Art Market Blog – Putting the Artist Back into Art
I recently came across the website for the American Folk Art Museum which, although provides plenty of information and history of American folk art, left me with more questions than answers. Although I had a general idea of what Folk Art was before visiting the museum’s website, I had not really considered the place of folk art in the current art market and the circumstances that have resulted in a revival in the interest of Folk Art. The generally accepted definition of Folk Art is hand crafted artworks created by individuals that have had little or no formal artistic training that reflect the culture, tradition and heritage of a particular and identifiable social group. I find this definition to be a bit broad and unclear so I did some further research on the definition of the term “folk” which resulted in several meanings most of which are relevant to the definition of Folk Art.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary the definition of folk is: ‘The common people of a society or region considered as the representatives of a traditional (long established) way of life and especially as the originators or carriers of the customs, beliefs, and arts that make up a distinctive culture’. From this definition we can determine that Folk Art is the representation of a traditional way of life (lifestyle) and a reflection of the unique combination of traditions, beliefs, behaviours, customs, values, practices, legends and sociocultural structures that make up the lifestyle of a particular society of people. Another use of the term “folk” is to describe common, simple, or unsophisticated people who would only have access to the most basic or primitive tools, implements and materials with which to create an artwork which gives us another defining aspect of Folk Art. The final relevant application of the term “folk” is to indicate an anonymous artwork or an artwork of unknown origins which indicates that the identity of the artist is not as important as the object it’s self.
Having determined the factors and characteristics that define Folk Art I then began to explore Folk Art in the context of the art market. There seems to be an emerging trend in the art world of artists pursuing a very artificial form of perfection. This pursuit of perfection is not an artist’s personal attempt to create what they would perceive as their ultimate artwork or the most artistically beautiful work, it is a pursuit of a manufactured perfection that is polished, sterile, clean, artificial, mechanical and void of any evidence of human involvement. The Chinese have a philosophy when it comes to art that the particular outward appearance of things, or indeed their accuracy, was of secondary importance to capturing the essence and spirit of the subject. Some Chinese artists even went to the extreme of deliberately including a small error in each of their works to emphasise the “human” nature of their artistic pursuits.
Folk Art epitomises the humanness, and the artist’s involvement and investment in the creation of the object which is the exact opposite of what many contemporary artists are expressing in their work. It is the energy, spirit and emotion that the artist expresses in the artwork that allows for a meaningful interaction between the viewer and the artwork where the artwork is used as a medium for the artist to evoke debate, express emotion and communicate ideas. Although the artist can direct the discourse to some degree, an artwork will always be interpreted in different ways by different people and the path of the interaction will be steered by the viewers own life experiences. This continuous and boundless discourse allows the relationship between the viewer, the artist and the artwork to evolve and progress as people’s lives and their life experiences progress and change which gives the artworks that embody these characteristics a timelessness and immortality that causes one to constantly revisit and review the way we interact with an artwork.
In an art market where quick thrills and flashy bling have become the norm it is no wonder that people are beginning to detect a lack of emotion, energy and spirit in the works on the market which has resulted in an increased interest in Folk Art that will continue until the quest for an artificial perfection ceases.
**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications.