What's the Difference: Art Deco vs. Art Nouveau

Image credits: Eiffel Tower from Milton CJ [flickr],
Chrysler Building from chrisinphilly5448 [flickr]

The Dilemma: You don't want to look like an idiot on Antiques Roadshow.

People You Can Impress: Architecture buffs, art collectors, absinthe addicts, and flappers.

The Quick Trick: It all comes down to "flowery" vs. "streamlined." Art Nouveau is the decorative one. Art Deco is sleeker.

The Explanation: Both the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements emerged as reactions to major world events; the Industrial Revolution and World War I, respectively. While both embraced modernist elements, they're easy to distinguish if you know what to look for.

Art Nouveau [wiki] (it means "new art," but you probably figured that out) reigned from roughly 1880 until just before World War I. Art Nouveau embraced Europe's new industrial aesthetic rather than challenging it. It features naturalistic but stylized forms, often combined with more geometric shapes, particularly arcs, parabolas, and semicircles (think of the paintings of Gustav Klimt, or the arches of the Eiffel Tower). The movement brought in natural forms that had often been overlooked like insects, weeds, even mythical faeries, as evidenced by Lalique jewelry or Tiffany lamps. The black and gold Kate Winslet doffs in the erotic portrait session scene in Titanic is quintessentially Art Nouveau.

Art Deco [wiki], on the other hand, emerged after World War I. In fact, the deprivations of the Great War years gave way to a whole new opulence and extravagance that defined the Jazz Age and the Art Deco aesthetic. The movement, prevalent from the 1920s until roughly the start of World War II, took its name from the 1925 Exposition Internationales des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (say that ten times, fast), held in France and is characterized by streamlined and geometric shapes. It also utilized modern materials like chrome, stainless steel, and inlaid wood. If Art Deco dabbled with natural materials, they tended to be graphic or textural, like zebra skin or jagged fern leaves. As a result, Deco featured bold shapes like sunbursts and zigzags and broad curves. In fact, if you check out the spire of the Chrysler Building, the hotels of Miami's South Beach, or the "coffin nose" oif a 1935 Cord Model 810, you'll be staring at the very definition of Deco.

Of course, you don't have to go outdoors if you're looking for Deco. Furniture from the period - like the black leather and chrome chaise lounge by Le Corbusier or the Barcelona chair by Bauhaus giant Ludwig Mies van der Rohe - is still coveted by design aficionados and can be found in finer hotel lobbies everywhere.

The article above was reprinted from the mental_floss book "What's the Difference?" with permission.

Monet? Manet? Who can even tell the difference? Well, with the help of the newest mental_floss tome, you can! ... mental_floss gives you all the tips and tricks to have you sounding like a genius.

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"i meant to say nouveau, not deco. F.L.W. styling has an organic feel."

Seriously? There are almost NO art nouveau elements in FLW designs. FLW designs have more right angles than a framing shop! Art Nouveau is almost DEFINED by its near complete LACK of right angles.

Art Nouveau is described, with near perfect aptness, as "organic". It literally mimics organic things: plants and animals.

FLW is often described as "organic", which has allways struck me as absurd. There is nothing organic or "blending in with nature" about FLW's obnoxious chunky square sharp-corners hellish living spaces.

Flame suit on.

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Well I think you answer the question with this article. But, off course the definition of an art movement is always blurry because it depends on the opinion of the viewer and also on the artist purpose. If an artist sets out to create a piece is he really thinking about the "rules" of a movement or is he simply creating art? I believe the source of the confusion is the manny different opinions that you can find about the same work. I do think it's possible to tell them appart but does it really matter?? Art is to be absorved, enjoyed and not to be labeled and standardized. Instead of asking yourself if it's Art Nouveau or Art Deco or Modern Art or whatever definition the critics invent, just ask how it makes you feel and what it tells you. Once a person gets the thinking trapped in rules he or she won't be able to appreciate it for what it is but only for what others think of it.
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another way to tell if it is art nouveau is the organic symbols. basically living things are portrayed in the items. art deco can be summed up in three words: frank llyod right.
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