The South Carolina State Museum, Columbia, showcases a wide range of objects in the current exhibition “Uncommon Folk: Folk Art from the South Carolina State Museum Collection.” The show includes pieces by self-taught artists, including Earl Cunningham and Sam Doyle, alongside traditionally-made baskets, pottery, textiles, and earthenware.
In her March 9 review of the exhibition for Columbia’s Free Times, Mary Bentz Gilkerson questions the range of objects and categories placed under the umbrella of “folk.” She notes:
Defining these works all as folk art means that they are being defined as a group primarily by what they are not. The main thing they have in common is that they are not so-called “high art”; they are handcrafted objects by non-academically trained people. But any term that is so broad that it includes Clay Rice’s cut-paper silhouettes and Ernest Lee’s chickens is so all encompassing as to be meaningless.
While I agree with Gilkerson (see my post on the Hudgens exhibition), I think the bigger question is why we continue to group work by self-taught artists with traditional “folk” art at all.