More specifically, Art Deco is art generated by architects, using architectural principals, designed using drafting techniques, then constructed by skilled trades people. Other arts took these architectural concepts and adapted them to their own medium. We also call that style Art Deco.
As architecture seemed to generate Art Deco the most strongly, I will use architecture to more fully detail the rules of Art Deco. Note that in history, there was not a central Art Deco department approving or disapproving Art Deco. For each building or object, Art Deco is what the architect designed and the customer accepted. Art Deco existed within the context of its day, and what Art Deco said is what its customers wanted to say. Art Deco is an expression of the businesses and individuals who commissioned this work.
Most Art Deco buildings were unique designs. In a sense, each was a unique sculpture. While having elements of mass production, they were the exact opposite of mass production. At a minimum, each building highlighted it's client's means to pay for such a building.
Art Deco was Generated by Architects.
Art Deco designs were approved by customers before construction began.
Art Deco designs served the needs of the customer.
Art Deco designs produce working buildings and usable objects, such as doors and windows.
The medium that architects worked with was pencil, drafting, and modeling.
The drawings that architects created contained sufficient information for skilled trades people to create physical objects.
If vertical, Art Deco designs were vertically symmetrical and rarely horizontally symmetrical.
If horizontal, Art Deco designs are usually symmetrical on at least two axes.
Art Deco usually contain two layers or scales of design joined by using common elements.
Art Deco designs favored 30, 46, 60, and 90 degree angles.
In Art Deco, circles were rarely used.
Art Deco designs favor such curves as arches, ellipses, arcs, and spirals.
Any particular line in Art Deco do not change width.
Art Deco favors lines that echo each other's widths.
Art Deco lines tend to be the same with across the same scale or layer. There should be no more line withs than there are scales or layers.
Art Deco sub-elements had clear and visible relationships to each other.
Art Deco sub-elements were sometimes related via guidelines which may not be discernible on the finished work.
Art Deco made use of both positive and negative space.
Art Deco made use of metallic or glossy elements, such as glass or polished stone.
Art Deco made use of well selected colors. Art Deco color went far beyond black and white or black and gold.
Art Deco used simple elements, cleverly arranged, to create complexity.
Art Deco was appealing to the eye.
Art Deco, while sometimes complex, avoided feeling overwhelming.
Art Deco favored few shapes and angles, repeatedly using the same elements.
Art Deco designs made use of their own boundaries.
Art Deco elements existed within context of other architectural elements, and even its surroundings.
Arts which drew from Art Deco use many, few, or even none of those principals to create other works which also came to be called Art Deco. For example, font designers of the day created some lovely fonts to work with this style, but the fonts themselves break almost every rule because there's only so much that you can do when designing a font. Graphics also break a great many Art Deco rules, because they don't have the same architectural expanse that a building possesses, and so much choose elements far more carefully.
Return to: Art Deco 101
Douglas Milewski is a fantasy writer who liked drafting class too much. In his recent artistic struggles to produce art deco for his own covers, he found no internet sites dedicated to the technical underpinnings of the art. Seeing a niche that needed filling, he has documented his hard learned experiences. He doesn't claim that he's right, and would very much appreciate it if someone more competent would save him from his own folly.