The difference between fine art and décor lies with intention. While both can be beautiful and expertly made, décor serves a more straightforward function than art. Literal in meaning, décor exists to embellish interiors, while the value of fine art lies beyond the bounds of its subject matter. In an effort to crystallise this, here’s our guide to telling the difference between décor and fine art.
Content Over Subject Matter
Iconic art critic Jerry Saltz coined the difference between content and subject matter. For him, the subject matter constitutes what is depicted, while content relates to how this is depicted.
The subject matter of Charles Blackman’s ‘Angles of Time’ for example, are people in the sea. Yet, bleached of colour and detail, these silhouettes are impossible to pin-down. The content is grippingly elusive, focusing more on feeling - in all its shades of grey - than representation.
In the case of decor, subject matter is part and parcel. If a bird is depicted, then the work is about a bird. Fine art however, reflects Saltz’s hypothesis. Style, material and creative process unite to manifest the artist’s vision, which injects familiar forms with fresh content. Because of the uniqueness of content, fine artists value originality in way decorative artists do not.
Fine Art Makes You Feel
Most saliently, fine art and decorative art have different aims. Decorative art is - by name - is decorative. It is palatable, efficient and accessible - poised to adapt always, with a winning smile.
Conversely, fine art wants to make you feel. Wonder why Sam Leach so perfectly rendered a ‘Cockatoo’? You have to look closer to understand. In this way, fine art rarely just looks nice. It lives to move you.
As it makes you feel, fine art also communicates. Whether about culture, nature, the artist or something else, fine artworks spin a delicate message that permeates differently under every eye.
The message of décor on the other hand, is straightforward. It’s reduced aesthetic function, means communicating something deeper is not really necessary.
An Investment in Culture
There’s a reason we put fine art not décor in museums. More than a pretty picture, fine art sheds light on the past, present and future of culture. Artists like Philippe Le Miere makes movies askew, shining the spotlight on Hollywood in contemporary life.
To collect fine art then, is to invest in culture.
The line between fine art and décor is fine. Figuring out what suits you, means asking yourself what you desire from an image. If you want it to decorate, then décor may hit the spot. If you seek more from not only your walls, but life, meaning and yourself, the fine art is the rabbit hole for you.
If you’re still unsure which is right for you, ask yourself - what do I want my walls to say about me? Do you adorn, or do you collect?