Applied arts

by Mária Nepšinská

The field of applied arts was born in the first half of the 20th century in Slovakia, drawing mainly from art and craft traditions. One of the objectives was to create functional objects suitable for mass production, but mostly the work did not meet the primary criterion of mass reproduction. Therefore, the development was marked by the spirit of unique studio works for a long time. It was a period of constructive visual and functional expression when the Slovak art scene clearly subscribed to European trends at that time. The School of Arts and Crafts in Bratislava significantly contributed to the integration of Slovak applied arts and design, established in 1928, whose program continued the Bauhaus strategy. Later, in 1949, there was established the Academy of Fine Arts in Bratislava and secondary school graduates opened a space for higher education in many creative professions. The Arts department had the highest merited artists and teachers for shaping a new philosophy and concept: Eduard Toran (theoretician and historian), Václav Kautman (woodworking), Viktor Holešťák – Holubár (interior and exhibition), Viola Thainová (textiles), Ľubomír Jakubčík (ceramics), Ľubomír Blecha (glass), Ján Čalovka (metalworks), Igor Didov (later Director of the Institute of Industrial Design in Bratislava). The results of their efforts have meant a positive transformation in modern applied art, which is, under the influence of integrated efforts for a differentiated approach from design, and nearer to fine art disciplines. The most widespread form of work from this period is still considered individual studio work, possibly small-batch production.

World events from the 1960s reflected a relative release, which brought greater freedom of expression, an opportunity for discussion and networking with foreign countries. In the art scene there dominated the inclination to renew close links with current world trends, ceding a significant individualization and the pluralism of expressive means. The stimuli in all artistic disciplines were streams of lyrical abstraction, informalism, tachisme, pop art, Neo-Dada and new figuration. An intense inclination towards blurring the differences between traditional disciplines and the effort of applied art emancipation with other artistic disciplines occurred. In trends there was a reviewing of access to materials and technology, freeing individual creative approaches, developing specific and often subjective themes. On the rise were also attempts to penetrate deeper into the nature of materials and the performance of their intrinsic properties (optical and haptic qualities) and efforts to expose structure (structural abstraction and art brut). Among applied disciplines there were first established ceramics and textiles, glass a little later, and finally, jewelry.

The development of applied art itself unfolds in two directions. One was the creation of decorative and applied objects for private interiors in small batches. The second creation was for architecture and public spaces. At this time events in applied arts and design in Slovakia significantly intensified. Apart from rich individual and collective exhibition activities, the enhancement of secondary and higher artistic education and activity in the field of museology and gallery practice, was more significantly promoted. The most important measure was the establishment of the Department of Applied Arts and Industrial Design at the Slovak National Gallery (1960). Its aim was to gather a collection of ceramic and glass sculptures, textile art, jewelry, stage design and photography for an individual museum exhibition.

The period of the 1960s in arts can be described as an era of freedom and in the disciplines of applied art it persisted even in the 1970s, but was marked by border closures and a cutting off of contacts with foreign countries. In addition to works of an intimate nature there was a public demand for monumental work in architecture. They included large-scale ceramic, glass, wood reliefs and wall tiles, or textile, enamel, photographic backgrounds. Through them the creators of fine art could express themselves, who suffered from the strict control of ideological commissions. In the field of applied arts, standing outside the attention of state authorities, there were found sculptors who could not execute their ideas in dimensional sculptures and public contracts. In the previous development the field of ceramics and glass was continually developed, tapestry underwent a period of extraordinary rise, but only artistic jewelry saw fruition.

In the 1980s there occurred a partial decay in inventiveness and creativity in perhaps all applied disciplines. Textile production seemed to be exhausted and jewelry lacked distinctive personalities. Both sectors bounced back with the arrival of a young talented generation, which clearly perceived world events in these disciplines. Under its influence, an essentially functionalist approach to creation transferred into a relatively alternative expression known as postmodern. The works of creative designers and artists of the applied sphere had the character of artistic originals, non-conforming and not accepting industrial reproduction. Overall, creation in the applied field oscillated on the border between design and fine art. The turn of the 80s and 90s was accompanied by changes in all areas of life. The Slovak artistic community had the chance once again to confront the world scene through exhibitions, symposia, workshops and a variety of different art projects. The phenomenon of freedom and open communication with the world was accompanied by an influx of new creative energy colored by the spectrum of inspirational impulses.