Pattern and Decoration Movement
In the mid 1970’s, an art movement emerged in America that used pattern and decoration as key elements in art making, challenging prevailing views that this type of art was somehow ‘inferior’, mere decoration. Artists of the period were inspired by both African, Middle Eastern, and Asian art, highly decorative and ornamented, and by feminist philosophies that celebrated traditional female decorative art forms such as quilting.
Said Robert Kushner, one of the Pattern and Decoration Movement artists: ‘I think all of us felt like saying, “It’s a big world, look at your grandmother’s quilt, look at the carpet you’ve been standing on, look at that ornament outside your building, look at what’s happening in other countries. . . . Enjoy it, it’s a huge rich visual feast out there.”’
Other artists use pattern and decoration
Many other artists incorporate pattern and decoration in their work - Willian Morris, David Gauld, Paul Klee, Vincent Van Gogh, Wassily Kandinsky, Gustav Klimt, to name but a few.
Is decorative art somehow inferior?
Yet pattern and decoration as an art form in its own right has long been controversial in the art world. Should an artist feel apologetic for creating work that is decorative? Is there a problem with an art piece that is beautiful and aesthetically pleasing rather than shocking or disturbing? Can decorative pieces of art not provoke an emotional or intellectual response? Is it in any way less significant than other types of art? Isn’t it simply a form of artistic snobbery to dismiss decoration as trivial or inferior?
I’m unapologetic about creating decorative works
My own work is full of pattern and decoration. I can’t help but paint like that and I don’t feel apologetic about it. It’s how I see and respond to the world around me. I see pattern and decoration everywhere, in nature, in man-made structures, in shadows and reflections, in light and dark. I paint my emotional response, but it’s also an intellectual response.
To quote Robert Kushner once again, "I never get tired of pursuing new ideas in the realm of ornamentation. Decoration, an abjectly pejorative dismissal for many, is a very big, somewhat defiant declaration for me…The eye can wander, the mind think unencumbered through visual realms that are expansively and emotionally rich. Decoration has always had its own agenda, the sincere and unabashed offering of pleasure and solace."