Tea & Automatons

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Can Art Nouveau Be Steampunk?

Art Nouveau Steampunk Portrait by Echo Chernik

For the past year or so, I’ve heard people say that Art Nouveau is dieselpunk.  Not being an art history major, I wasn’t going to argue the point without knowing the facts.  That did not sound right, but maybe I was confused.  Then in the last week, while having four different discussions about the difference between steampunk and dieselpunk, people have said something to the effect of “I am not really a dieselpunk fan but I do love Art Nouveau…”  Hmmm.  Time to hit the books or rather the internet.

Almost every source I found says that the Art Nouveau movement is from 1894 – 1914.  I generally feel that steampunk gives way to dieselpunk at about the start of World War I which is 1914, so that would make Art Nouveau entirely acceptable in the steampunk era.  Not that I am saying that the artwork from that period is steampunk.  It would obviously need to be tweaked, given a degree of anachronism, science fiction or technology, but my favorite art movement is most definitely in the appropriate era to be steampunk.

Okay, so perhaps the problem is that these people are mixing up Art Nouveau with Art Deco, which is rooted quite squarely in the dieselpunk era, beginning in the 1920’s and going all the way to the 1940’s.  After a little digging, I am pretty sure this must be the case.  I know that some of the works are a little hard to differentiate, but they are definitely separate things.  In a way it’s a lot like the difficulty people have distinguishing steampunk and dieselpunk.

Steampunk came first chronologically and though they are both types of retrofuturism, they are most certainly distinctive genres.  Steampunk is based in an earlier age when steam power was more prevalent, with to my mind a bit more optimism.  Dieselpunk arose at the beginning of World War I, with the use of diesel power, when the world changed and became a war hardened place.  While I like to say that steampunk doesn’t NEED historical accuracy, understanding how the world is changed by certain events does help you to understand how people of the time might have imagined their future, which leads to how dieselpunk and steampunk differ.  Just like in art, an understanding of the underlying basics is key to being able to change history believably.



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About The Author

Diana Vick

I am an illustrator, writer, costumer and steampunk enthusiast.
I have done illustration for comic books, animation and collectible card games such as Magic the Gathering and Legend of the Five Rings. Currently, I do art for my own line of cards and gifts in my Zazzle shop.