Minor or Applied Arts: History and Types

The minor arts or applied arts are those that have a practical use, in addition to the merely artistic, in all its extension. They have been classified as minor decorative arts, goldsmithing and in general everything that links the artistic elements with objects of usual use.

The distinction between the minor arts and the so-called Fine Arts comes from Greece. Although there is a somewhat derogatory look or at least underestimates the minor arts, the truth is that these have been as present in history as the major arts.

Architecture can be considered an applied art

In fact, some of the prehistoric constructions that are visited today could perfectly fit within the applied arts. Such is the case of any Roman amphora, or of some implements and tools beautifully worked that left the members of the pre-Hispanic civilizations.

With the passage of time, first during the Industrial Revolution and then in a more modern era, the concept has expanded its range of works. There are scholars who believe that the visual arts, such as photography and film, should be included in the minor arts, while others disagree.

There are several categories within the applied arts, although all are characterized by not having a purely artistic origin. One of the most relevant characteristics of this type of art is that its functionality is very evident. Within the applied arts, all design modalities stand out, or even those related to architecture.


  • 1 History of applied or minor arts
    • 1.1 Origins of the concept
    • 1.2 Middle Ages
    • 1.3 Neoclassicism
    • 1.4 Industrial Revolution
    • 1.5 Arts & Crafts
    • 1.6 Twentieth century
    • 1.7 XXI century
  • 2 Types of applied arts more representative
    • 2.1 Architecture
    • 2.2 Fashion design
    • 2.3 Graphic design
    • 2.4 Industrial design
    • 2.5 Engraving and crafts
    • 2.6 Advertising
    • 2.7 Photography
  • 3 References

History of applied or minor arts

Origins of the concept

According to its definition, there had already been minor arts since prehistory; however, it was the Greeks who made the theoretical distinction. Thus, for them the Fine Arts (or superiors) were those that were enjoyed by sight and hearing, without physical contact.

On the contrary, the minor arts needed the other senses to be appreciated. For example, they talked about perfumery or gastronomy as part of these. Later the concept changed slightly, emphasizing whether the creation had a useful use or if it was simply artistic.

Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages the applied arts receive their first impulse. On the one hand, this is due to the appearance of craft guilds, which create workshops and specialize their workers. On the other hand, the emergence of the bourgeoisie allows for new clients, beyond the lords or the Church.

During the Romanesque almost all the works had a religious motive. Thus, reliquaries, chalices or other elements can be named. When destined to clients with money, almost all used gold and precious stones.

The textile design also takes a lot of force. Not only for clothes, but also with beautiful tapestries for the houses or castles of the powerful. The most commonly used materials are wool and hemp, and later silk and oriental linen are incorporated.

In the Gothic, without a doubt what stands out most is the architecture with the construction of great cathedrals. But it was not only the building itself that counted, but also all the decoration: from the stained glass windows to the sculptures.

The creation of furniture is benefited by the economic improvement, as well as that of richly decorated tapestries.


Another historical period in which the minor arts lived a great splendor was during neoclassicism. From 1750 the decorative arts live a boom, especially in England and France.

The style was quite solemn, even cold. Simple and flat shapes were used, perhaps as an answer to the previous Rococo style, full of stylistic exaggerations.

Industrial Revolution

From manual and artisan production to industrial production; This is the effect that the Industrial Revolution has on these arts. From then on it was possible to produce these objects in a massive way, destined to the general public. Even in its early years some interest in decorating is lost and they become totally utilitarian objects.

Only the rich could afford handmade products, inaugurating a trend that lasts until now: the highest value of manufactured craftsmanship over industrial.

Arts & Crafts

This movement begins between the 60s and 70s of the 19th century. The meaning of its name already gives a clue about its objectives: Arts and Crafts. Thus, given the little importance that the contemporaries of the Industrial Revolution give to the applied arts, the creators of this current try to give them a new impetus.

In this way, they tried to return to the artisanal work, trying to return to the traditional. For them, art should be as beautiful as useful, without being at odds with each other.

Twentieth century

The twentieth century presents a technical and material revolution as never before in history. Design, in all its forms, is consolidated as the basis of applied art.

In spite of that, the mass production of the objects was increasing, but now with a clear intention to be beautiful for the buyer.

Movements such as the Bauhaus and, especially, the Art Deco, impose definitively that the decorative arts are installed in society.

The Art Deco was very important until the beginning of the Second World War and was characterized by the curved lines in the graphic arts and the geometric lines in the furniture.

XXI century

The decades lived until now of the 21st century have not changed the characteristics of the minor arts too much.

As it has been happening for a long time, the objects created at industrial level, although they are beautiful, are distinguished from those made by hand, to which they are given more value.

Only a couple of architectural styles, high-tech and deconstructivism, have broken the legacy of the last century, with the predominance of so-called post-modern art.

Types of applied arts more representative

Grosso modo You can talk about several different categories within the minor or applied arts:


There is no consensus to include it within these arts, but it has an undoubted double function: aesthetics and usefulness.

Fashion design

Especially since the twentieth century it has become one of the most important. We must distinguish between mass-produced clothing and models prepared for catwalks, much closer to the concept of applied art.

Graphic design

It is one of the new additions to this type of art. He is one of those who has taken advantage of new technologies.

Industrial design

It is the design of industrial products. Try to be attractive to attract the attention of buyers.

Engraving and crafts

Cataloged among the plastic arts, there is still no consensus on whether to consider them among the minor arts.


This is one of the most recent minor arts. It is considered as such because the advertising pieces can be loaded with beautiful artistic elements so they are more striking for the recipients and the message is transmitted as efficiently as possible.


Although creative or artistic photographers do not agree with this classification, more and more theoreticians place photography within the applied arts. This is because this art has a clear functionality as a tool to register situations and different contexts.


  1. Villalba Salvador, María. Decorative Arts and Daily Objects. Retrieved from revista-critica.es
  2. Arkiplus. Applied Arts. Retrieved from arkiplus.com
  3. History of art. Applied Arts. Retrieved from historiadelarte.us
  4. Monash University. Definition of major and minor - Faculty of Arts. Retrieved from monash.edu
  5. Link, John. Glorious Minor Art. Retrieved from newcrit.org
  6. L'Estrange, Elizabeth. From minor to major: the minor arts in medieval art history. Recovered from arthistoriography.files.wordpress.com
  7. Godward, Frederic. The Variety of Applied Arts. Retrieved from widewalls.ch

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