I have always been confused about why the applied arts and crafts are often categorised as a lower art form to the ‘fine arts’ by which painting and sculpture is normally referred to. I’ve never understood this.
When I was visiting the V and A researching the Chinese collections for Sacred Lotus AW14-15 (current collection), I came across examples of Jun ware (millennium old Chinese ceramics) dating from 1100-1200 AD. I was stunned. As a lover of art history it is often drummed into us that abstract art only came about – as a real art form, just post of Mr Picasso.. So what art historians really mean is abstraction in painting and in sculpture came about in the 20th century; because as far as the crafts are concerned abstraction was old news. In fact the crafts were much further ahead of the game than painting and sculpture as far as abstraction is concerned for a very, very long time. It is said to have existed in textiles, ceramics, glassware, mosaics and so on but only ‘decoratively’ and ‘symbolically’. When I look at a Jun ware bowl and a painting by Rothko almost a millennium later I am at a loss to understanding how the bowl is more ‘decorative’. I find in both cases abstraction is an emotional expression by the artist.