The difference between fine art and décor lies with intention. While both can be beautiful and expertly made, décor serves a more straightforward function than art. Literal in meaning, décor exists to embellish interiors, while the value of fine art lies beyond the bounds of its subject matter. In an effort to crystallize this, here’s our guide to telling the difference between décor and fine art.

Content over subject matter 

Iconic art critic Jerry Saltz coined the difference between content and subject matter. For him, the subject matter constitutes what is depicted, while content relates to how this is depicted. 

The subject matter of Charles Blackman’s ‘Titania's Love’, for example, are the star-crossed lovers of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's DreamYet, touched by a sweetness, this story turns universal and nuanced. Its meaning is beguiling, yet impossible to pin-down. The content is grippingly elusive, focusing more on feeling – in all its shades of pink – than representation. 

Charles Blackman, 'Titania's Love'

In the case of décor, subject matter is part and parcel. If a bird is depicted, then the work is about a bird. Fine art however, reflects Saltz’s hypothesis. Style, material and creative process unite to manifest the artist’s vision, which injects familiar forms with fresh content. Because of the uniqueness of content, fine artists value originality in a way decorative artists may not. 

Fine art makes you feel

Most saliently, fine art and decorative art have different aims. Decorative art is – by name – decorative. It is palatable, efficient and accessible, poised to adapt always with a winning smile. 

Conversely, fine art wants to make you feel. Wonder why Sam Leach so perfectly rendered a ‘Cockatoo’? You have to look closer to understand. In this way, fine art rarely just looks nice. It lives to move you. 

Anne Marie Hall, 'The Embrace'

Decoding messages 

As it makes you feel, fine art also communicates. Whether about culture, nature, the artist or something else, fine art spins a delicate message that reads differently under every eye. 

The message of décor on the other hand, is straightforward. It’s reduced function means that communicating something deeper is not really necessary to its success. 

An investment in culture  

There’s a reason that we put fine art not décor in museums. More than a pretty picture, fine art sheds light on the past, present and future of culture. Artists like Philippe Le Miere make movies askew, shining the spotlight on Hollywood in contemporary life.  


To collect fine art is to invest in culture.

The line between fine art and décor is fine. Figuring out what suits you means asking yourself what you desire from an image. If you want it to decorate, then décor may hit the spot. If you seek more from not only your walls – but life itself – then fine art is the rabbit hole for you.

If you’re still unsure which is right for you, ask yourself: what do I want my walls to say about me? Do you adorn or do you collect? 


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