Wednesday, 4 July 2018

A Simpler, Fresher, More Innocent World?

It's very easy to look back into the past and imagine that somehow life was better then.
I believe we have a strong tendency to do this with life in England before the industrial revolution. It was a much simpler life and much more innocent world, we imagine - living in a rural village, in an agrarian society. Perhaps this vision is fed by idealistic  images of what the countryside would have looked like, and how people would have spent their time.

For those who visit the Folk Art Collection at Compton Verney, Warwickshire, certainly we can feel like this.  Within the folk art galleries we find a fantastic collection of art created by people who had no formal training whatsoever.
They used their native skills, and all their art had a purpose, often a practical one. Their style of art is known as the naive style of art.

Within the villages that were home to these "naive artists", art was commissioned, just as it may be today. Only in their community, perhaps a farmer wanted to prove to everyone else in his community that he was the owner of the best livestock. And so the artist created a picture of the farmer standing beside his prize heifer. Its size is greatly exaggerated so that now we may look at it and laugh; and yet it conveyed a powerful message on behalf of that farmer to all in the community.

One of the first paintings you may see in the folk art collection depicts a bear baiting scene. Men look on eagerly as a dog torments a restrained bear. We may look at that now and think how terrible, how primitive they were, as we can see clearly now with our refined sensibilities; certainly the subject of this painting is not politically correct to our way of viewing things, our consciences so finely- tuned. And yet... the very openness and simplicity and directness of the painting speaks to us.

When I walk around these galleries I feel a curious sense of peace and freedom, as if I'm transported out of our complex, anxiety-ridden, stressful world into that simpler life.

Human nature doesn't change. All the human follies of greed, jealousy, vanity, pride were there, just as we see them today in our own lives. And yet how much better do we deal with those base human emotions, with all our sophistication and technological advancement, our intellectual enlightenment, our knowledge of human psychology?

I believe there is much to reflect on as we wander around the world of British Folk Art.


  1. Thoughtful post! I'm not sure we're much more sophisticated, really. We've swapped bear-baiting for Twitter, that's all!

  2. Ha, I agree with Fran! Who needs the stocks when there's the mob rule of Twitter? (Although bear-baiting is horrific ...)

    I think it's all too easy for us to forget that rural life was extremely hard and could be brutal, e.g. the Highland Clearances and the 1840s famine in Ireland. The novels of Thomas Hardy don't portray 19th century rural England as some kind of idyll. There's a rough beauty there, but Hardy doesn't sugar-coat it.

    I had no idea about the origins of Naive Art. :) Thank you!