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What is folk art?

The Story

They're not trained as artists and their themes are unsophisticated, but their work is highly original. Folk artists don't produce work that's easily pegged: too down-home for fine art, too impractical for craft, and often eccentric to boot. But the market for folk art is booming, and success could threaten its authenticity. As the CBC's Laurie Brown learns, much of the charm of folk art could be lost when money is the prime motivator for its creators. 

Medium: Television
Program: The National Magazine
Broadcast Date: June 16, 1997
Guest(s): Chris Huntington, Kyle Jackson, Eddie Mandaggio, Leo Nagler, Cindy Schultz, Virginia Steven
Reporter: Laurie Brown
Duration: 12:34
Painting: Maud Lewis

Did You know?

• Scholars divide folk art into two general categories. In their book A Compendium of Canadian Folk Art, authors Terry Kobayashi and Michael Bird write: "On the one hand, folk art is defined as the collective manifestation of an ethnically-based decorative tradition. On the other hand, folk art comes to be seen rather as the product of the individual mind, the artistic outpouring of an untrained painter, sculptor or other practitioner."

• Ukrainian Easter eggs are an example of ethnic folk art; the works seen in this clip are the individual type.
• The words "naive" and "primitive" can be problematic when applied to folk art. Kobayashi and Bird note that: "A folk art object of the individual-creative type is likely to be praised for its amateur, or primitive qualities, while an example of ethnic-traditional folk art is valued precisely on opposite grounds, for its high degree of refinement."

• Some of the earliest examples of Canadian folk art had a religious theme. In 18th and 19th century Quebec, parishioners produced crucifixes, nativity scenes, paintings and other sculptures to adorn their local churches.
• Nova Scotia seems to boast more than its fair share of folk artists. See an additional clip about Ralph Boutilier, the province's "dean of carvers."



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