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Why does everything look dirty and old? What is “primitive” anyway?

If you are asking yourself these types of questions, let me try to explain a bit.

I like to think of “primitive” as an expression of history; generally post industrial revolution. During this time, people didn’t have money to just go out and buy what they wanted or needed; or even the materials to make it.

Instead, they had to make do with what they had.

For instance; using old/ripped clothes to make quilts, or using a glass as a base for a pincushion. Now, we look back at what they had made during the depression; and think of it as works of art; for they are part of our American history. Most pieces look like something a mother had made for her child at a time when the family couldn’t afford to buy a doll or toy.

People who made these items weren’t necessarily skillful at what they did; they were more “works of love” than masterful works of art.

Looking at an item made from this era; you can tell how much care and love was put into every stitch. Each button, each piece of lace or fabric was carefully chosen to complete their design.

Though the original artists may have lacked skill, it takes great skill to replicate their items. What we as modern artists are trying to recreate, is something that was essentially “made from nothing.” So instead of going out to the store and picking out what products we need to accomplish this; we also have to use what we have at hand, or use what we think they might have had; which is far more challenging.

Another hindrance is that primitive art has an old or antique look; and vintage materials are not so readily available. In turn, modern artists have to begin with new materials, and recreating that antique patina can get a little tricky. Each artist has their own recipe for what they may call “the grunging process.” Some recipes will turn a fabric yellow; some make dark splotches... the goal being to make it look worn and old.

But why have we all fallen in love with primitive art?

I think one aspect is that when you look at primitive art; it reminds you of home. It has a distinct feeling to it and you could tell it was handmade with love.

It’s that one teddy bear, or that one doll that was so loved by a child, it was hugged and slept with until it was worn out.

When we see primitive art, we think of our own cherished toys...  it revives our memories, gives us comfort, and it reminds us of the simpler things in life. But most of all; it makes us smile.

~Kristal Norton


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