What is Folk art? Characteristics and evolution

What is Folk art? Characteristics and evolution
Isabel del Rio

Folk art is an expression of the world’s traditional cultures. In contrast with Fine art, Folk Art is made by individuals whose creative skills express their community’s cultural identity, rather than an individual artistic identity. It comprises a range of utilitarian and decorative media, including clay, glass, cloth, wood, paper, metal, stone, esparto, leather and more.

Folk art by Ammi Phillips

Folk art by Ammi Phillips

Usually, Folk artists learn skills and techniques through apprenticeships in informal community settings, because their art is always rooted in traditions that come from their community and culture. Precisely, this is the great difference with Visionary art, because although Visionary artists have not formal training, their works arise from an innate personal vision and they never represent their community.

The diverse geographical and temporal prevalence and variety of Folk art, which has existed from Prehistory, make it difficult to describe as a whole, though some patterns have been demonstrated:

Folk art: Talavera de la Reina pottery

Folk art: Talavera de la Reina pottery

– It is characterized by a naive style.

– Traditional rules of proportion and perspective are not employed.

– It is primarily functional and merely decorative rather than purely aesthetic and the idea of ‘art for art’s sake’ is foreign to it.

– It is never influenced by intellectual movements or by the rules of Academies of Fine Arts and it excludes works executed by artists who want to be personally famous, although Folk artists can sell their works (usually in an itinerant way) and earn a living from their work.

Folk art: quiltmaking

Folk art: quiltmaking

– Similar terms could be Crafts, Naïve art, Primitivism, Outsider art, Tribal art, Tramp art, and even Working class art, although all these terms have little different connotations.

Maybe the post-impressionist artists and contemporary authors as Zola were the first to appreciate the anonymous art of other cultures. Van Gogh and Cezanne were fascinated by Oriental art, and Gauguin by the art of Tahiti. Afterwards, most of the avant-garde artists saw freedom and sources of inspiration in the “crafts” of cultures outside Europe. Picasso was in love with African masks and Iberian pottery and Brancusi with Prehistoric menhirs. Then, the idea of identified “crafts” with art started to be considered.

By that time, some collectors as Abby Aldrich Rockefeller began buying work from non-academically trained artists. In the 1930’s she gave her 424-piece collection to Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and when she died, her husband, John D. Rockefeller Jr., built the first Folk art museum to honor her. It opened in 1957, and from then on, very many Folk art museums have opened in America and throughout the world. The American Folk art museum in New York was founded on June 23, 1961, and opened its doors to the public for

Folk art: Chillum

Folk art: Chillum

the first time on September 27, 1963, During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the institution was recognized for its lively exhibitions, many of which were pioneering in scope, including the influential “Twentieth-Century American Folk Art and Artists” in 1970, because in this exhibition, the museum established the idea that the creation of Folk art was not a thing of the past.

“A man who works with his hands is a laborer, a man who works with his hands and brain is a craftsman, a man who works with his hand and brain and heart is an artist.”





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