Folk Art

Written by Blaire Chandler-Wilcox
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Folk art, academically speaking, is a definition for art created by often self-taught artists who were not concerned with classical theories of dimension, proportion, or technique. Its purpose, generally speaking, is to tell a story. It's the story that matters in most traditional folk art, not the style or the craftsmanship. (Think of Grandma Moses, for instance.) However, there are many folk artists that defy this simple, almost patronizing definition, and create works of art that are stunningly well executed with an emotional impact that transcends the description of "naive" art. Jasper Johns, for instance, could hardly be referred to as "simple" in his symbolic power.

One of the most common and appealing types of folk art is commonly referred to as "memory paintings." These are works of art created by people typically older in age, without formal artistic training. Yet, as they strive to convey "what life used to be like," they often create works of art that are startling in their matter-of-fact, yet dramatically emotional impact.

From Planting and Ploughshares to Painting and Pottery

The rise of the American folk art movement began in the middle of the 19th century. One theory about its genesis is that during this time, when industrialization first began, many rural people found themselves with previously unknown amounts of time on their hands. As a result, they turned to creative pursuits and entertained themselves with painting, pottery, and decorative sewing, like cross-stitch and embroidery.

These original examples of folk art tend to be about subjects referred to as "simple", "charming", and "naive." Home and other domestics elements are common themes in traditional folk art. However, today, folk art can depict any subject, and be executed in any style. Though most top-of-mind traditional American folk artists came from rural, Caucasian and typically Christian backgrounds, every community has stories to tell. Some of the most currently popular examples of folk art feature "stories" of the African American, American Hebrew, and American Hispanic experience.


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