Although I think my previous posting on folk art was only on Counterforces and Other Little Jokes, the approach of the 90-gallery art fair called Folk Fest has led me to think again of what on earth links together rural portraiture, carvings by prisoners, paintings by visionary preachers, and large numbers of objects arranged in a front yard. Not to mention traditional weaving and quilt patterns and pottery.
Especially since one hypothesis is that much of what was originally called nineteenth-century folk art is actually inept fine art, done by educated artists who developed increasing visual shorthand for the pressures of traveling around catering to the wishes of the more well to do community members of the antebellum American republic.
So it comes to me, reading the review of the sophisticated self-taught sculptor/photographer in this morning's NY Times that the only possible definition of folk art that encompasses everything is: "art created according to rules that seem to be communally agreed upon and which are subject to strong pressures for fairly exact stylistic conformity also developed by a community as a whole rather than an artistic elite; or, art made to an aesthetic which does not comport with the agreed-upon aesthetic qualities of the artistic elite of an epoch, but which does not allude deliberately to an earlier epoch or diverge deliberately from the dominant aesthetics."
That makes room for the hauntingly inept Sunday painter alongside the meticulously obsessive who know nothing of how far they are from making "real art." And it allows for signs painted for fraternal lodges, barber shop advertisements, what have you; first I've ever come up with something that makes sense of a field that feels compelled to invent new terms that never quite work: folk and outsider, self-taught, vernacular, et cetera.