Critical Issues in American Art: A Book of Readings

By Mary Ann Calo | Go to book overview

7
American Folk Art

Questions and Quandaries

JOHN MICHAEL VLACH

As art historians become more self-conscious about methodological practice, the review essay emerges as an opportunity to examine the beliefs that guide the process of historical inquiry. In his review of a recently published book on American folk art, John Vlach argues that scholarship on American folk art has been plagued by a set of flawed definitions and questionable assumptions. A lingering preoccupation with the aesthetic appreciation of folk art, rather than attempts at critical investigation leading to genuine understanding of the objects and the cultures that produced them, has caused students of folk art to create more confusion than clarity.

Vlach identifies a set of polarities used both to characterize folk art and to establish its difference from so-called fine art. Because these definitions rest not on genuine insight into folk cultures and their artistic traditions but are rooted rather in somewhat arbitrary aesthetic judgments and romanticized notions of the folk artist's naïveté, they are at once patronizing and misleading. Vlach insists on the need to reconsider the vast array of objects currently occupying the category of folk art, and he calls for greater precision of definition and more rigorous investigation into the meaning and function of these objects for the cultures that produced them.

As the discipline of folklore emerges as an independent field of study, the need for critical reassessment of definitions and theoretical assumptions continually presents itself as a perplexing issue. 1 Humanistic impulses push scholars toward an honest and forthright enjoyment of the materials which they consider. Their personal encounters in fieldwork stimulate a Whitmanesque desire to celebrate new discoveries and to provide a loud and public voice for those many creators whose achievements are so interesting but as yet unacknowledged. Although such emotional involvement may seem not only inevitable but even appropriate, it cannot eliminate the scholar's need for intellectual rigor and precision. Students of folk culture should not be torn between advocacy and accuracy, but, in fact, they often are. This dilemma of heart and head has led to pronouncements which are vague at best and at worst confused. While this circumstance pertains in part to all genres of folk expression, it is clearly seen in the study of folk art, a subfield of the newly emergent area dubbed "material culture."

In the United States the subject of folk art has not been given sufficient academic attention

-109-

Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this page

Cited page

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Critical Issues in American Art: A Book of Readings
Table of contents

Table of contents

Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this book
  • Bookmarks
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
/ 328

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.