Unlike other genres of art, which are often easily identified by a precise style or specific time period, folk art is a broad genre that can be difficult to define. The term “folk art” can simultaneously refer to a textile made in 17th century North America, a painted wooden sculpture from early 20th century England, or a contemporary mixed media painting made in the Philippines. In part, the wide-ranging characteristics of folk art are what make this genre so unique.
Many folk artists receive no academic training. Instead, they develop skills and techniques through apprenticeships, though this isn’t always the case. In contrast to what is more traditionally defined as fine art, folk art is often produced by a native culture or tradesperson. As such, the works are often instilled with a sense of tradition and community. Folk artists are less concerned with the traditional rules of perspective and proportion that are revered in canonical art history and more focused on expressing their cultural identity.
The growth in popularity of folk art in the United States over the past few centuries can be traced back to the thriving middle class in the 1800s, which helped to encourage an inflated supply of commercial goods made by hand. This allowed for a booming art market in which artists could make a living producing handmade goods. Although one might assume that the Industrial Revolution made handmade goods obsolete, in fact it helped boost the demand for more unique alternatives to mechanically-produced items. As the creation of goods and services transitioned toward mass production, Folk Art spoke to the nature of America’s culture. Similarly, folk art has garnered attention in many different countries for its honesty and meaningful subject matter and has remained popular through the centuries.