What Is Folk Art?

The realm of folk art is defined not so much by the work itself as by the extent to which the artist allows his inner voice to be heard and spoken. All folk art is characterized by a directness and vigor, strength of feeling and passion that is immediately sensed by the viewer. All folk artists, regardless of their country of origin, have one thing in common: they are self-taught, developing their own unique style within the context of their own limited experience. Many folk artists are the products of remote, poor villages; others live in developed cities and might in fact be employed in somewhat sophisticated jobs. All, however, make art without the sophistication of education. Their impetus for making their art evolves simply from the need to release an inner vision.

In spite of the fact that they have never been taught the fundamentals of art, folk artists know them instinctively. Color, design, rhythm and balance are the essence of any piece of folk art. Simple, strong shapes may be all it takes for one artist to make his statement. Another might fill a canvas with careful design and minute attention to detail.

In either case the result is always a naive, almost child-like vision, characteristically pure in style.


A significant amount of the folk art featured has been created by artists who come from impoverished areas in Latin America and the Caribbean. Though many lack money, education and the comforts that we take for granted, they can always find time and money to buy or find the supplies they need to make art. While we tend to see art as decoration, they see art as a means of releasing the song trapped in their spirits. A painting isn’t just a painting; it is a word or a story coming from the heart and soul of the artist. The images they create are a cultural response to the demands of poverty, often allowing the artist a means to cope. Their need to create results in a transformation from the ordinary to the extraordinary with the power to bridge the gap from their culture to our own.

(Text by Maleen H. Corrigan, Folk Art Collector)