the way most art gets exposed and shared with an audience of viewers.

  67. Thank you for your perspective. As an artist and a very small studio art gallery owner in Bishop Hill, IL. I sometimes get very discouraged as people walk through my doors. They are looking for something different. Bishop Hill being a historical destination, they are looking for antiques and old works of art. I am a slightly abstract garden inspired acrylic painting artist, though I don’t quite fit in here, the town is so lovely and inspiring I am staying here to create my artwork.

  68. Interesting article.
    My only thought is why do we need a label on art. As a painter I paint what moves me. I hope that the feeling I experienced can be felt by the viewers of the finished piece. In the end the purchaser chooses what they like for whatever reason and hangs it in their home to “decorate” their space for their own personal pleasure.

  69. This is a great question and the responses have shown both depth and nuance. Several have made some important distinctions that bear, in my opinion, additional pondering: (1) What if the creator of the couch is also an artist with their medium the wood, fiber, metals and other supporting materials that created the couch itself? Are we unintentionally dismissing art’s multidimensional relevance? (2) If a piece hung in the finest, most influential museum in the world is mass-produced x millions and sold at Walmart for $29.99, is the original now decorative art? (3) Fiber and ceramic artists, as well as photographers and watercolorists are routinely minimized or even dismissed in the art world. Is it impossible for their work to be as intricate and emotionally soul-filling as any oil painting? (4) Art is truly in the eye of the beholder and what is fine art for some may be looked down upon by others. Our first original painting purchased for $800 as young newlyweds was certainly fine art in our minds. Realistically, the colloquial distinction within oils comes down to $$ – the easier art is to sell, the likelihood it is deemed decorative. Most artists are not independently wealthy and have a need to meet their mortgage payments, too. Can we fundamentally dismiss our individual economic needs as we offer the output of our chosen craft to others? Yet, economics is most certainly a factor in how our art is distributed. Can a gallery truly, literally and figuratively, afford to take a too high-toned viewed of art? Rather, they believe that they have a repeatable recipe for economic and aesthetic success. An artist may have beautiful work, but it does not fit the gallery’s formula. The gallery’s suggestion of a collaboration with a designer may have actually been an incredible compliment; the right designer may work in a creative space that exactly fits the artist’s idea of fine art. Perhaps, the medieval craft mason, Jean Mignot (14th c) was onto something when he intoned the words, “Ars sina scienta nihil est.” The literal meaning is “Art without knowledge is nothing”, but the interpretation is “Practicing an art without proper knowledge and skill accomplishes nothing” (thus, has no value). His chosen art produced the Milan Cathedral. Is this landmark merely a functional church still standing after 631 years or an astonishing work of art? If we immerse ourselves in the division of the words, we can lose the opportunity of immortality of our thoughts and emotions … the essence of all that we strive to capture. Rather, the continuum is a wonderful visual as it allows us the artistic and mental freedom to move along this continuum as our hearts (and sometimes bank accounts) guide us.

  70. Art is communication and can communicate anything. Most communications elicit some emotional response. Art exists in the sphere of emotional response. So many communications seek that response. So what emotional response is the viewer seeking? Some people like ugliness, anger, disagreement or death. Some people seek an aesthetic or transcendent experience that channels some hint (or blast!) of the infinite. It’s a very personal preference. In my art I hope to communicate some small piece of the transcendent.

  71. Great thought provoking article. To me it is like trying to figure out if the chicken or egg came first. My work is frequently caught between fine and decorative depending on the person looking at it. To quote one of my respected art professors, it doesn’t matter what you make, in the end you are either a working artist or non-working artist.

  72. When I think of “decorative” art, I think more of the “craft-sy” type work, such as the tole painting (design) we did on furniture, napkin holders, and other wooden objects in the home, or macrame, or even this “one stroke” painting that was so popular several years ago. I think of “fine art” as more of a creative process designed to create a unique work that tells a story or invites mystery, no matter the medium.
    I am glad to hear fiber arts are making a comeback. In the light of that, during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the tapestries were works of fine art. Although they may have had a function, they presented a unique talent and always told a story. To me, that makes fine art.

  73. I couldn’t agree more with everything you said, Jason. When I attended graduate school (Fine Arts) in Clarement, CA, there were quite a number students (and teachers) who drew strong distinctions between “fine” art and “decorative” art and/or craft. The former, in their minds, was clearly vastly superior, but I always found those attitudes to be highly pretentious and ultimately fictional anyway. The only questions I would ask are “Do you love what you do, and does it bring you joy?”, “Are you able to sustain yourself financially, and if not, are you OK w/ not making enough money?”. What do I care if my art ends up in a museum after I’m dead if I can’t make a go of it while I’m alive? And while this isn’t intended for the questioner, as in many other fields, one tends to encounter quite a few over-inflated egos in the art world… to which I say “get over yourself”.

  74. art is a visual communication. Like all communication there are endless possibilities for expression, understanding and appreciation. What leaves one person flat may sing to another.

  75. Jason, thanks for your article.
    The year after high school I enrolled in college studying art. The painting lecturer was never in class to teach, but there long enough to look down his nose at my paintings and say “it is quite decorative”, with much disgust. I had no clue what he meant and left at the end of the year convinced I was a failure at art.
    It was years before I dared pick up another brush, and decades later I still fear the label “decorative”… just today I spent time in a gallery looking through someone’s portfolio, and the curator said dismissively, “Oh, those are only decorative works” – in other words, not even worth looking at.
    It makes me tremble at the thought of presenting my work to a gallery, even though my private art teachers have repeatedly been satisfied with what I produced.
    It has also made me selective about where I might one day present my work. I suppose one needs to find a gallery that shows similar styled work than one’s own, to have a chance to be shown.

  76. I am a painter and a student currently working on my Bachelor of Fine Arts. I understand the gallery’s perspective, if people like it and want to buy it, a gallery owner doesn’t care, but personally, I recognize a difference.

    What the author is calling decorative art, I would consider functional art or craft: jewelry making, basket weaving, pottery

    I consider decorative art to be any painting, sculpture, photograph, or work that is cliché. For example, paintings of sailboats, sunsets, flowers, and seashells and very over done. These works usually all look alike and they don’t really express anything unique about the artist or the subject. They can be pretty and I’m sure people buy them, but there are millions of these type of paintings. Many decorative artists simply copy the ideas of other artists, focusing solely on technique and never developing a body of work which explores any new ideas.

    Fine art is art that may have decorative qualities, but also has depth of concept beyond the surface level. These works can be about anything, but they go beyond just being pretty. They must include other elements. The artist might be exploring their personal identity, family history, making societal commentary, playing with the senses. Can a painting be eaten? Can a sculpture have a smell? These works are innovative. They further the field of artistic inquiry.

    Not all fine art is decorative, but it can be. Fine art alway has a conceptual or innovative drive behind it.

    Decorative art is never conceptual or innovative.

    To put it bluntly, Fine art is equivalent to a classic novel like “To Kill a Mocking Bird,” “The Catcher and the Rye,” or “Plato’s The Republic.”

    Decorative art is more like the latest popular novel like “Twilight” or the romance novels sold in grocery stores.

    There is nothing wrong with reading a romance novel, but don’t only read dime-store novels and expect to be able to engage in a significant literary discussion with an English professor.

    Same goes for art. If people want something that looks nice in their home and makes them happy, there is nothing wrong with that, but to pretend that every painting of a beach is fine art is silly. (a painting of a beach can be fine art, but there must be a new perspective brought to it. Think Eric Fischl’s beach scenes).

  77. I think there are 3 different things that are really being discussed in this article:
    1. Decorative Arts – that includes making practical things look aesthetic – jewellery, decorating plates/ ceramics, wallpapers, embroidering a cushion.
    2. Decorative Art – a piece of art, made purely for art’s sake, that is created to look visually beautiful. It could be essentially reduced to – a pretty picture or pattern. It may be a bouquet of flowers just because flowers are beautiful, or acrylic paint splashed around as an abstract, because it looks good.
    3. Fine Art – art that is created, for art’s sake but with meaning. It might be an exploration of the medium – a painting about painting. Or it may be telling us something about the artist, their inner self, or the way they see the world. Or it is trying to show us something new about the world or get us to see the world in a new way.
    The “does it fit with the colour of my couch” thing is a red herring. People can buy art to fit their room decor regardless of it being any of the 3 types. Someone may buy a Monet because it echoes the pale purple blue colours of their couch or cushions! That would still be fine art but the motivation to match to surroundings comes from the beholder, not as part of the purpose of the artist. My thoughts anyway.

  78. Trying to learn about different verticals surrounding architecture never really understood the difference between decorative art and fine art. Since, now I am aware about the difference I personally am inclined towards fine arts because of personal interest towards painting.

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