Applied Art
Definition, Meaning, History: Design & Architecture.

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The "London Eye" illuminated on
Royal Wedding day. An excellent
example of a "Big Wheel" being
prettified and converted into a
work of art.

For an explanation of the
aesthetic issues surrounding
creative/applied arts, see:
Art Definition, Meaning.

For the definition, history
and types of handicrafts and
decorative arts, see:
Crafts: History, Types.

Applied Art: Definition & Meaning

The term "applied art" refers to the application (and resulting product) of artistic design to utilitarian objects in everyday use. Whereas works of fine art have no function other than providing aesthetic or intellectual stimulation to the viewer, works of applied art are usually functional objects which have been "prettified" or creatively designed with both aesthetics and function in mind. Applied art embraces a huge range of products and items, from a teapot or chair, to the walls and roof of a railway station or concert hall, a fountain pen or computer mouse.

What Does Applied Art Include?

For the sake of simplicity, works of applied art comprise two different types: standard machine-made products which have had a particular design applied to them, to make them more attractive and easy-to-use; and individual, aesthetically pleasing but mostly functional, craft products made by artisans or skilled workers. Artistic disciplines that are classified as applied arts, include industrial design, fashion design, interior design, and graphic art and design (including computer graphics), as well as most types of decorative art (eg. furniture, carpets, tapestry, embroidery, batik, jewellery, precious metalwork, pottery, goldsmithing, basketry, mosaic art, and glassware). Illuminated manuscripts and later book illustration are also classified as applied arts. Architecture, too is best viewed as an applied art. (See also: Types of Art.)

For a general guide to forms
of non-representational art,
see: Abstract Art.
For geometric abstraction,
see: Concrete Art,
or Non-Objective Art.

For artworks made out of
salvaged materials, see:
Junk Art.
For painting/sculpture made
by artists outside mainstream,
see: Outsider Art.
For works by mental patients
see: Art Brut.

For important dates in the
development of visual art,
see: History of Art.

For Irish creative practitioners,
see: Visual Artists Ireland.
For the leading Irish decorative
arts body, please see:
Crafts Council of Ireland.
For an active artist group, see:
West Cork Craft Design Guild.

History of Applied Art


The first applied art to be practised in a major way was architecture. From the Egyptian Pyramids, the Ziggurats of Sumer and the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, to the precisely organized proportions of Greek temples and the enduring engineering quality of Roman viaducts and bridges, architects combine aesthetics with mathematics to design a functional but pleasing structure. Since then, the demands of the modern world have included housing and commercial projects, notably high-rise buildings and skyscrapers. For details, see: Skyscraper Architecture (1850-present).

During this evolution, architectural styles have been influenced by numerous schools and movements, including: Romanesque (c.775-1050), Gothic (c.1150-1280), International Gothic (c.1300-1500), Renaissance (c.1400-1530), Mannerism (c.1530-1600), Baroque (c.1600-1700), Rococo (c.1700-50), Neoclassicism (c.1750-1815), Greek and Gothic Revival (c.1800-1900), Neo-Renaissance and Neo-Romanesque Revival (1849-1880), the Second Empire style (1850-80), Chicago School of architecture (1880-1910), Art Nouveau (c.1895-1915), Early Modernism (1900-25), Continental Avant-Garde (1900-25), Bauhaus Design School (1919-33), Art Deco (1925-40)Totalitarian Architecture (Germany, USSR, 1928-1940), the utopian urban building designs of Le Corbusier (1887-1965), Second Chicago School (1940-70), International Style of modernism (1945-1970), High Tech Corporate Design (1945-2000), Deconstructivism (1980-2000), and Blobitecture (1990-2000).

Commercial Design

Aside from architecture, applied art received its biggest boost from the growth in commerce during the 19th century, following the Industrial Revolution. Suddenly, competitive manufacturers and service providers needed to ensure that their products and services "looked good" as well as functioned properly. This demand for improved aesthetics led to the establishment of numerous design schools and courses, from which a new generation of industrial designers emerged. Later, as the range of products multiplied, and new printing techniques appeared, they were joined by fashion designers, graphic designers and most recently computer graphics designers.

Decorative Arts

In addition to architecture and design, applied art also includes decorative arts. Early examples include Chinese pottery (from 18,000 BCE), Jomon style Japanese pottery (from 14,500 BCE), as well as jade carving (from 4900 BCE), lacquerware (from 4500 BCE) and Chinese porcelain (c.100 BCE onwards). Enamelwork is exemplified by Celtic Metalwork art such as the silver "Gundestrup Cauldron" (c.100 BCE), the bronze "Petrie Crown" (100 BCE - 200 CE), and the gold "Broighter Collar/Torc" (1st century BCE), as well as later religious metalwork like the Ardagh Chalice (8th/9th century CE), and the Derrynaflan Chalice. Tapestry (see for instance the Bayeux Tapestry) and stained glass were first developed during the Romanesque and Gothic period, while interior design, fine-furniture, textiles, glassware and other objets d'art reached new heights during the Rococo period (18th century) at the French court at the Palace of Versailles. For more about the mini-renaissance of applied art during the Louis Quatorze (XIV), Regency, Louis Quinze (XV), and Louis Seize (XVI) periods, see:

- French Decorative Arts (c.1640-1792)
- French Designers (c.1640-1792)
- French Furniture (c.1640-1792).

During the last decade of the 19th century the decorative strain of applied art was re-invigorated by William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement, the Celtic Art Revival Movement, the Belgian artists group known as Les Vingt, the international Art Nouveau Style (c.1895-1915), exquisite Fabergé Easter Eggs (c.1885-1917), the Bauhaus Design School in Germany (1919-33) and Art Deco (c.1925-40). One of the main applications for decorative design work was theatrical sets and costumes, such as those designed by Leon Bakst (1866-1924) and Alexander Benois (1870-1960) for the Ballets Russes. Another application was poster art, which became high fashion during La Belle Epoque in France. Top poster designers included the lithographer Jules Cheret (1836-1932), the Post-Impressionist Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), and the Czech Alfonse Mucha (1860-1939). Other figures in the history of poster art, include Aubrey Beardsley (1872-98), the "Beggarstaff Brothers", Theophile Steinlen (1859-1923), Eugene Grasset (1845-1917), Albert Guillaume (1873-1942), Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940), the Italian functionalist Leonetto Cappiello (1875-1942), Ludwig Hohlwein, Lucian Bernhard, Herbert Matter, Fernand Leger, Amedee Ozenfant, the French-Ukrainian Adolphe Mouron Cassandre, William Bradley and Edward Penfield.

See also: Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A).

• For more about the meaning of art terms, see: Homepage.

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