SOME DEFINITIONS OF FOLKLORE
American Folklife Preservation Act (Public Law 94-201), 1976
"American Folklife" means the traditional expressive culture shared within the various groups in the United States: familial, ethnic, occupational, religious, regional. Expressive culture includes a wide range of creative and symbolic forms such as custom, belief, technical skill, language, literature, art, architecture, music, play, dance, drama, ritual, pageantry, and handicraft. Generally, these expressions are learned orally, by imitation, or in performance, and are maintained or perpetuated without formal instruction or institutional direction.
B. A. Botkin, from the Supplementary Instructions to the American Guide Manual: Guide for Folklore Studies, Federal Writers Project
Folklore is a body of traditional belief, custom and expression, handed down largely by word of mouth and circulating chiefly outside of commercial and academic means of communication and instruction. Every group bound together by common interests and purposes, whether educated or uneducated, rural or urban, possess a body of traditions which may be called its folklore. Into these traditions enter many elements, individual, popular and even "literary," but all are absorbed and assimilated through repetition and variation into a pattern which has value and continuity for the group as a whole.
Marius Barbeau, from his definition of folklore in Maria Leach's Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend
Whenever a lullaby is sung to a child, whenever a ditty, a riddle, a tongue-twister, or a counting-out rhyme is used in the nursery or at school, whenever sayings, proverbs, fables, noodle-stories, folktales...are retold; whenever, out of habit or inclination, the folk indulge in songs and dances, in ancient games, in merrymaking, to mark the passing of the year or the usual festivities, whenever a mother shows her daughter how to sew, knit, spin, weave, embroider, make a coverlet, braid a sash, bake an old-fashioned pie, whenever a village craftsman...trains his apprentice in the use of tools, shows him how to cut a mortise and peg in a tenon, how to raise a frame house or a barn, how to string a snowshoe...Then we have folklore in its own perennial domain, at work as ever, alive and shifting, always apt to grasp and assimilate new elements on its way.
Alan Dundes, fromAWhat is Folklore,@ the introduction to his The Study of Folklore, 1965
Ait@ in games), and nursery rhymes. The list of folklore forms also includes games; gestures; symbols; prayers (e.g., graces); practical jokes; folk etymologies; food recipes; quilt and embroidery designs; house, barn and fence types; street vendor=s cries; and even the traditional conventional sounds used to summon animals or to give them commands. There are such minor forms as mnemonic devices (e.g., the name Roy G. Biv to remember the colors of the spectrum in order), envelope sealers (e.g., SWAKBSealed With A Kiss), and the traditional comments made after body emissions (e.g., after burps or sneezes). There are such major forms as festivals and special day (or holiday) customs (e.g., Christmas, Halloween, and birthday.)
Folklore includes myths, legends, folktales, jokes, proverbs, riddles, chants, charms, blessings, curses, oaths, insults, retorts, taunts, teases, toasts, tongue-twisters, and greeting and leave-taking formulas (e.g., See you later, alligator). It also includes folk costume, folk dance, folk drama (and mime), folk art, folk belief (or superstition), folk medicine. folk instrumental music (e.g., fiddle tunes), folksongs (e.g., lullabies, ballads), folk speech (e.g., slang), folk similes (e.g., blind as a bat), folk metaphors (e.g., to paint the town red), and names (e.g., nicknames and place names). Folk poetry ranges from oral epics to autograph-book verse, epitaphs, latrinalia (writings on the walls of public bathrooms), limericks, ball-bouncing rhymes, jump-rope rhymes, dandling rhymes (to bounce children on the knee), counting-out rhymes (to determine who will be
Robert Wildhaber, definition of folk art from Swiss Folk Art, catalog of an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution, 1969
This exhibition has been assembled by a folklorist, applying principles which for him are basic to his field. In his judgment, folk art has nothing to do with "art" in the accepted sense of the word. To state the case in somewhat exaggerated fashion: a work of art is a unique creation of an individual. Its only purpose is to express ideas and emotions in visual form, and thereby (hopefully) arouse equivalent ideas and emotions in the viewer. Folk art does not have to meet aesthetic standards; being part of folklore, it is has to be judged by criteria that pertain to this branch or knowledge. Folklore deals with the traditional behavior of a group. By "group" we mean either an ethnic unit, the inhabitants of a geographically self-contained region, members of the same craft or professions, associations of people linked by age or other characteristics they hold in common. Whenever it becomes customary within such a group to decorate objects of any kind in a traditional manner, we speak of folk art in the true sense of the term. "Beautiful," as folklore interprets the word, only means that an object and its decoration follow the traditional formulae of a group. The decorations are not, therefore, "freely" invented forms of an individual artist, but are expressions of allegiance to the community. The decorations themselves may be traced to very different sources; they may merely reflect the desire to beautify an object; they may have apotropaic intention, or may have been derived from symbols of salvation, e.g., if they are Christian they may invoke the Divine blessing or the intercession and protection of the saints.
An exhibition of folk art understood in this sense should not include precious objects of high aesthetic worth, but the selection should reflect the traditional and typical objects typical of a group. There are admittedly gradations which are caused by the varying talent of the individual and his degree of aesthetic sense. Once object may be better made and more richly decorated than the next one. As a result, the inhabitants of a village or of a valley will frequently go to the man who can do better and more attractive work than they themselves could. They will go to the village cabinetmaker, the mask carver or the painter of votive pictures; to the teacher who can produce a "correct" godfather's letter, or writes an appropriate wedding motto, and to the peasant or herdsman who can carve a love token more pleasingly. In all these cases, we speak of "folk artists," whether or not their names are known to us. We must not forget, however, that the quality of their work is not assessed by their ability to create something unique, but by their reaffirmation of traditional forms.