The roots of the Art Deco aesthetic can be found as early as the turn of the twentieth century, largely as a reaction to other dominant styles like Art Nouveau, but it was not until the 1925 Paris Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes that Art Deco was recognized as its own distinct form. The prestige of this exhibition drew attention to the new style, which was soon hailed as the artistic manifestation of an era—a direct reflection of the social and cultural current that had swept the across the world. The Art Deco style embodied the spirit of the age. It was a time of dynamism and vigor, where everything was expected to be faster, stronger, and bolder. It was a time of glitz and grandeur, where the desire for luxury and opulence saturated the world. It was a time of drinking, dancing, and social liberation. The modern world had shed the confines of the past and looked to the future with open arms, willing to embrace the new, the bold, and the brazen.
It’s difficult to categorize the defining characteristics of Art Deco, as it drew upon a wide array of artistic influences. From Cubism to Futurism, and Abstraction to Modern simplification, Art Deco was a multi-faceted style whose essence is its ability to defy description or categorization. For this reason, many often confused Art Deco with its predecessor, Art Nouveau. The Art Nouveau style was marked by sinuous lines, graceful curves, and a naturalistic quality that celebrated the spiritual, ethereal beauty of the subject. By streamlining forms, Art Deco employed straight lines and sharp angles, drawing from the world of high fashion and the prevalent trends of the time. Art Nouveau focused upon the intricacies of the world, and the deeper meanings that resided in color and abstract design. Art Deco abandoned these ideologies, and held a more utilitarian and practical view. These artists created a simplistic ideal, free of intellectual constructs and forced teachings. They believed beauty was found in the simplicity of everyday objects, providing a pure, clean sense of well-being.
Another notable change made apparent in Art Deco was the treatment of the female form. Before, as in Art Nouveau, painters had generally portrayed women as symbolic, mythical creatures with spiritual undertones. Adhering to their strict sense of practicality, Art Deco painters often depicted women as they saw them in everyday life—playing tennis, dancing wildly, smoking cigarettes. It was a realistic portrayal that reflected the social norms of the time. Art Deco shed any idealistic fantasies or whimsical notions that had once dominated the art world and adopted a new sense of grounded rationality.
Art Deco celebrated the modern world, yet drew stylistic inspiration, stylistically, from the past. The twenties and thirties were a period of unprecedented change, and as a result Art Deco thrived. Artists were drawn to the flexibility of this art form and pushed the boundaries of painting, enriching the visual language of the era. The influence of Art Deco became so prevalent, and so profound, that it ultimately helped shape the worlds of fashion, entertainment, travel, work, and leisure. It gave style to an era that celebrated color, form and utility and the idea of finite beauty. And while it was an extraordinarily popular mode of its time, Art Deco has had a lasting appeal, invoking the grandeur and glamour of this bygone era even today.