The Hurn Museum is dedicated to develop a meaningful definition of folk art.
In so doing, the attempt is to limit the primary subject matter and then show its relationship to other clearly defined art forms including the fine arts.
We suggest that folk art, shorn of all its peripheral crafts, is an art form dedicated to presenting a clear message by the artist to the population at large. In accordance with Renaissance art philosophy the technique that an artist uses in rendering a message becomes secondary to the message itself.
Fine art instead, is primarily judged by the artists technique and its message becomes a secondary element of the piece being judged.
A primary branch of folk art, visionary art, dramatically focuses on the artist’s spiritual aspirations. A fundamental part of many folk artists lives remains their church and the teachings of the Bible, which have inspired countless works of art. Jewish scripture narratives, have stimulated renderings of the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, numerous prophets, and the Burning Bush. From the New Testament come stories from the life and death of Christ, the Book of Revelation, and the struggle for personal salvation.
The second of folk art’s three divisions, vernacular art, represents the whole array of the artists everyday setting and cultural milieu.
Autobiography: Folk artists are greatly influenced by personal experiences, and their artwork is implicitly autobiographical. Many paint themselves in insightful single figure portraits, set within the framework of their secular and religious lives. Other artists commemorate loved ones or form visual records of important events in their lives. The material used by folk artists reflect their environments and familiar milieus. Few artists exclusively employ conventional art supplies.
Daily Life: Daily life and its experiences are a primary visual source and an inspiration for folk artists. Their imagery narrates the essential elements of their everyday existence: their means of livelihood and sustenance, milestones from pregnancy to death, aspect of religion, domestic scenes and daily tasks, local architecture and urban street life, friends and family.
Social Commentary and Popular Culture: National and global politics, societal concerns, and racial issues inspire many folk artists. The direct experiences of many of these artists have generated artwork depicting the struggle of urban ghetto life, and the battle for freedom and equality. Other artists deal with homelessness, inhospitable street environments and mankind’s disregard for nature.
Patriotism: The patriotism of many folk artists is regional. It is characterized by pride, loyalty, and honor. Many of their art works are based on national symbols that may date back to our nation’s early history. Contemporary heroes are equally characterized.
Nature: In interpretations ranging from the realistic to the whimsical, folk artists depict their family relationships with flowers and wildlife that inhabit their regional areas.
The third branch of folk art, outsider art, is a vehicle for artists experiencing personal or social distress to reenter the mainstream. Each of the pieces rendered by these artists strongly express their needs, emotions, and hope for personal fulfillment. Their art strongly communicates to the viewer an image of their own inner world.