4 Important Meanings of Russian Folk Art

Folk art is a primarily utilitarian or functional visual art crafted by hand or with the help of limited mechanical devices used by the crafter or some small circumscribed group which includes an element of safekeeping of the longstanding culture survival. It is the creative expression of the struggle of humanity toward culture within a particular circle through the creation of functional but aesthetic objects and buildings.

Generally, folk art means the art of the people, as differentiated from the professional or elite product that includes the mainstream of art in developed societies. The term combines some quite different categories of art which are why as a presumable field of art-historical study; it is treated separately from other arts, notably the work of preliterate and prehistoric peoples.

Historically, the term “folk” has been used alternately in the field of art being fixed in English and German (Volkskunst). However, it has progressively been adopted in a variety of languages, both Oriental and Western.

Russian Folk Art

Nature has always been deemed as a generic theme in art, especially folk art like embroidery and fabric painting. Russian people believe that disparate design elements cater as symbols to keep them away from evil forces, to bring health, wealth, and love. Folk art in Russia such as craft and clothing are usually decorated with timeless ornaments and floral designs: stylized flowers, leaves, stems, buds, and the like.

Russian folk art is all about styles, traditions, and functions of myriad objects crafted by Russian peasant artists and artisans. They usually place the objects of art within the environment in which folk artists worked such as the village, the peasant household, the local market, et cetera. The objects they produce may vary; from goblets and dippers to clothing and window frames.

In this article, we will learn more about 4 important meanings of Russian folk art. So, keep on reading.

  1. Part of Family Life

The special place in a family life belongs to classic, traditional Russian toys that can also serve as stunning artistic gifts. Being a necessary part of family life as well as being initially created as magic and ritual tools, Russian toys have materialized the creative spirit of Russian people.

Toys made with wooden and clay figurines include horses, lions, bears, goats, birds, sheep, cockerels, cats, dogs, people; and odd creatures include straw and fabric dolls, small wooden and clay vessels, huts, dishes, et cetera.

One of the earliest toys distributed in Russia was the ball made of fabric with little bells inside. In the Tsar’s family, children at the age of one year were gifted a wooden figurine of a horse with a bridle, saddle, and stirrups. It was a tradition that was a remnant of the ritual of seating on the back of a real horse. At a later age, the prince was then gifted with banners, drums, swords, et cetera; meanwhile, the princesses would be busy with dolls, dressing them up in various outfits.

There is a first Toy Museum in Russia which was open in 1918 in Moscow. In 1931, it moved to Sergiev Posad while in St. Petersburg, there is the Toy Museum which was open in 1997. Make sure to visit one of those places while you are in Russia.

  1. Religious Significance

By the mid-17th century, craftsmen in Russia had gained fame for crafting a unique and decorative wooden lacquer ware such as wooden plates, spoons, bowls, and ladles. The expert craftsmen claimed that their creations were purely inspired by Russian traditional religious works of art.

For example, the color options for a particular Russian folk art called khokhloma. Based on some sources, khokhloma’s common color combination of black, red, and gold contains deep religious significance. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, vivid shades of black representing grievance that purifies the soul, red representing beauty, and gold representing idyllic light once decorated sacred church icons and vessels.

In the olden days, only clergy and wealthy family were capable of affording to own such expensive folk art which featured gold-haloed saints set against shiny gold leaf backgrounds. When they purchased the red, black, and golden khokhloma, they felt as if they owned a bit of heaven.

  1. Reflection of History

The folk arts of Russia reflect the country’s vast size and long history. They have been formed by Russia’s contacts with both the east and west cultures as well as by its longstanding periods of isolation.

Historically speaking, early Slavic tribes residing in the lands around the Black Sea had crafted some of the first Russian folk arts such as embroidered wall hangings, beautifully designed jewelry, leather sword sheaths and harnesses, et cetera. All those items have been found in the burial heaps of nobles and chieftains. They often used animal forms as the main theme. They also embellished their works with complicated patterns. Some patterns stood for natural forces such as circles and diamonds for the sun and zig-zag lines for lightning.

From one period to another, the Slavic tribes moved from north and east to areas now known as Russia. They stayed in forested areas along the lakes and rivers. There, they paid homage to nature spirits and created wooden figurines to depict their gods. Although the old beliefs were oppressed when Christianity came as the state religion, these nature spirits remained important and their depictions continued to appear in Russian folk art.

  1. Influence in Politic

In the early stage of Russian folk art, the common ground of its styles was the revo­lutionary artistic and political character. Each style was widely under­stood as a deliberate refusal of traditional Western art. The huge urge for a total break with the artistic past was complemented with the eagerness for political revolution. The refusal of traditional Western art was deemed to be required to modern man’s new insight on reality and was merely one part of a total refusal of traditional Western Civilization.

So, those are 4 important meanings of Russian folk art.

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