What is Folk Art?
Folk art encompasses art produced from an indigenous culture or by peasants or other laboring tradespeople. In contrast to fine art, folk art is primarily utilitarian and decorative rather than purely aesthetic. As a phenomenon that can chronicle a move towards civilization yet rapidly diminish with modernity, industrialization, or outside influence, the nature of folk art is specific to its particular culture. The varied geographical and temporal prevalence and diversity of folk art make it difficult to describe as a whole, though some patterns have been demonstrated.
Antique the folk art is distinguished from traditional art in that while it is collected today based mostly on its artistic merit; it was never intended as a category to be art for art’s sake. Examples include: weathervanes, old store signs and carved figures, itinerant portraits, carousel horses, fire buckets, painted game boards, cast iron doorstops and many other similar lines of highly collectible "whimsical" antiques. Characteristically folk art is not influenced by movements in academic or fine art circles, and, in many cases, folk art excludes works executed by professional artists and sold as "high art" or "fine art" to the society's art patrons. On the other hand, many 18th and 19th century American folk art painters made their living by their work, including itinerant portrait painters, some of whom produced large bodies of work. Other terms that overlap with folk art are naïve art, Pop art, outsider art, traditional art, tribal art, "self-taught" art and even "working class" art. As one might expect, all these terms have different connotations; but they are all at times used interchangeably with the term folk art, for which a satisfactory definition has proven hard to come by.
Folk art expresses cultural identity by conveying shared community values and aesthetics. It encompasses a range of utilitarian and decorative media, including cloth, wood, paper, clay, metal and more. If traditional materials are inaccessible, new materials are often substituted, resulting in contemporary expressions of traditional folk art forms. Folk art reflects traditional art forms of diverse community groups — ethnic, tribal, religious, occupational, geographical, age- or gender-based — who identify with each other and society at large. Folk artists traditionally learn skills and techniques through apprenticeships in informal community settings, though they may also be formally educated.