Folk art is a subject I’ve been interested in for a long time. My interest was stimulated by the idea that art, like beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and that each one of us possesses the talent and ability to create a masterpiece. Its traditions seem to be born out of the rural areas of the country with each artist creating his or her own set of rules. The term ‘folk art’ includes a variety of works designed by individuals who usually did not complete a formal art training. Their work reflects key moments in their lives which encouraged them to create something out of the ordinary. Because folklorists define art by method of transmission and function, they largely ignore the creation of folk art objects as a process of problem solving or individual initiative.(l) My unit, “The Folks of Folk Art”, is an in depth look at those folk artists who have become known as “outsiders”. The one thread in these artists is their lack of a formal academic training and their simple, unpretentious approach. In 1972 British art historian Roger Cardinal adopted the phrase “outsider art” as a result of his studies of Jean Dubuffet’s ideas. Dubuffet was a French artist who collected and exhibited ‘art brut’ or ‘raw art’. The specific criterion for art brut which Dubuffet had was “the artist shall be innocent of pictorial influences and perfectly untutored; he shall be socially non-conformist, even to the point of diverging violently from the psychological norm; and he shall not cater for a public”. (2) Since Dubuffet’s time, much has been changed in the definition of this criterion.
“THE FOLKS OF FOLK ART”, will explore art created outside the mainstream traditions of the art world. I will explore works by ordinary people who have made extraordinary things. In the first part of the unit I will talk about the birth of outsider art and how it fits into the broader category of folk art. The three types of outsider art I will be referring to in this paper are isolate art, visionary art and environmental art. The qualities of each type of art and a brief biographical sketch of some well known folk artists will be incorporated in the next section. Finally, I will develop lessons to enhance student’s knowledge in this area.
The middle school students whom I teach have been exposed to a violent, threatening world. At times the only cultural experiences they encounter are provided by the schools. All too often these experiences are limited because of the focus on academics. Since art is a creative response to one’s world, I feel that students can use artistic means as a way of dealing with the world around them. It is my intention that after students complete this unit they will have the background necessary to create and imagine whatever they put their minds to. Their work can enhance their personal surroundings, build up their self-confidence and self-esteem while reflecting the signs of the times.