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Art Deco and the Jazz Age

by admin on April 24, 2017

Art Deco is a style of artistic design that originated in the 1920s in Western Europe and the United States. It was first exhibited in Paris at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in 1925. Being a pivotal component in the introduction of this new international style, the exhibit name was shortened to become the title of Art Deco. Art Deco was the new artistic expression of the modernism that was the ethos of the Jazz Age. This style of design was sleek and nontraditional, much like the music that encompassed this era. It is clear that during this time period the arts, both visual and performance, were mainly focused on breaking away from the strict traditions of the previous century.  The Art Deco style soon turned into a symbol of wealth and sophistication with simple, clean geometric shapes and often expensive materials. Common motifs of this style included nude female figures, animals, foliage, and sun rays. A common medium for the Art Deco movement was architecture, with some of the most famous examples being the Chrysler Building and Empire State Building in New York City. The aesthetically streamlined and rebellious new style perfectly complimented the Jazz Age’s defiance of tradition.

The Jazz Age was a time that greatly emphasized freedom of expression, and several groups of people used this to their advantage. For example, women empowered themselves by wearing more revealing clothing, going out without a man to look after them, and cutting their hair in bobs. Women who participated in this modern lifestyle called themselves flappers and craved freedom and individuality almost as much as the illegal alcohol they consumed. This new attitude toward the female body scandalized the older generation just as much as it inspired the young. As previously mentioned, one of the major subjects of Art Deco style was nude female figures which further enforced the liberation of women’s sexuality. One of the major symbols of modern perspective was Josephine Baker. Baker made a name for herself as a dancer in France, where she provided entranced Parisian audiences with spectacles in which she was often nude. Posters for her shows were in the Art Deco style and often featured her nude body.

Paris was a hotspot for jazz, as it provided African American artists with receptive audiences that were less discriminatory than those in the pre-Civil Rights United States. Paris was also the birthplace of Art Deco, serving as a center of post-World War I cultural modernization for Europe. The Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes was meant to show other countries that it was the most fashionable, luxurious and tasteful city in the world. This effort was successful; the world reacted by seeking out the French artists who were featured in the exhibit as well as creating new interpretations of the Art Deco style. French Music Hall Revenues became multi-sensory events with the Art Deco designs and the fresh sound of jazz. Posters for jazz performances began to feature this modern style and thus Art Deco became the visual manifestation of the namesake music of the Jazz Age.

by Elizabeth Krug

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Joseph Flais April 25, 2017 at 11:03 pm

This was very interesting to me moving into a Music Tech major from Fine Arts. I have never connected these two art forms and I love your observation that both forms defy tradition. I also never really knew the true origins of the Art Deco style, especially with how popular it became in the United States and tying in Josephine Baker was a great example of the connection between France and the U.S.


Christian T Smith April 25, 2017 at 12:29 pm

I think that your descriptions were really good of what art deco is and how it came to be. I really liked the parallels you drew between how jazz and art deco expressed similar viewpoints and attitudes, rather than just citing that the two are related through similar time periods. I think it was nice that you tied in art deco architecture and art deco paintings/prints, and that the use of the Baker image really helped me draw comparisons between jazz figures and the art deco movement.


Makena Mambo April 25, 2017 at 10:44 am

Art Deco brought upon a new era of reinvention of self and challenging traditional norms of society through elements of appeal. I particularly enjoy the versatility in expression and meaning that Art Deco brought primarily through women liberation. Empowerment simply through clothing and independence greatly shifted the attention of being a woman “accessorizing” a man but moreso being the accessory for their own pleasure in a risque original fashion. African Americans in Paris did receive the better end of the movement but still were considered the accessories to glamourize France being a better place than America though music, artistic expression and civil rights. It might just be French personality to be all for glitz, glam and luxury but the Art Deco movement was important.


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