Contemporary Folk Art

Contemporary Folk Art can be defined as post-1950, untrained, non-academic and idiosyncratic art created by individuals with little or no awareness of art historical traditions.

There are basically three main subcategories of folk art based upon a rough time line:

  • Early American (1776-1850)
  • Traditional American (1859-1920)
  • Contemporary (1930-2010)

Contemporary Folk Art Gallery

The field of Contemporary Folk Art really took off in the 1970s and was catapulted by the Corcoran exhibition entitled What it Is, Black Folk Art in America 1930-1980. Note that 1930 predates the 1950 beginnings, but such dates are relative and offer only a temporal structure.

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Additionally, it was Southern and African American folk art that fueled the field, partly because of its alienation from the more sophisticated East Coast museums, galleries, and traditions together with the sheer power and recognition of African American Folk.

This acknowledgment gained momentum following the civil rights movement, the southern economic boom, and changes in demographics and art attitudes. Therefore, Contemporary Folk Art is not Early American Folk Art as collected by Electra Hevemeyer near Burlington, Vermont or Abbey Aldridge Rockefeller's collection residing in Williamsburg, Virginia. Rather, the contents of these fine collections — containing coverlets, itinerant portrait painters, weather vanes and fractures — are examples of Early American Folk Art.

Nor would Contemporary Folk Art contain Traditional American Folk Art as exemplified by historical and pastoral paintings, farm implements with a decorative edge, decoys, trade signs, etc. Contemporary Folk Art is not as focused on utilitarian objests and crafts as it is on whimsical, idiosyncratic, and reflective art, which starts to proliferate as free time and retirement become more prevalent. It also has some underpinnings in the depiction and recording of significant socio-cultural or political events. In this way Contemporary Folk may be closer to the spirit of true art, except the artists lack academic training.

In any case, Contemporary Folk Art derives from creative individuals with time and inspiration and not necessarily from profit motives...at least until someone happens to come along with a compliment or a dollar which establishes an audience.  An emphasis on creation and catharsis as with all art becomes the main focus in creating objects exhibiting playfulness or that record important personal and historical events.

Art is often a way of marking time, reflecting, and documenting what is or has come before. So in essence, Contemporary Folk Art is often two or three dimensional works which express content and aesthetic sensibility.