Art Deco was part of its time. Art Deco said something in its time.
What did Art Deco say?
MODERN. TODAY. NOW. That's what Art Deco said. And what modern, today, and now meant differed between who was uttering those words and those who were seeing it.
Industry and busisness had more power than ever, and industry/business wished a style that said INDUSTRY and BUSIENSS with the same respect and deference as BANK and GOVERNMENT. With one look, a customer should get the same feeling of solid and prosperous as the Greek columns on a bank.
Art Deco, then, was architectural propaganda. Advertising. Art Deco established a business relationship between those who had enough money to pay for Art Deco and those who didn't. Those with enough for the new style demonstrated themselves as equals, while those who didn't demonstrated themselves as less.
Power. Art Deco demonstrated power. Art Deco said that you had it. Art Deco said that you were solid enough to take on more of it.
Businesses naturally prefer doing business with other reliable companies, especially when those businesses were now taking stunning amount of money to build. This visual display helped the companies to sort each other out, much like people who could play the fashion game and those who couldn't.
Once Art Deco came to mean solid and responsible, top tier, and the best, other institutions bought in, so that libraries and churches also took on that vocabulary, because such institutions wanted to say the same thing.
Because anyone coming to power wanted to display power as well, Fascism and Communism also embraced Art Deco. This isn't to say that Art Deco was Fascist or Communist, it's merely to say that people spoke with a common vocabulary, and for some years, Art Deco was that vocabulary.
And so the fate of Art Deco rested with those powers, and when those powers failed, their decline pulled down Art Deco with it. A rejection of Fascism or Communism meant a rejection of Art Deco. Past World War 2, Art Deco fell into disfavor. It no longer said what business needed to say, so architecture moved on.
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.