What Is the Difference Between Art Nouveau & Art Deco Lines?

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Art nouveau is the art movement that explored historical and academic perspectives of the early 1900s. Art nouveau wished to combine art with normal life. Elegant and decorative, art nouveau was organic in nature with detailed patterns of curving lines.

Art deco followed art nouveau and explored ideas that were prevalent in the style of Bauhaus, which involved smooth, geometrical shapes, functional forms and avant-garde styles. While both art nouveau and art deco, at times, appeared similar, a variety of differences were apparent.

Art Nouveau

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Art nouveau, popular between the 1890s and the 1900s, explored a symbolic decorative style based on serpentine curves with numerous linear bends and turns. The style utilised linear, or lined, patterns that reflected organic shapes, most often the shape of the lily or vines. While art nouveau, or the translation from the French meaning, "new art," described aesthetics in organic lines and images, art deco sought to simplify lines and expressed beauty in linear geometry.

Art Deco

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Art deco, popular in the 1920s and 1930s, utilised geometry in bold, contrasting colours that suggested movement and new ideas. While art nouveau intended to bring arts and crafts to a higher level of fine art, art deco offered an abstract view derived from avant-garde painting, which expressed non-traditional ideas of art. Art nouveau contrasted this idea, attempting to bring the style to a higher artistic level of appreciation. Following the Industrial Revolution, art deco was influenced by fast growth in urban areas as well as by new technological advances.

Characteristics of Art Nouveau

According to Discover France, "Unrestrained exuberance of form, colour and line" were the most identifying characteristic of art nouveau. Lines were curved rather than straight and were nicknamed noodle, whiplash, tapeworm, and cigarette-smoke style.

Characteristics of Art Deco

One of the most identifying characteristics of art deco is a "Ziggurat" or staircase-type design. Art deco shapes are also called "Zig-Zag" or "Lightning Bolt" lines, according to the Art Deco Society of the Palm Beaches. Rounded corners, multiples of three of the same item and streamlined lines in colours that contrast with the background are prevalent in art deco. Three-lined racing stripes may also be present. Other art deco characteristics include geometric forms and shapes; etched glass; neon; porthole windows; images of the future; central or symmetrical balance; and Terrazzo flooring, which is pieces of marble or glass embedded in tinted cement. Lines and objects were frequently repeated in groups of three.

Graphic Design

Art deco style graphic design used straight lines to form geometric shapes to create an image for aesthetic or commercial purposes. The geometric lines were combined with sans serif fonts, or type without end strokes, to create posters and other printed materials. Art nouveau used plant life and other forms of nature to form design elements in images. Women were often the main subject of the art nouveau movement.


Art deco followed the Bauhaus style; simplistic and sturdy forms, consisting of "strict geometric outlines, lacking any embellishments and just barely conforming to the historical shapes of letters," according to Web Reference. At first, the geometry seemed awkward when compared to the flowing lines of art nouveau.