The antithesis of the violence and destruction idolized by Modern Art is the visual enhancement of the domestic environment. (If humanism is equated with dynamism, the decorative is seen to be synonymous with the static.) One method ‘modernism’ has used to discredit its opponents has been to associate their work with carpets and wallpaper. Lacking engagement with ‘human form’ or the ‘real world,’ the work of art must be stigmatized as decorative, So decorative art is a code term signifying failed humanism. Artists such as Gleizes and Kandinsky, anxious to escape the tag of the decorative, connect their work to older, humanist aspirations.

 

Aldous Huxley on Pollock’s Cathedral, 1947:

‘It seems like a panel for a wallpaper which is repeated indefinitely around the wall.’

 

Wyndham Lewis, ‘Picasso’ (on Minotauromachy), 1940:

‘this confused, feeble, profusely decorated, romantic carpet.’

 

The Times of London critic on Whistler, 1878:

‘that these pictures only come one step nearer [to fine art] than a delicately tinted wallpaper.’

 

Hans Sedlmayr, Art in Crisis: The Lost Center, 1948:

‘With Matisse, the human form was to have no more significance than a pattern on a wallpaper . . .’

 

Dr Albert C. Barnes and Violette de Mazia, The Art of Cézanne, 1939:

‘Pattern, in Cézanne an instrument strictly subordinated to the expression of values inherent in the real world, becomes in cubism the entire aesthetic content, and this degradation of form leaves cubistic painting with no claim to any status higher than decoration.’

 

Albert Gleizes, ‘Opinion’ (on Cubism), 1913:

‘There is a certain imitative coefficient by which we may verify the legitimacy of our discoveries, avoid reducing the picture merely to the ornamental value of an arabesque or an Oriental carpet, and obtain an infinite variety which would otherwise be impossible.’

 

Wassily Kandinsky, Über das Geistige in der Kunst, 1912: ‘If we begin at once to break the bonds that bind us to nature and to devote ourselves purely to combinations of pure color and independent form, we shall produce works which are mere geometric decoration, resembling something like a necktie or a carpet.

Decoration and domesticity