Folk art is a class of art that is created by indigenous peoples or working class segments of a population. Various groups, such as European peasants or South American native tribes, have been noted for their folk art, but the phenomenon exists worldwide. Works of folk art are culture specific and tend to reflect items that are functional as well as decorative, which is one reason folk art differs fundamentally from fine art.
Another distinction between folk art and fine art is that folk art, unless it is antique and highly collectible, is not patronized by fine art collectors and is not produced by professional artists. Sometimes known as primitive art or tribal art, folk art is typically created by untrained or self-taught people. Folk artists often learn their skills through local apprenticeships within their community
The subject matter of folk art runs a wide spectrum. In America, some of the most collectible antique folk art examples are weathervanes, painted and carved carousel horses, and even old cast iron doorstops. Some of these early American folk artists were able to make a living from their creations. The American Folk Art Museum in New York City is one of the country’s premier institutions for folk art collections. The Smithsonian American Art Museum also collects important works of folk art.
Folk art may include works based on religious themes as well as motifs related to cultural identity. Scandinavian folk art may encompass traditional patterns reflected in their folk art creations. Some folk art may represent ethnic or even occupational subject matter. Folk artists tend to employ a wide array of materials in the production of their art. Paper, wood, metal, clay, glass, and textiles are just a few mediums used by folk artists. Today folk artists produce such art as sculpture, pottery, painting, illustration, photography, jewelry, masks, glass, furniture, ceramics, quilts, musical instruments, and much more.
Folk art draws enthusiasm from many quarters. It is often viewed as a means to preserve artistic traditions among various peoples. In many ways, even without the status of “high art,” folk art can be important economically for various groups who rely on tourists who buy folk art. Today there are various organizations, libraries, and even galleries devoted to folk art in America and abroad. There are also online magazines devoted to many aspects of contemporary and historic folk art. Community guilds supporting local artisans and folk art remain important to the continuation of this artistic style.