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The Problem With Folk Art

Oct 24, 2012

by Chappell Ellison

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Museums have it tough these days; funding is thin and patronage isn’t always consistent. But it seems like institutions built to champion folk art are especially vulnerable. Last month, word got out that the San Francisco Museum of Craft and Folk Art would be closing its doors in December. In New York City, the American Folk Art Museum came close to a similar fate back in September 2011.  Why is folk art such an easy target?

Part of the problem is the term “folk art” itself. “The thing about the definition of folk art is that you can’t say it in five words,” says Stacy Hollander, senior curator at the American Folk Art Museum. “You can only say it in 1,000.” An umbrella term coined around the turn of the century, folk art encompasses many ideas and methods; essentially, it is any art created by self-taught artists. “Human beings have a natural desire to put things in neat little boxes, but folk art is not neat,” Hollander explains. “Folk art is human. Folk art isn’t coming out of a single ideology, a single artistic movement or group of artists adhering to a specific philosophy.”

The broad nature of folk art creates challenges for its supporters. Over the past few decades, many museums have changed their names to reinvigorate their identities, adding words like art, design, and craft.”We are still fighting the good fight to overcome the rather dated ideas about folk art and the knee jerk reactions to that term,” says Hollander. “Prosthelytizing for folk art is still an important agenda for the museum. We’re still trying to to educate the world-at-large about what this art is and what they can find in it.”

American Folk Art Museum

Train. Howard Finster (1916–2001), Summerville, Georgia. 1983. Wire, aluminum, headlight and bulb, beads, and found objects. 51 3/4 x 86 3/4 x 33". Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York. Gift of Elizabeth Ross Johnson, 1985.25.1. Photo by John Parnell, New York.

As children, we are taught to associate folk art with indigenous peoples and ancient ideas. But walk through the galleries of almost any folk art museum today, and there’s evidence of an idea with contemporary resonance: the power of the hand-made. “In every age when there’s some technological explosion, there’s always a need for an antidote, or something that reminds people of their humanity and the touch of the hand,” says Hollander, noting how the fear incited by the industrial revolution propelled William Morris’s Arts and Crafts movement. “I think there are always seekers, those looking for the imprint of the hand in art.” Hollander notes that a large audience of these seekers are young artists. “In our society, with things moving so quickly, the pressure is even greater for artists to be the next big thing, rather than allowing them to delve and explore something and see where it takes them over a year or even a lifetime of work.”

At the American Museum of Folk Art, patrons see a range of works that, for the most part, were created by people who weren’t answering to a social pressure. “It’s stimulating and gives you permission take an idea and explore it to the nth degree,” Hollander explains. “Once people do come to the museum, it’s an instant conversion — they just get it. Folk art is something that one falls in love with.”

Folk art is our shared cultural history, documenting centuries of curious, ingenuous makers. Yet even with all the emotion and humanity found in folk art, it lacks a clear identity. How can these museums convince patrons to step through the doors?

Full credits for header image: Painted tinware/tin box. North Shop (act. c. 1790–1841), paint decoration attributed to Mercy North (1798–1872), Fly Creek, New York c. 1815–1825. Paint on asphaltum over tinplate. 5 1/2 x 8 9/16 x 4 9/16″. Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York. Gift of the Historical Society of Early American Decoration, courtesy Elizabeth B. Swain, 76.10. Photo by John Parnell, New York.

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4 Featured Comments

  • TheDeeps

    Hazel Deeps from TheDeeps said 6 years ago Featured

    In folk art, as in all art made for no specific audience, I see the purest truths, and the most nourishing outcomes. Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful Howard Finster piece.

  • silviaberrios1

    Silvia Berrios from DesignsbySilvia said 6 years ago Featured

    I couldn't say it any better than William Butler Yeast, 1901: "Folk art is, indeed the oldest of the aristocracies of thought, and because it refuses what is passing and trivial, the merely clever and pretty, as certainly as the vulgar and insincere, and because it has gathered into itself the simples and most unforgetable thoughts of the generations, it is the soil where great art is rooted." Anyone interested in folk art visiting Santa Fe, NM should go to the Folk Art Museum, one of the best if not the best in USA. The Craft & Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles, CA is another great one to visit.

  • slathered

    Sharon Moores from slathered said 6 years ago Featured

    We don't live far from the fantastic American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, which celebrates outsider art. After reading this, I'm going to make a special effort to go soon. I'd be heartbroken if it closed. It focuses on a type of art that is just as important as fine art, if not more so -- it tells the world that ANYONE with the desire to make art has a shot at it, not just the formally (and often expensively) trained.

  • Fleurdamour

    Fleurdamour from Fleurdamour said 6 years ago Featured

    When I was studying for my art history degree, it was clear that folk and decorative arts were not taken as seriously in the field as 'fine' art. I think it's the association with untutored production or with practical objects that diminish some people's opinion of it. Maybe it's time for a re-brand, in the modern tradition - aligning itself with design and craft is an excellent approach. I also think that perhaps in a challenging environment, it might be time for smaller museums to either band together and merge, or become part of larger institutions like the Met. It may no longer be feasible for them to be stand-alone. A final idea might be to use forums like this very site to set up capsule gift shops and maintain a dialogue with people like us who not only make our own art but consume that of others as well.

75 comments

  • ThePattypanShop

    ThePattypanShop from ThePattypanShop said 6 years ago

    Nice post! Thanks!

  • ikabags

    IKA PARIS from ikabags said 6 years ago

    Great post ! Thanks !

  • KMalinka

    Natalia from KMalinkaVintage said 6 years ago

    Awesome post::O)

  • LilyThings

    Elizabeth Lagasse from LillyThings said 6 years ago

    What a Sad fact , to hear about so many Museums closing , Some are really losing their path to creativity. But its a true treasure to have forums like this to keep to keep Folk Art Art Alive!

  • dorothydomingo

    Dorothy Domingo from dorothydomingo said 6 years ago

    I think the sad trend to defund museums and art programs is part and parcel of a bad economy combined with closed minds. While ordinary folks are struggling to make ends meet it is hard for the government and major institutions to justify spending money on art - any kind of art, but especially an art that is not easily pigeon-holed or understood. Look at the schools. In tough times the first programs cut are art programs because they are not valued as part of the core of education. That kind of thinking is wrong and shortsighted and does not look at the role that art has always played in the evolution of society and economies.

  • misschristiana

    Christiana Odum from YarnDarlin said 6 years ago

    Museums closing makes me sad.

  • TheDeeps

    Hazel Deeps from TheDeeps said 6 years ago Featured

    In folk art, as in all art made for no specific audience, I see the purest truths, and the most nourishing outcomes. Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful Howard Finster piece.

  • silviaberrios1

    Silvia Berrios from DesignsbySilvia said 6 years ago Featured

    I couldn't say it any better than William Butler Yeast, 1901: "Folk art is, indeed the oldest of the aristocracies of thought, and because it refuses what is passing and trivial, the merely clever and pretty, as certainly as the vulgar and insincere, and because it has gathered into itself the simples and most unforgetable thoughts of the generations, it is the soil where great art is rooted." Anyone interested in folk art visiting Santa Fe, NM should go to the Folk Art Museum, one of the best if not the best in USA. The Craft & Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles, CA is another great one to visit.

  • PennyBirchWilliams

    Penny Birch-Williams from PennyBirchWilliams said 6 years ago

    To me the connection between the many faces of folk art, is being handmade, as the writer says. Could museums find what compels contemporary people to seek, and value, handmade art and crafts, and convey those qualities in their advertising and website information? How about holding events with displays of contemporary folk art, maybe with the artists there to meet visitors and/or demonstrating their process? Perhaps focus on certain types of folk art and how it has evolved to the present style? It would be a sad thing if these museums shut down because they have not learned how to appeal to people. I hope those that are struggling will think out of the box to find their audience. There is much to appreciate and value in folk art.

  • meloss35

    MELEK UMAÇ from Babyborn said 6 years ago

    was really very nice, congratulations. I liked it very much

  • Ellareki

    Ellareki from Ellareki said 6 years ago

    I love folk art and think of it as honest, unpretentious, ingenious, pure and raw. The heart and soul of the artist is always evident, but alas it does suffer somewhat at the hands of the (sometimes) snobbish art world, let alone the general public (now I sound snobbish!). On a side note, some of my very favorite artists are self-taught and utterly brilliant.

  • volkerwandering

    Jess from volkerwandering said 6 years ago

    A good read!

  • anotherghostquilts

    Nancy from anotherghostquilts said 6 years ago

    Very interesting post.

  • minouette

    Ele from minouette said 6 years ago

    Interesting, as always...

  • EdelweissPost

    Patrick from EdelweissPost said 6 years ago

    "Folk art is human." Great line. Some of the stationery in my shop is adorned with folk art postage! The US Postal Service champions folk art.

  • calvertcottage

    calvertcottage from calvertcottage said 6 years ago

    It is always sad to learn of a museum closing. Here in the UK my introduction to folk art was through the American Museum (at Claverton Manor, Bath, Somerset) when it opened in the early sixties and that is there that I learned to love the 'primative art' of the portrait painters who travelled West in the wake of the pioneers and pictured the early settlers beside and completely dwarfed by their prize steers and the people who used their skills to make beautiful things from the materials at hand. It opened my eyes to a whole new world that I could not have imagined. We learn from our history, and to deprive a generation its past culture makes it more difficult to go forward with wisdom

  • HibouCards

    Anne-Claire R. from HibouDesigns said 6 years ago

    Thanks for this article!

  • pinksnakejewelry

    pinksnakejewelry from pinksnakejewelry said 6 years ago

    Great Post!! Sad about yet another Museum closing.

  • hoosiermamma1

    Vera Hall from hoosiermamma1 said 6 years ago

    Some critics may dissagree with me, but I think Grandma Moses is a great example of "primitive" Folk art. She was self taught and her images are simple and easy on the eye. The art world would have missed a treasure if her paintings had been in a closed museum, stored away in the basement.

  • MelodySage

    Melody Sage from MelodySage said 6 years ago

    Lovely article, well said!

  • guext65

    JW Lin from JWPersonalShop said 6 years ago

    Love that..

  • artbyillene

    Illene Hurley from artbyillene said 6 years ago

    I LOVE folk art and receive the American Folk Art Museum e-newsletters. Loved your post...and I think so many artists today consider themselves folk artists because we are doing what we love.

  • NicoAndMooMoo

    NicoAndMooMoo from NicoAndMooMoo said 6 years ago

    Folk art feels closer to me than art on display in "fancy" museums, we should cherish folk art museums... they represent "our" art!

  • SuzisPillowStudio

    Suzi from ThePillowStudioShop said 6 years ago

    Thanks for this post. Its given me a bit to think about. So sad that museums are closing. I wonder if Etsy (with all of the handmade art available to see) functions almost like a current day Folk Art Museum?

  • VandaFashion

    Vanda Fashion from VandaFashion said 6 years ago

    Lovely article

  • slathered

    Sharon Moores from slathered said 6 years ago Featured

    We don't live far from the fantastic American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, which celebrates outsider art. After reading this, I'm going to make a special effort to go soon. I'd be heartbroken if it closed. It focuses on a type of art that is just as important as fine art, if not more so -- it tells the world that ANYONE with the desire to make art has a shot at it, not just the formally (and often expensively) trained.

  • Fleurdamour

    Fleurdamour from Fleurdamour said 6 years ago Featured

    When I was studying for my art history degree, it was clear that folk and decorative arts were not taken as seriously in the field as 'fine' art. I think it's the association with untutored production or with practical objects that diminish some people's opinion of it. Maybe it's time for a re-brand, in the modern tradition - aligning itself with design and craft is an excellent approach. I also think that perhaps in a challenging environment, it might be time for smaller museums to either band together and merge, or become part of larger institutions like the Met. It may no longer be feasible for them to be stand-alone. A final idea might be to use forums like this very site to set up capsule gift shops and maintain a dialogue with people like us who not only make our own art but consume that of others as well.

  • crazeecowgirl

    Crazee Cowgirl from crazeecowgirlvintage said 6 years ago

    Thank you for such a marvelous post! I'm blessed to live in a city (Santa Fe) that embraces and celebrates folk art like no other city in the USA...I guess that's why we're referred to as "The City Different". As mentioned by Silvia earlier, we not only have one of the finest international folk art museums in the world, but we also have the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market held every July, and a fun & funky art show called "Recycle Santa Fe" (all art made with found/recycled objects) held every November. But if you can't visit here, please, please support your nearest folk art museum...or artist!

  • SundayOwl

    Lisa from SundayOwl said 6 years ago

    I love this post. Folk art reminds me of a simpler time - to slow down and appreciate the little things.

  • mazedasastoat

    mazedasastoat from mazedasastoat said 6 years ago

    I think "the establishment" tends to be a bit snobby about folk art because it's produced by untaught or self-taught artists... nobody can boast about having a degree in Folk Art. However, I think the interest is as strong as ever, despite various museums closing down. Etsy has to be proof that many part time, "amateur", non-professionally trained artists are producing work that is appreciated by people enough to buy it, & that has to be the litmus test of popularity.

  • lmouer

    Lynsey from lmouer said 6 years ago

    Very interesting post. Thanks for sharing!

  • CarlaRaeVintage

    Carla Rae from CarlaRaeVintage said 6 years ago

    Thanks for a very nice article. Not all are able to study art in college, but many still have the God given talent or gift to create with their own hands, and are very talented artists. If you have the desire to create you should do it even if it is only for your own delight and joy. I know I do.

  • 3crows

    Sara Pulver from 3crows said 6 years ago

    The 'skill' of Folk Art is in it's creator's imagination.

  • blackangel52

    blackangel52 said 6 years ago

    those very self important "artists" (lucky enough to have financial backing or through some stroke of opportunity have been able to pursue their art), who would lock out the less well heeled, self taught or innately gifted artist from the wider market, in their insecurity, are doing a disservice to the communities they coexist with. art in its purest form,is a natural reaction if you will, to the environment in which they exist. to deny another the opprotunity to express their art, is totally not artistic, fair or creative. I have seen ghastly art by socalled trained artists, and conversely, gorgeous, evocative, passionate works by "folk artists". what is a trained artist any way? some one versed in the tastes of the day to provide "acceptable" works to hang on a wall, or perch on a mantle like some badge of honor defining ones"good taste". thomas beckett once said" give me one man of of good sense as opposed to one hundred of good knowledge". I feel the same way about art. stir me, make me feel your emotion, or evoke a reaction from me, but please don't wave you degree in my face and tell me I'm supposed to feel some specific thing or another, or grasp some obscure meaning intended really only for the perpetrator of said piece. if yuou can see it, you can do it!

  • WingedWorld

    Vickie Moore from WingedWorld said 6 years ago

    Folk art museums have a rare chance to capture the attention of new generations given that vintage and hand-made items are so popular with young people these days. What could be more vintage, hand-made and original than folk art? These museums need to offer hands-on workshops and events to connect people to past traditions.

  • Kamiann

    Kami from Kamiann said 6 years ago

    I've never considered myself a folk artist, but since the definition is any art coming from one who isn't formally trained, then I suppose I am. The link below is a photo of one of only two paintings I've finish since graduating high school nearly 20 years ago. I entered it into a national juried exhibit at a museum and was accepted. It was one of the most exciting things to ever happen to me. It was a contemporary realism exhibit. http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=421017841241&l=2ea72a6b6a I love the purity of creation seen in folk art. I almost never finish a painting because I am my own worst critic incapable of the unhindered expression we see in folk art. Howard Finster was my first formal introduction to folk art when I purchased one of his pieces in an online auction. It would be a shame for the public to lose the opportunity to see collections of art born of a simple desire to create.

  • niriah

    Niriah from niriah said 6 years ago

    Today I opened a magazine that said "Back to basics--these covetable items borrow artisan looks(you'd swear they were made by hand)." My first thought was that they should be made by hand. Made by hand is what makes items with all there little imperfections and nuances so covetable. As I look around my house I see framed embroidery and crewl work made by ancesters, is each leaf in that piece of art absolutly perfect-nope-but is as the artist wanted it to be. I have to admit, I love modern but I want it punctuated by bit of humanity--thats folk art.

  • AlpineGypsy

    Heidi from AlpineGypsy said 6 years ago

    I have a very soft spot for Folk Art in my heart. It is, as someone said earlier, representative of the purest and most unadulterated, child-like expressions of real people. It takes a leap of faith to call yourself an Artist. The word has such connotations, that a lot of people dare not dip their toes in those waters. But in the end, Art is but another language. A visual one, with complex and myriad expressions. I admire anyone who takes the plunge and tries to communicate visually. Some succeed in communicating their ideas better than others, but regardless, Folk Art is never boring! As for how museums might reinvigorate their definitions to attract new visitors, well that is a question that all museums are struggling with these days. I worked in museums for 4 years, and saw the decline first hand. It isn't because things that reside in museums aren't important. It says quite a lot about how compressed our culture has become, and how disconnected we are from our past, that's all. Wonderful article, thank you~

  • sherischart

    Sheri Wilson from sherischart said 6 years ago

    Thank you for bringing this to "light".

  • yimmekedesign

    Diana from yimmekedesign said 6 years ago

    Folk Art needs to be integrated with the art of now as it is a symbol of allowing us to be self expressive today. Folk Art has its roots in surviving every day life with a wink to worries. Nothing changed. Art makes us survive.

  • monlyn25

    Monica C from MomoSeaJewelry said 6 years ago

    It will only get worse ( i hate to be pessimistic). The children of the 21st century won't have as many art museums to visit as adults and they will be inspired mostly by virtual media, what is seen online or digitally, not folk art. My favorite memories of elementary school art class was making pottery, carving soap and sand blocks. Art class is being cut all over the country in elementary schools, leaving them without those real, unbiased teachers to teach them, inspire them and help them to develop an appreciation for all forms of art, including that awkward bowl, cup, tray looking thing you formed with your tiny 8 year old hands. I also like and agree with what blackangel said...

  • LaECLECTICa

    LaECLECTICa from Laeclectica said 6 years ago

    Interesting article, lots of food for thought...

  • northernstarrynights

    northernstarrynights from northernstarrynights said 6 years ago

    Folk Art is a historical and modern expression of appreciation for beauty and aesthetics. No need to be juried, no need to attend a art school in the old days or now days, to have a desire to create, and or enjoy the visual pleasure of works of art depicting real human skill, time, vision and interpretation.

  • Aboli

    Aboli from FolkStroke said 6 years ago

    In a very small attempt to keep my country's folk art alive, I follow the very original techniques to create my folk art Warli paintings. But sorry to say, those do not get as much attention as my modern days acrylic paintings. It was not just a hobby class I joined and started paintings; it's in my culture, my everyday life. I had visited the tribal areas of Warli people, studied their life, learned their ancient old warli paintings and brought the knowledge back with me to share it with today's world. Very few of many dare to buy an artwork created using red soil and rice powder paste. I do paint modern and respect it but I do feel that folk art should have its own place in today's world. I will still keep trying. It's my responsibility to keep my folk art alive and forward it to the next generation. Thank you very much for the article.

  • lizhutnick

    Liz Hutnick from LizHutnick said 6 years ago

    I sure hope Folk Art doesn't fade away completely.

  • tomsgrossmami

    Tom's Grossmami from tomsgrossmami said 6 years ago

    Great post! Thank you.

  • mattyhandmadecrafts

    Matejka Max from NattyMatty said 6 years ago

    Interestiing!

  • dollyjoshi

    Dolly Joshi from WeddingSong said 6 years ago

    good post..i am from India and i feel the same for lot of folk art just vanishing with time ...as human life is becoming mechanical and machine oriented..I really appreciate etsy to provide apportunity for such artist who are rare to find. Thank you for this post.

  • LittleWrenPottery

    Victoria Baker from LittleWrenPottery said 6 years ago

    I find folk art interesting its very earthy and primal which I like, theres just a hint of the primitive in there too! For some reason I always think of folk art as being more native to america although Im sure thats not true.

  • fitzroyandcole

    Mirjam Cole from fitzroyandcole said 6 years ago

    It is such a shame, very often "folk art " informs other art in amazing ways. Take the Gees Bends quilts, their influence can be felt far and wide throughout the quilting community, real folk art in conception copied and admired by more tutored artists. A really interesting and thought provoking post ,thanks.

  • janicewd

    janicewd from janicewd said 6 years ago

    Thank you for the wonderful read. Folk art is great art.

  • TwitchyWitchy

    Bonnie Waller from TwitchyWitchy said 6 years ago

    Great post. It is too bad that appreciation is declining for folk art, but I will be keeping my eyes peeled!

  • jacobswife

    Leah Schultz from jacobswife said 6 years ago

    This is such a wonderful write up. Folk art is very near and dear to my heart as an artist and folk art collector. It defines a culture and tradition that cannot be documented in any other way. I am actually writing my thesis about this very topic and teaching my upper level students about the importance of folk art as a learning tool to understand a cultures tradition and communication. I will definitely be sharing this post to them this week to show folk art is alive and waiting for them.

  • Ebrown2503

    Eleanore from FiberBeads said 6 years ago

    This is a wonderful article. Thank you for all the thoughtful research you do before writing an article. Your work and talent shine. Locally, our IDEA store in Champaign IL donates their profits to the arts in the local schools. Is there a similar venue for Folk art preservation or similar museums? Just curious.

  • Iammie

    iammie from iammie said 6 years ago

    Interesting!

  • Pysar

    Yuri Pysar from Pysar said 6 years ago

    Thanks for such a wonderful article... love folk art!

  • truthbeautyandlove27

    Colleen O'Neal from truthbeautyandlove27 said 6 years ago

    Interesting article! It is a sad day indeed when yet another museum of any kind has to close it's doors. I went to a public creative and performing arts high school that was always under attack financially. Our school shared a building with another school. The building was an atrocity but I'm proud to say that so much beauty was created and nourished in it's dismal walls. Eventually instead of the school shutting down funding was found to renovate a beautiful old building in which to house the school. For Art there is always hope.

  • VandaFashion

    Vanda Fashion from VandaFashion said 6 years ago

    Such a good article!

  • BambuEarth

    Amber from BambuEarth said 6 years ago

    An inspiration and reminder to visit my local museum in support. Thanks. ♥♥♥

  • SimpleJoysPaperie

    Lana Manis from SimpleJoysPaperie said 6 years ago

    Folk art is near and dear to my heart. I particularly am interested in folk art from the 18th and 19th centuries such as fraktur paintings, paper love tokens, and dolls... anything that was made for a loved one by an untrained friend or family member.

  • reflectionsjewelry

    Emily Delfin from reflectionsjewelry said 6 years ago

    Thanks for an interesting post Etsy

  • jodieflowers

    jodieflowers from jodieflowers said 6 years ago

    I love folk art!

  • hoarderrehab

    Kennedy Miranda from HoarderRehab said 6 years ago

    Thank you Chappell for the endearing article about folk art. I have been a collector of all types of folk art and even make my own! I think it's interesting how folk art has gotten a bad rep, but at least there are Folk Art Museums because I think "kitsch" is another underrated art form and only know of one "kitsch" museum, Allee Willis' Museum of Kitsch or awmok.com. As a hoarder, I am a collector of both and hope to pass it on to others. Thank you etsy for providing an outlet for my HoarderRehab!

  • littleyellowcanoe

    Katrina Mason from CuttingPixels said 6 years ago

    The fading appreciation for things not mass produced saddens me.

  • ElaineMari

    Elaine Mari from ElaineMari said 6 years ago

    It's a sad thing that museums are closing in the US. Arts funding of all kinds is being cut there as well as here in Canada. I agree it is important to have arts that," for the most part, were created by people who weren’t answering to a social pressure". I struggle with that all the time with my own work. There is so much pressure to "sell" to make what will "sell", to value only work that "sells". This is why, in economic crisis, what requires some aesthetic knowledge and training in a "buyer" (either patrons coming in the door of the museum or with cash handed out for goods) gets cut out of our lives, just when we need to be reminded of what makes living so precious. I don't think the answer is to change the language to try to make it appeal as something it isn't. We need to weather the storm and stick to the truth of what these things are all about. As you said Chappell, in this excellent article "you can’t say it in five words". People who love folk art and any art made for love and out of need will need to use their words and their actions to defend it, and keep it, and maybe use their wallets too.

  • LostInTheValley

    LostInTheValley from LostInTheValleyPhoto said 6 years ago

    Wonderful! Great blog post!

  • sarahknight

    Sarah from sarahknight said 6 years ago

    There is something so completely garishly pretentious about the phrase "self taught." Big f*cking deal. I went to art school, does that imply that I never have or have had an original thought or possessed an ounce of talent before I interacted with an instructor or a professor? Because that's BS (kinda like the lack of paragraphs on replies to this blog - oh we live in fear of spam, as though we learned nothing from the BS of threat level charts always hauled out when the democrats were doing something in public in our post-911 world). Folk art is still just art. Until it moves on from conjuring up the possibility of having to pretend like roses painted on the underside of an old pan are really something to stare at for a half an hour instead of just a decoration then, yeah, Museums dedicated to it are going to flounder. As a child I was dragged to Archbold, OH on a number of occasions to a little joint that celebrated the past and all the "lost arts." What I really remember was how much "Hello Kitty" stuff there was in the gift shop, and that as a child the crowning achievement of their museum was their possession of an REO Speedwagon (Kevin Cronin lovers, you know what I'm talking about). We live in an age of iphones and cloud storage, so if you cannot present folk art outside of the quaint context of "but they're self taught" (which is BS, as most artists are), and present the pieces in the context of mattering for the actual reason that they matter, then marketing-wise, you're going to lose, and eventually shutter your doors. The arrant snootiness of "self taught" is only going to attract so many members of a demographic. The general public needs to be invited in with something less meaningless and esoteric. Perhaps an iphone banner? I guess that works for some businesses. Art is art, if it's really compelling, then figure out how to compel people to come and see it, and I imagine, that would be the mission of all these failing museums. While the craftsmanship may not change with the times, the times all have their own context, and classic rock radio now honors the contributions of Motley Crue in addition playing way too many songs by the Kinks, particularly the non-hits. Folk art needs to move metaphorically beyond those quilts that my long dead great grandmother used to make, because I don't turn on the radio to listen to oldies or polka music, and neither do the kids and young adults with all the expendable cash. Folk art can be just as snotty and closed minded when it comes to excluding people as the treasuries on the etsy front page. In the end it serves a very small constituency to an end that isn't that glorious and ignores the contributions of those it deems don't fit it's narrow standards. Folk art has a reputation for being bad paintings on the back of pots and pans and weird dirty floral arrangements in baskets. Until that changes - the perception of that image is only ever going to compel so many people to leave their homes and spend money to see those things in a museum. Real talent doesn't know what the hell "self taught" is supposed to mean.

  • seule771

    Ainee Beland from seule771 said 6 years ago

    Folk Art does infer a slower time calling not the master's but those of the Mayflower heritage and this modality seem to call for their own branding and housing, so museum did not necessarily recognize them or they of the traditional museum. I am sorry if I have not made sense; the article is most interesting. Thank you.

  • ansluasi

    ansluasi from OnceUponABookshop said 6 years ago

    To me, folk art is one of the most honest snapshots available of a person's inner truth. It is the creation of an "unnecessary" item by people whose lives are otherwise a parade of the ordinary, like a tangible thought that had to be break free of its imaginer and breathe its own life. That their creators took time and limited resources to create for creation's sake alone is incredible to me. I don't always like every piece, but I truly love the honesty and personality each item represents.

  • ElizabethFrank

    Elizabeth Frank from ElizabethFrank said 6 years ago

    Great post!

  • FreakyPeas

    FreakyPeas from FreakyPeas said 6 years ago

    We need more museums not less!

  • ShabbatChic

    Mia Sherwood Landau from ShabbosChic said 6 years ago

    Folk art is the basic expression of life from the heart and soul. It is not pretentious or self-conscious. It is childlike and innocent. Unfortunately, that means that people who tend to be pretentious and self-conscious (not pointing fingers here, just generalizing) and take pride in being sophisticated, not childlike and innocent, do not value folk art as they may value fine art. This dichotomy is the essential problem, in my opinion. Most of us value what speaks to us, and I can tell you that folk art speaks loudly to my own heart and soul. Perhaps private collectors will acquire the treasures from museums and put them back on the world market.

  • tlbelle03

    Belle from MoxieMind said 6 years ago

    I've been reading many of the entries and agree the art is ignored and many do not value the art. Folk Art is wonderful and under appreciated by many but I also feel that so many are not familiar with it because of the lack of exposure. I'm lucky to live between Los Angeles with the museums and Laguna Beach and its fabulous art.

  • thewomensrepublic

    Sara Brazil from SararaVintage said 6 years ago

    As a southerner at heart, I have had an appreciation for the way Folk Art represents both its maker and their familial as well as cultural heritage. Howard Finister, Nellie Mae Rowe, Sam Doyle can now be found at the High Museum in Atlanta's growing Folk Art section. It is often seen as untrained or "bad art" when that could not be farther from the truth! Many folk traditions are passed down while others are self trained but still informed by ones surroundings. Nonetheless, Folk Art is often about the process of making and communicating. There are successful pieces and unsuccessful pieces just as there are such examples in "fine art". Either of which is linked to ones society and experiences, folk art just takes the viewer very honestly through that process.

  • timmichalak

    tim Michalak said 5 years ago

    The problem with Folk Art is simply finding Folk Art that is appealing and sells. Beautiful colors and scenes invoking all the good in American and Global Life as opposed to celebrating the vulgar and lewd. Some of the best examples of this Art is found on ETSY and one of the best can be found here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/NancyMichalak

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