Although Art Deco wasn’t a true Avant Garde, it has many of the same characteristics.
It was an innovative language, apt to describe the new world and the new lifestyle. It was very different from any artistic movements of the past, and it adopted the new language of mass production and industry. It also expresses a revolutionary idea: that art was for everyone, and it should be useful.
The Philosophy of Art Deco
Art Deco was born in the years immediately following WWI, and it emerged from movements – especially Art Nouveau – already active before the beginning of the XX century. It had its most prolific time in Europe in the 1920s, then, as nationalistic movements opposed to all new forms of arts rose in the continent, Art Deco crossed the ocean and became the most popular form of creativity in America in the 1930s and 1940s.
At the base of Art Deco was the idea that art should marry life. The artistic object should not just be beautiful to look at, it should also be useful. It should bring beauty to the life of the people who possess it.
To do so, it should be affordable.
While art in the past was accessible only to the wealthy and the upper classes, Art Deco artists taught that everybody should have a chance at acquiring art.
So they went about producing their art in a more modern way. These artists sought new materials that could be easier to get and delve into the new men-produced material (like bakelite, cement, glass) so to make art to a more accessible cost. For the same reason, they studied and applied the factory and industry processes to producing their objects.
The goal was to create objects that the creative mind imagined, the new market could produce and reproduce, and that would be useful in the actual life of the possessors.
It was a revolutionary concept of art, one that in a time where everything seemed possible and experimentation breathed into all fields of life, became incredibly popular and filtered into all aspect of arts and of life.
How Art Deco was similar to the Avant Garde
Art Deco sought a new language. Leaving behind the naturalistic representation of life, it embraced a stylisation of forms and colours and sought a very simple, streamlined look. It also broke with the past in its conception of art itself. Not a thing for the elite, but something for everyone. Art should be useful, then, because it should be used by true people who work and live.
In this sense, Art Deco was similar to the true Avant Gards because it intentionally broke with the past to seek a new language, a new way to understand and to actually produce arts.Art Deco was an innovative language, apt to describe the new world and the new lifestyle #ArtDeco Click To Tweet
How Art Deco was different from the Avant Garde
In spite of these similarities, Art Deco was not really Avant Garde
Firstly, Art Deco never had the social aspiration that vanguard movements had. Although it did seek to bring a renovation and an advancement in the life of people, that change didn’t necessarily involve social life, and therefore, it never became a political push and expression.
Secondly, Art Deco sough beauty in any created object. Avant Garde movements were more prone to deforming natural forms. Some of these movements, such as German Expressionism, were fascinated with illness and deformation. Almost all of the vanguard movements sought to shock the public with the use of strange, unusual forms or colours. Harmony, which was the goal of Art Deco, was the least interest of the Avant Guards.
V. Terraroli (a cura di), Art Déco. Gli anni ruggenti in Italia. Catalogo della mostra (Forlì, 11 febbraio-18 giugno 2017), Silvana Editore, Cinisello Balsamo (Milano), 2017