Instituting English folk art - Tate Research Repository
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Instituting English folk art



This article explores the development of folk art as an idea in English culture during the twentieth century, addressing in particular the commonplace assumption that the promotion of ‘folk art’ is necessarily antagonistic towards modernity, and, correspondingly, it is always to be associated with aesthetic conservatism, political reaction, and ethnically restrictive notions of Englishness. The article surveys a series of moments when the issue of folk art came to the fore: around 1909–1912, when there were efforts to establish an open‐air folk museum in England; 1929–1934, when these efforts were revived, and when folk art became the subject of pan‐European scholarly attention and a prime symbol of national identity; 1949–1954, when a new generation of designers turned to vernacular culture as a source of an energetic style that was both national and modernist; and the period since 1960, which saw attempts at the commodification of English folk art as an aspect of the national heritage. Through these case studies, the article seeks to test assumptions about the importance of folk or ruralist culture in definitions of Englishness, the relationship between museums and national identity, and the commodification of ‘folk’ or vernacular aesthetics in the context of heritage culture.


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