Folk art is mostly functional or utilitarian visual art done by hand (or with minimal mechanical facilities) for use by the maker or a small circumscribed group, with an element of retention—the continued survival of tradition. Folk art is the artistic expression of humanity’s fight for civilization within a certain setting via the creation of functional but aesthetically pleasing structures and products.

Folk art, in its broadest meaning, refers to popular art as opposed to the elite or professional product that defines the mainstream of art in highly developed cultures. As a workable field of art-historical study, folk art is generally treated separately from certain other kinds of peoples’ art, notably the “primitive” (defined as the work of prehistoric and preliterate peoples).

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Newyork City_©

Folk Art Through History

Folk art was first recognized as a distinct category in the late nineteenth century, and it was initially limited to European peasant art, or “art of the land.” The new intellectual atmosphere of the time, with a sentimental value attached to the simple life and the “folk soul” and the increasing spread of democratic or nationalistic beliefs, brought the art of the common people into the foreground. It was recognized that their modest tools, utensils, and crafts had artistic qualities. Before industrialization, such folk art was common throughout Europe, displaying nearly everywhere local styles created by people who did not have access to the products of the wealthy and were primarily involved in agricultural, pastoral, or nautical enterprises.

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Clementine Hunter, “The Wash” (c. 1950), oil on board_© Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Localism began to decline along major roads as sophistication increased, but the folk arts persisted on the periphery, especially in isolated areas where they had a chance to both survive and develop. Early colonists were forced to rely mostly on their abilities as they traveled to isolated areas of the globe, cutting them off from the cultural advancements of the motherland. The arts they brought with them transformed, and new arts were created in response to the stimulation of a new environment and via contact with native civilizations.

Patterns of Development

Over the past century, substantial research on folk art in Europe and America has revealed some trends in the growth of folk art. These patterns offer a foundation on which cultural variances and less frequent or random occurrences may be taken into consideration, even though they are subject to alteration as the area develops or is refined.

The Folk Art’s Utilitarian Component

The people who made the art were typically preoccupied with producing the necessities of life; as a result, the art is frequently characterized as primarily functional or utilitarian, although significant categories are unquestionably not utilitarian, such as the widely used miniatures made purely for enjoyment. For museums, folk art was not made. Undoubtedly, some were made to last, like records, family photos, and gravestones; occasionally, others were made solely for display, like the Pennsylvania Germans’ “show towel” and the sampler (a piece of needlework with letters or verses embroidered on it as an example of skill); and some household heirlooms were kept for generations. 

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Folk Art as Utilitarian Component_©

Folk art collections, which are thus dependent at least in part on accidents of survival, need to be complemented by photographic and written documentation to get a representative image of the entire art.

Characteristics, Materials & Techniques

Materials and techniques are the aspects of folk art that are the easiest to recognize as a whole. The materials that were readily available and naturally occurring were most frequently employed; as a result, elements like straw that are rarely or never used in sophisticated art may play a significant role in folk art. The distinctive forms that have emerged in the more complex media demonstrate how folk art has only a limited influence from popular culture and has developed along its unique lines.

Axes, hatchets, and knives were frequently employed for both chip carving (V-shaped cuts with an axe or hatchet) and notch carving (V-shaped cuts with a knife) in woodworking. Delicate Polish cut-paper designs were sometimes created using clumsy sheep shears.

Folk Art In The Urban Environment

Folk art is not only created by distinctive regional groups or in rural areas. It happens, for instance, among minority groups devoted to maintaining their ethnic or religious customs and typical goods. In an urban setting, there are a variety of folk expressions, particularly the celebrative arts, which have a strong historic hold. For instance, during the Christmas season in Warsaw, residents parade about the city models they have constructed for their cathedrals. The models include a Nativity scene and are lit by candles or, more recently, by tiny bulbs and batteries. They are covered in salvaged coloured foil.

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Modern Times_© Ralph Fasanella (1914–1997)

Categories Of Folk Art


The basic home and a straightforward public or religious edifice are naturally the emphasis of architecture. Modern architects have praised and studied the whitewashed stone architecture of the Greek islands, which combines basic cubic forms with a variety of free shapes and inventive projections of balconies, overhangs, and exterior stairways. They have also studied and praised the wooden churches of Eastern Europe, with their delicate, needle-like wooden spires, and the wooden stave churches of Scandinavia

The walled agricultural villages with radial pathways to nearby fields, the fishing towns that are oriented to a harbor, the American stockade cluster, as well as the village common, serve as examples of the strong connection between folk design and folk activities in community construction.


In folk art, the notion of a picture that hangs on the wall is by no means prevalent. It can be found in Europe, most notably as the ex-voto, or votive offering, placed in churches and chapels, and in America, where oil, pastel, or watercolor paintings of people and local scenes were created. Folk art often consists of painted images that are incorporated into other things, such as American clock faces with regional landscapes. Though the available area did not enable anything resembling the sophisticated mural, walls or beams were frequently adorned with geometric and floral designs as well as scenes on occasion. Some regions, including sections of North Africa, India, and Europe, had painted on their outside walls. The widespread utilization of stencil painting on furniture and walls exemplifies how creatively people can work within their constraints.


There appears to be a near-universal prevalence of figural sculpture in some form and incised or relief decoration on a wide range of artifacts. Although stone, a more challenging medium, was also utilized, particularly for gravestones and religious sculpture, woodworking was very common. Toy soldiers, European crèche figurines, and Chinese miniature wedding processions are just a few examples of figural kinds that were designed to be arranged in groups. Both in wood and pottery, it is common to create functional items with a sculpted overall shape.

The Folk Print 

The traditional folk medium for creating prints was the wooden block, which was also used to stamp fabrics. They served to illustrate well-liked issues and were frequently more interesting for the concept than for the actual depiction. They were typically simply cut, occasionally badly colored, or stenciled. Games show announcements and certificate forms were all printed using the block printing technique. 

Folk Architecture

Folk architecture is the living environment that individuals have designed for themselves. Folkl architecture is architecture created via an anonymous design that later develops into tradition under the influence of some variables.

One of the most crucial sources of information for understanding and explaining a community’s beliefs, values, traditions, customs, and familial and interpersonal interactions is its folk architecture.

The context of folk architecture must be taken into account for all architectural components. In other words, structures are not erected to leave a specific legacy; local architecture serves no monumental function. Owners or regional craftspeople construct the structures that make up the folk architecture. Folk architecture typically has an anonymous structure. Because of this, Folk architecture is frequently referred to as “Anonymous Architecture.”

Within the parameters of these standards, a folklorist will evaluate a home:

  • The construction’s natural surroundings

  • Its intended uses
  • The machinery implements, and building materials employed
  • The building process, and the locals’ customs and beliefs.
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The Trulli_©

Historically, modest public or religious structures as well as the most basic kind of housing have been the emphasis of architecture. The Puglian trullo, an ancient and distinctive type of housing, is still in existence. It is a towering conical-roofed, circular dry-stone building that is frequently embellished with symbolic white splashes of design. For additional rooms, the fundamental concept is simply duplicated.The log cabin, the Spanish cave homes, some of which have multiple rooms and a built-in outside front, the adobe house, and the Alpine house, with its steep, wide-eaved roof ideal for snow. Such outbuildings as the granary (particularly the hórreos of Galicia), the dovecoe, the straw shtepherd’s house, or the barn may have a distinctive style. 

The Hórreo de Carnota_©


Peasants, sailors, country artisans, tradespeople, or members of social or ethnic groups who have maintained their traditional cultures that traditionally produce art. It is primarily practical and is usually handcrafted for usage by the maker or a small community. Typically, paintings are used as decorative elements on objects like clock faces, chests, chairs, and inside and external walls. Toys, spoons, candelabra, and religious artefacts are among the wood, stone, and metal sculptures. Folk architecture can encompass both public and private structures, such as log cabins in the American West and churches made of wood in Eastern Europe. Scrimshaw, pottery, textiles, traditional dress, and woodcuts are more examples of visual folk arts.


  1. Articles

Encyclopedia Britannica. (n.d.). Folk art | visual arts. [online] Available at:

  1. Online Sources (n.d.). Folk Architecture. [online] Available at:


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