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Monday, September 17, 2012

Art Nouveau Medals

At the turn of the 20th century Art Nouveau was system of aesthetics that encompassed painting, drawing, sculpture, architecture, jewelry design, furniture design, etc.  It was a global (western) movement that incorporated an ideal of the abstract flow of the lines and patterns of nature into a disciplined functional design.  It was a marriage of beauty and use, and as such formed the basis of Modernism.  And, as is always the case, the term Modernism echoed the precepts of Classicism.

Art Nouveau expressed itself completely in the Art Nouveau Medal.  Most of the great Art Nouveau sculptors, painters and designers were also Medallists.  The form and substance of the medal was one of ultimate Use: They were created on round or rectangular planchets to celebrate specific occasions and accomplishments in identifiable metals all the while celebrating the artists' vision of natural beauty.

Two world wars and a global depression gave rise to a total rejection of classical (Read: Modern) ideas of  the marriage of "technique, beauty, and form and use."  The rejection of Modernism gave rise to Post Modernism wherein the "The concept" was championed in "fine art," most often by those with minimal conceptual training, while form, use and beauty were consigned to "decorative arts."

At the same time, I will note the same movement occurred gradually in the conception of Money, which progressed from the naturally useful function of precious metal towards the realm of pure concept.

Fifty years later, the championing of Concept - in art by those who by now have no conceptual training whatsoever - and in Money by those who have no practical training in use - has coalesced into an unintentional Theater of the Absurd wherein "Fine Art" is dominated by advertising executives and commodity traders, while Money is conjured into existence by academic theorists.

Not coincidentally Art Nouveau medals are trading readily and plentifully for little more than the (degraded) price of the precious metals in which they were created.

But as we are clearly in the endgame of the Conceptual Absurdity, and the pendulum is swinging back towards ideal of natural use in money, the value of "use, function and beauty" in art is sure to follow.  

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