What Puts the “Folk” in American Folk Art?

Personalized Folk Art Stitched Family Print Or more to the point, what’s the difference between “folk art” and “fine art?” There are two principal criteria that distinguish the two:

  1. Folk art draws its origins from people who have not received formal art training. (craftsmen, tradespeople, seamen)
  2. Folk art tends to be more utilitarian. (crafted for the use or appreciation of the artist—quilts, pottery, clocks, furniture, paintings, etc.)

The lack of “formal art training” does not mean that the folk artists themselves are not masters of their technique. They are, but their mastery doesn’t come from traditional art classes or from studying classical forms. Rather, their mastery is in their craft, self-taught, and artistically pleasing because the pieces were crafted to be pleasing first to the artist themselves.

With a modern appreciation of folk art, the line between folk and fine is blurring. The folk art style is rooted in culture and evolves through the culture’s history. In the case of America, where the cultural roots are very diverse, American folk art provides a window into the the melting-pot history of our country.

Modern American folk artists often do have classical training, but choose to style their masterpieces in the tradition of American culture.

American Folk Art Museums
American Folk Art Museum
Smithsonian Exhibits

Jack Russell Folk Art SculptureRed Rabbit Folk Art Print

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