folk art refers to the art of the people, as distinguished from the elite or professional product that constitutes the mainstream of art in highly developed societies. The term in this comprehensive context combines some quite disparate categories of art; therefore, as a workable field of art-historical study, folk art is generally treated separately from certain other kinds of peoples’ arts, notably the “primitive” (defined as the work of prehistoric and preliterate peoples).

Historically, the terms folk and popular have been used interchangeably in the art field, the former being specific in English and German (Volkskunst), the latter in the Romance languages (populaire, popolare); the term folk, however, has increasingly been adopted in the various languages, both Western and Oriental, to designate the category under discussion here. The term popular art is widely used to denote items commercially or mass-produced to meet popular taste, a process distinguished from the manner of the folk artist, as defined above. The distinction between folk and popular art is not absolute, however: some widely collected folk art, such as the chalkwares (painted plaster ornamental figures) common in America and the popular prints turned out for wide distribution, may be seen as the genesis of popular art; and the products and motifs long established in folk art have provided a natural source for the popular field.

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