Art Industry

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Art Industry


the industrial production of decorative applied arts objects used to enhance daily life and the interiors of homes. Such objects include items of clothing, fabrics for clothing and upholstery; machine-made carpets and rugs; furniture; decorative glassware, porcelain, and faïence; and objects made of metal, including jewelry.

The art industry produces widely used articles such as fabrics, glassware, china, and metalware. However, articles produced by the art industry differ from other articles used in the home (and often manufactured in the same enterprises) in their distinctive and original shape, ornamentation, and color and are often true works of decorative applied art.

The originality of the artist who creates the design of an object is of great importance in the art industry. The given object is manufactured by means of lot production or mass production, under the control of the designer and with the participation of a group of artists, engineers, technicians, and workers. The basis of the technological process is machine production, for example, the mechanical equipment and automatic looms at carpet combines, and the printers and jacquard apparatus at textile factories. Nevertheless, many enterprises of the art industry still make considerable use of manual labor, although most of the manufacturing processes are mechanized and even automated. Examples are faceting with diamond dies and making specialized objects of blown glass at glass factories, and the painting of porcelain and faïence. On the whole, however, it is the intensive use of machines that distinguishes art industry enterprises from those for the production of folk handicrafts, in which manual labor predominates.

The separation of the art industry from handicrafts and its transformation into a separate branch of industry resulted from the growth of feudal cities and the evolution of guilds and corporations of craftsmen, including gunsmiths, weavers, and jewelers. The development of manufacturing in the 16th and 17th centuries stimulated the emergence of new types of decorative applied arts objects and changed the methods of making them, increasingly separating the development of the design from the manufacturing process.

In Europe the manufacturing of decorative fabrics and of glassware and ceramics were the branches of the art industry that developed most rapidly. The most important early centers for the production of decorative fabrics were the cities of northern and central Italy and of Flanders and Brabant; the centers of the glassware and ceramics industries were Venice and Faenza. Meissen and Sèvres porcelain and Wedgwood ware were manufactured in Europe beginning in the 18th century. In the 18th century and the early 19th century the production of decorative arts objects developed intensively in Russia, as witnessed by the manufacture of porcelain at the Imperial Porcelain Factory in St. Petersburg, the dressing of stones at the Petergof Lapidary Works, and the establishment of the Demidov stone-cutting factories in the Urals.

In the countries of the East, whose way of life was medieval until the 19th and 20th centuries, the production of decorative arts objects remained at the handicraft level for a long time.

With the establishment of capitalist production, industrial methods of manufacturing were gradually introduced into many branches of the art industry. The industrial revolution of the 18th century and the early 19th century was accompanied by a wider availability of decorative arts objects: in addition to the manufacture of expensive silk and brocade fabrics, the production of cotton cloth and printed calico expanded rapidly. However, the quality of decorative arts objects declined sharply. Handicrafts were replaced by factory-made objects owing to the lower prices of such objects, but the manufactured goods were inferior imitations of handmade decorative arts objects and banal in design.

In the second half of the 19th century such artists and theorists as J. Ruskin and W. Morris in Great Britain considered machine production hostile to art; they advanced a Utopian idea of improving the quality of decorative arts objects by returning to the handicraft methods of the Middle Ages. The late 19th century and the early 20th century witnessed a trend marked by the involvement of artists in industry, as seen in the establishment of such organizations of artists and industrialists as the Deutscher Werkbund. This trend overcame the earlier nihilist attitude toward the relationship between machines and art, led to the emergence of industrial design, and helped overcome the antagonism between artistic creativity and machine production.

After World War I (1914–18), the products of the art industry were influenced by functionalism, for example, the decorative arts objects made in the Bauhaus workshops. In the Soviet art industry of the 1920’s, constructivism and the concepts of industrial art were linked with illusory Utopian attempts to create a special proletarian style of decorative arts objects. The party’s criticism of the program and practice of the Proletkul’t promoted the establishment of a culture that was socialist in content and national in form, which was also reflected in the art industry.

By the mid-20th century, technological progress had again, as in the 1920’s, led to an enthusiasm for a technological approach, to an antagonism between design and decorative art, to a denial of national decorative and ornamental art, and to the popularization and introduction of a simplified and functional approach to decorative arts objects. These developments were reflected in the use of shelving, smooth surfaces, and well-defined geometric shapes. Glassware imitated pharmaceutical utensils, and porcelain was freed of ornamentation. However, since the late 1960’s ideological content, diversity of shape, and ornamentation have returned to the art industry. There is an increasing tendency to imitate ancient handicraft methods by means of machine processes. Efforts to re-create early patterns and styles are always accompanied by a quest for new functional forms.

The Soviet art industry is an important area of socialist artistic culture, whose chief aim is to introduce art into daily life. The products of the Soviet art industry reflect the influences of both Soviet and foreign decorative applied art. The modern Soviet art industry constantly seeks to produce new types of goods for mass consumption, in addition to well-designed objects for interior spaces used by the public. The manifold aesthetic potentialities of various raw materials, as well as different technological approaches, are reflected in the many types of ceramics, glassware, metalware, and textiles produced by the Soviet art industry.

The most important enterprises of the Soviet art industry include the M. V. Lomonosov State Porcelain Factory in Leningrad, the Dulevo China Factory, the Dmitrovskii Porcelain Factory, the M. I. Kalinin Konakovo Faïence Plant, the Gus’ Crystal Plant, the Diat’kovo Crystal Factory, the Leningrad Decorative Glass Factory, and the Liubertsy Carpet Combine. The art industry is also developing successfully in the other socialist countries, combining rich national traditions with the aims of contemporary functional applied art.


Russkoe dekorativnoe iskusstvo, vol. 3. Moscow, 1965.
Iskusstvo i promyshlennost’: Sb. statei. Moscow, 1967.
Makarov, K. A. Sovetskoe dekorativnoe iskusstvo. Moscow, 1974.
Hirzel, S. Kunsthandwerk und Manufaktur in Deutschland seit 1945. Berlin, 1953.
Selle, G. Jugendstil und Kunst-Industrie. Ravensburg [1974].


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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