What is Naive Art?

Some say it started with Henri Rousseau.

But really, it’s always been there. While professional artists produced technically accomplished paintings for churches and galleries, untrained amateur artists in Britain, America and Europe were cheerfully painting pictures of everyday scenes, farm animals, pets, and buildings for friends, for customers, or for the sheer hell of it.

Traditional 'Castles and Roses' canal folk art
Traditional ‘Castles and Roses’ canal folk art

On old fashioned fairground sideshows, across Victorian shopfronts, sign-painters enlivened the workaday world with colour and decoration. Anyone who’s admired the lively “Roses and Castles” adorning a traditional canal barge has enjoyed the vigour of English folk painting.

In school they teach us that that art has to be done using certain techniques. To draw properly means adhering to principles of perspective, light and shade, figure drawing… And little by little, for most of us, the joy drains away. One of the good things about getting older is when you realise that “it ‘aint necessarily so.”

'The Rainbow', Grandma Moses, 1961
‘The Rainbow’, Grandma Moses, 1961

Two of the naive painters I most enjoy are Henri Rousseau, he of the prowling tigers and fabulously exotic jungle foliage, and Grandma Moses, former farm girl who started painting in her seventies and charmed America with her quirky depictions of bygone rural life. From Beryl Cook’s fat ladies to Lowry’s ‘matchstick men,’ naive art dances to a different drum.