What are traditional arts?

Read the Spanish-language version of this page here.

Folklorists have long argued over this very question: What is traditional art and who is a traditional artist? Categorizing people and objects is necessarily complicated. TAI has developed guidelines to help focus and limit the scope of its activities in order to work effectively.

TAI tries not to focus on the object or the example but rather on the maker, the community the artist is a part of, and the creative process:

  • Traditional artists work organically from within a community to which they belong. Community is defined as a group of people who share something in common such as ethnicity, region, religion, or occupation.
  • Traditional artists usually learn informally from someone within their community.
  • Traditional artists create contemporary, living forms whether a song, a dance, or handmade object.
  • The aesthetic sensibilities that evaluate traditional art are defined by the community and not by some outside set of standards.
  • While the work of traditional artists is rooted in the past it is also innovative, constantly affected by technology, and subtly influenced by such factors as migration or mass media.

Traditional Arts Indiana’s View of Art:

TAI views art as “creativity in everyday life” – from how people cook to how they extract limestone from a hillside; from how they dress to how they decorate their homes and yards. Perhaps the term folklife better describes the scope of artistic practices TAI addresses. Folklife includes artistic expressions as well as traditional knowledge – knowledge that is passed down from generation to generation, master to apprentice, mother to daughter, neighbor to neighbor, parishioner to parishioner.

TAI’s focus means that some artistic practices are left out of consideration and not documented: living history reenactments, revived pioneer crafts, and art and music learned solely through formal instruction or printed sources. These artists are encouraged to contact their Regional Arts Partner at the Indiana Arts Commission.