New Trends in Old Arts:
Why the So-Called "Modern" Styles in Architecture and Furnishings Have Come to Stay

by Deems Taylor

IT is hard to believe that the style of furniture, household objects, wall decorations now looselyÄand vilelyÄreferred to as ''modernistic'', "cubistic", and ''futuristic" was virtually unheard- of in America as recently as six years ago. In New Yolk tile Wiener Werkstatte, founded by Joseph Urban as a possible market for war-impoverished Austrian decorators and craftsmen, had follght a gallant skirmish against inattention and incpmprehention and had finally gone down in defeat. Saks-Fifth Avenue was doing strange things in the way of window dressing, and the Frankl Galleries were showing a few lamps and fabrics hitherto undreamed of in our philosophy. But so far as the great buying public was concerned, the contemporary school of decorative art did not exist. The Drang nach early American furnishings was gaining momentum, and the average household's only contact with the modern spirit was an occasional eruption of Art Parchment lamp shades.

THEN the storm. Tourists and buyers, returning from Paris in the summer of 1925 brought hack tidings of an Exposition d es Arts Decoratifs held in the Place des Invalides, at which were to be seen furniture, glassware, fabrics, silverwareÄwhole rooms, and houses evenÄwrought of hitherto unexplaited materials and assuming strange and unclassifiable shapes and patterns. Soon the objects themselves came over, to be greeted with hosannahs or execrations as the case might be. In either case their reception was not lukewarm. Paris had turned the trick. The new forms were good form at last. In America today a movement that started in Munich in the early nineteen-hundreds has, in three years, obtained a firmer hold upon the popular imagination than it had attained in Europe during the twenty-odd years that preceded its arrival here. We are being offered expressionistic cocktail shakers, cubist goldfishl bowls, ultra-modern grandfathers' clocks, stylized hooked rugs and modernistic alarm clocks; and no furniture shop in all this broad land dares call itself abreast of the times unless it can dazzle the prospectt with samples of Grand Rapids futurism.

Naturally, our preliminary gropings in this new field of art have been fumbling and a little bewildered. Much of the stuff now being commercially exploited is merely proof of the fact that bad taste is no respecter of styles. The observer might easily assume that the new movement is just another craze, about as significant as ping~pong, and destined to leave no deeper permanent impress upon our national life. I venture to believe, however, that the new movement is not destined to vanish; that, on the contrary, it will grow until it envelops us and is in turn assimilated by us; that it has made such astonishing headway here because it offers America a chance at last to develop a decorative style of its own, to surround itself with ornaments and utensils that are the direct expression of its own environment and needs.

The task of expressing a nation's tastes and ideals is far from the simple one that it was during the previous four centuries. The great schools of arts and decoration in the past have been, in the last analysis, merely expressions of the personalities and tastes of various wealthy and powerful intlividuals. The decorative artist and by "decorative artist" I mean anyone worthy of the name who works in some medium other than pure sculpture, drawing or easel painting - such an artist, during, the renaissance, let us say, worked to please the de' Medicis, or the popes, or Francis I. At a later period he worked for Elizabeth, or the Louis of France. In any case, he followed the style that best pleased the customer. If that customer was a genial, sympathetic soul, with an eye for colour and a ready responce to beautyÄFrancis I, for instanceÄhe and his fellows turned out something like Blois or Fontainebleau. When, on the other hand, the customer was Louis XIV, the result would be the palace at VersaillesÄthe perfect and inevitable apotheosis of the greatest swelled head in history.

Whatever the period, and whoever the patron, the artists expressed only the patron. For the king set the style, and the courtÄand to a moderate extent, the bourgeoisÄabjectly followed suit. The great mass of the people, commoners and peasants, did not count at all. In every European country the changing "periods" of conscious art run their course parallelled by a stream of peasant art whose chief characteristic is its propensity for remaining motionless and unchanging for centuries.

THOSE days are gone, and probably forever. What few monarchs are left are no longer supreme arbiters of taste. The aesthetic influence of the modern parliamentary State is exactly nil. Elizabethan, Jacobean, Tudor, Restoration, Louis XIV, Louis XV, EmpireÄ these terms designate furniture, hangings, and ornaments as well as political eras. But the last of the dynastic adjectives was "Victorian" Äand that is no longer a compliment. There was no Lloyd-Georgian period of architecture. You will seek in vain for a Coolidge chaise longue, a Poncaire poudreuse, a Baldwin highboy, or a Mussolini sparking bench. It is doubtful if ing bench. It is doubtful if Mr. Hoover will have so much as a pair of whiskers named after him. The whole population is now the patron, the arbiter elegatiorurm; a far wealthier and more powerful patron than any lord of the Renaissance, but also one whose tastes and likings are far less easily determined.