|Art nouveau door Art deco door|
The truth is (or at least seems to be from everything I could find on the subjects), they are almost polar opposites. They are at least in some ways. While they do share bolder colors and both may use more colors in a single piece than is common today, their differences from each other are more striking.
|Art Nouveau in furniture|
The Victor Horta House in Brussels, Belgium.
Let's start first with their time frames and what was going on with society at the time. Art Nouveau came about in the late 1800's leading up to World War I. Societies at that time were encountering rapid urbanization and industrialization on a scale that had a tremendous impact on those who lived at the time. The technological advances were embraced as they allowed the craftsmen at the time to either create things that they weren't able to before or to be able to build them better than they could before. (Quick, unrelated side note: The reason that you don't see plywood used in furniture built at the time of our founding fathers is because plywood was not commercially available, not because the builders thought that tongue and grove slates were somehow superior. If the builders of the time could have used plywood on the backs of book cases and what not, they would have. I promise.) Anyway, back to art nouveau. While people of the time did enjoy the benefits that were related to industrialization and the advancements in technology of the time, there was a distinct touch of nostalgia. I will interpret it at least as nostalgia. Art nouveau style incorporates nature and flowing lines frequently. Curves will show up that are at least reminiscent of (if not specifically made to look like) flowing hair, or vines, or will follow the non-perfect lines found in tree branches. Also common for the period is the incorporation of animal life. For whatever reason, insects were popular. So you will often see broaches in the shape of a beetle or a dragonfly. Other jewelry also followed this trend. You will also see them show up in furniture either in decorative carving, inlay, or sometimes prominently used as the figure for table legs. It is like a way for the inhabitants of an increasingly urbanized and industrialized world to keep a hold of bits of the rural life that many of them came from and the nature that they so routinely interacted with. Perhaps, in some ways, similar to what you saw in the 1960's. On the one hand you had flower power and flowers showing up on fabric and other decorations at the time. Throw in the lyrics of The Flesh Failures from Hair and you have aspects of a movement that while enjoying the technological advances at the time, still felt a little unsettled by it. The difference there is that it was considered counter-culture and rebellion in the 1960's. Art nouveau feels more like nostalgia and sentimentality.
Art Deco came about between the two World Wars. So, think the roaring 20's. While art nouveau tended to reach back towards nature in response to urbanization and technology, art deco embraced it. If art nouveau drew their curves with a French curve, art deco used a compass or other geometry. Some also note that art deco also incorporated more man made, industrial materials such as chrome, glass and plastic. There is a definite point to be made here. After all if art nouveau was reaching back towards nature, it wouldn't make sense to use industrial materials. On the other hand, that period did incorporate metal work and glass. Metal, after all, allowed a designer to create sturdy vine inspired details under a handrail that would be both difficult and impractical to try in wood. Furthermore is the issue of the technology at the time. Think back to the unrelated note about plywood above. Art deco liked to be sleek, streamlined, and ultra modern. If I related art nouveau to the 1960's, art deco reminds me more of the 1950's. Art deco was glamorous and elegant. Finally, art deco appears to have been killed by three things. We developed this little depression problem through the 1930's, which didn't really make many of us feel like celebrating with showy, glamorous stuff as much as we did in the 20's. It also ran into the problem that once it became really popular, it started to become mass produced. Hence, it was more common and less glamorous, therefore less cool. Kind of like how it used to be edgy and cool to pull your boxers way up and your pants low. Then everybody including white, middle class, suburban kids started doing that too. Now it's no longer edgy, you just look like you don't know how to dress yourself. Okay, maybe that was a bad analogy. I still don't want to see your underwear. Last thing that brought art deco to a close was World War II. Money and material went to the war effort. So did manufacturing. Instead of buying a new tea set (if, indeed, there were that many to be had), we planted Victory gardens and sent our used silk stockings in to be upcycled into parachutes for the troops (hence the term hitting the silk).
Lastly, I'd like to say thank you to Sharon's Scrapbook. She found the wonderful pictures you see here.