The culture is a many-sided phenomenon with different ways of being expressed. Art, in turn, is its most powerful and influential feature that reflects various sides of life and gives special meaning to each of them. Different kinds of art influence each other and many new art traditions take the old features and add them to the new trends. It can be explained by the desire of the artists to give a new form to the art and to show it from a different point of view. Thus, in Russian culture, famous for its rich folklore that includes numerous legends, fairy-tales, songs, etc., the phenomenon of primitivism appeared — the new trend which relies on the folk and ethnic traditions. This paper focuses on the comparison of both kinds of art and on the importance of the influence of folklore on Russian primitivism’s development, since they are inextricably connected.

Main Concepts

Folklore is the concept that can hardly be named as some specific part or type of art. It is known that musical and poetic arts, as a rule, exist in the oral form, passed through generations and changing slightly from one carrier to another. However, folklore contains something more than just melodies or fairytales, since there is a wisdom hidden in the lyrics and stories. Folklore can be called as the root of the entire concept of art, and it is the reason why it influences different kinds of art through time so significantly. Folklore is an international term of English origin that firstly appeared in 1846, created by William Thomson (Sommer & Quinlan, 2009). Its literal meaning implies folk wisdom, folk knowledge, and points at the various expressions of ethnic spiritual culture. In Russia, a lot of other terms were also added, such as folk poetic art, folk poetry, and folk literature. The name ‘verbal art of people' emphasizes the oral nature of folklore in the ways it differs from written literature. The name ‘folk-poetic art’ refers to the artistry which distinguishes the folkloric piece from the set of beliefs, customs, and rituals. This designation puts folklore at the level of other forms of folk art and fiction.

Primitivism is based on a simplification of life and of the world in whole. The significant characteristic of this kind of art is seeking to look at the world through the eyes of a child, ignoring the ‘adult’ complexity. Black and white, good and evil in people in general and in the society in particular have been sharply and easily demarcated. Primitivism asserts that the world is complicated, and one should look at it from the simplified point of view in order to make it clearer. Primitivism is an atavistic longing for the past and a pre-civilized way of life (Primitivism and the Avant-Garde, 2015). This desire is portrayed in the legends of the burdened Golden Ages, and it is mentioned by the Bible and by different ancient authors. By applying naive viewing of the world, a person looks for the lost innocence of good old days.

Primitivism is constantly present in art, giving the audience an opportunity to get a glimpse of the past. Primitivism stands against civilization and technological progress, and it exalts the nature and the connection of a man with it. It portrays the time of men returning to the easy existence of monkeys, as free as the nature created them. Also, primitivism is against industrialization and progress, and it believes that being savages in the forest is preferable to people who live in a civilized way in the urban environment, under the oppressing laws of slavery. Thus, one can notice a strong connection to the historical or social events in primitivism, when the folklore pieces describe certain scenes and evoke certain reactions within the audience.

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Folklore and Primitivism Art

Folklore reveals a synthetic art, since there are many elements combined in it, such as verbal, musical, theatrical ones, and others. This complex form of art is closely connected with folk life and rituals. It is no coincidence that the first Russian scientists studied folklore thoroughly, recording not only works of verbal art, but also paying attention to various ethnographic details and realities of peasant life. Folklore is verbal art, and it can be viewed as giving birth to other styles, since it keeps changing from generation to generation. At the same time, it has its own specific features, such as syncretism, traditionalism, anonymity, variability, and improvisation.

While being called primitivism, this form of art can hardly be named as the carrier of such concept, since it appeared as the revitalizing cultural feature. It was not meant to teach people about the past, but to give a new appearance to the art in whole. Primitivism does not depict a particular character or reveal some positive or negative characteristics, and instead, it gives a different, simplified form to the events and heroes.

Painters, poets, thinkers, and scientists of the early twentieth century were fascinated with the theory of relativity, the search for the fourth dimension, the discoveries of psychoanalysis, logical positivism, and incredible power, drawn by primordial sources, primordial forms, and gray antiquity. The process of creation of a new reality in the work of art, the artistic cosmogenesis, is mostly uninterrupted, focused on the intense search for the first elements of figurative language. Masters of avant-garde were also captivated by the notion of the ‘primitives’, which resulted in the creation of African masks and sculptures inspired by the art of primitive peoples, as well as by the constant interest in archaic Greece and the Etruscans. These factors are also the reason why folklore genres reflect ancient ritual performances, such as clownery, circus, puppet theater, and pantomime. To demonstrate an increased attention to the art of Egypt, Ancient East, romantic art, and Old Russian icons, the samples far from primitivism, but retaining the charm of the ‘wrong’ non-classical perception were created. Primitivism is inherent in the naive vision of technically simple concepts and images, characterized by the roughness of the style and the seemingly insufficient training of the artist.

Primitivism tries to capture the main outlines of a complex world and to express it in joyful and understandable colors and tunes. Primitivism is a countercurrent to reality — the world is becoming more and more complicated, and the artist simplifies it. In primitivism, self-realized artists are often self-taught.

Folklore and Primitivism Music

Folk music is one of the main branches of music, ranging from pop music to classical and passed through the oral traditions. The folk music is not recorded and not composed — it is learned by heart, by listening to other musicians, and its carriers are not professional musicians, but self-taught people. Passed from performer to performer, folk songs gain many varieties. The given definition sets folk music apart from other music styles, underlying its non-urban, village characteristics and primitive playing methods. The folk music can be defined through the connection with a particular ethnic community where it exists. Such music is usually developed beyond church and school — for example, the songs of Russian people appeared from the folklore of Slavic tribes of Kievan Rus (Koren, n.d.). It is known that at that time, several nationalities could live in one territory at once, which was reflected in people’s musical culture. Initially, Russian folk songs could sound during meaningful ceremonies, such as weddings. There were also known songs reflecting specific historical events, called ‘epic’, and other songs, in which people tried to convey their emotional state.

Of the old musical instruments used by Russian people, there are the toot, the harp, the horn, and others. All of them looked more like household things, designed to help at the farm. For example, the horn and the toot are the most important tools of the shepherds. Unfortunately, the real copies of these musical instruments have not been sufficiently preserved. One of the reasons for it is the fact that in the Middle Ages, songwriters and buffoons were cruelly persecuted and punished, and their musical instruments were ruthlessly destroyed.

A little later, such popular genre as a soldier's song appeared. In these songs, people poured out all of their grief, helping to determine the scale of the tragedy associated with the huge number of ruined human lives. Soldier's songs were the only joy of fighters during the war. Because of them, the soldiers could maintain their morale and remember their loved ones, for whose sake they went to the front.

In general, Russian folk music primarily includes songs, while instrumental support fades into the background. It is important for a Russian person to hear words that resonate with the state of their soul. They do not need the rhythm all that much — the most important thing for them is to reflect the bottomless grief or inexpressible joy of certain event. In the past, people’s songs came from the heart, meaning that they were natural, vivid, and lively. It was impossible not to feel this mood.

Today, the musical culture of Russian people has changed. Often, the dance component of musical composition assumes the first position — however, it does not signify the deterioration or decline of general cultural development. On the contrary, the rapidity of the changing life events leads to the fact that music now follows more dynamic landmarks.

Folklore art, including songs, poetry, and literature in general, does not have a specific author, but is created by folk. In regard to Russian fairytales, the involvement and embodiment of different heroes possessing the illuminative function can be observed. The preconditions for the emergence of folklore were formed in the primitive communal system, together with the beginning of the formation of art. The art of the ancient world was inherent in utilitarianism, conveying the desire to influence the nature and human affairs. The oldest folklore was in a syncretic state — the state of cohesion and indivisibility. Art was not yet separated from other types of spiritual activity, and it existed in conjunction with other types of spiritual consciousness. Later, the state of syncretism was followed by the allocation of artistic creativity, along with other forms of social consciousness, creating an independent field of spiritual activity.

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Folklore art is created anonymously, meaning that the authors are people who want to depict the reality the way they see it. At the same time, many art pieces are created on the traditional basis. The most significant peculiarity of the folklore is the absence of famous names, since everyone can be an author. Nobody knows who composed the simple and naive songs that reflect the inner and outer sides of life of people or tribes so artfully and vividly. A song is passed from generation to generation and it changes with time — it might become shorter, then longer, then it might be remade or connected with other songs, resulting in the appearance of the poems.

Usually, the information about the author of folk song or poem is lost or simply unknown. The structure of the pieces of folk art does not require an author — in folkloric works, there can be a performer or a narrator who represent an element of the artistic structure. Traditional succession covers certain historical periods of different centuries. Folklore arises from memorable sources, and it is transmitted from memory or from mouth to mouth, since memory is not always sufficient. However, both ways help to convey a considerable layer of understanding that dominated in a specific period of time. Each folklore art piece, particularly a song, is carried within the limits of generally accepted traditions, based on predecessors, repeating, altering, and adding the new components. In literature, there are a writer and a reader, and in folklore, there are a performer and a listener. Folklore always contains some kind of depiction of the time and its distinctive peculiarities. For these reasons, folklore is called the popular mass art. Although it does not have individual authors, there are many talented artists and creators who possess the usual traditional methods of talking and singing. According to the thoughts and feelings expressed in the pieces, folklore’s content is sharply national. Also, taking into consideration the form of content transmission and the fact that folklore is national in style, it bears a collective nature. Relying on traditions is the important and basic feature of folklore.

Furthermore, taking into account how the content is passed, undergoing various changes, it is logical that improvisation is another distinctive feature of folk music. It is also directly related to the variability of the lyrics. In this context, improvisation means the creation of a folk song or its parts immediately while playing and singing it, though this feature is more typical of lamentations. However, improvisation does not contradict the traditions in any way, and it can be found in certain artistic frameworks.

Similar to literature, folklore is the art of words, and it gives grounds to the existence of such literary terms as epic, lyric, and drama. Each literary genre encompasses a group of the pieces that possess certain characteristics. The folklore history depicts the change of its genres, and the genre framework has greater stability in folklore than in literature. New genre in folklore arise not as a result of the creative activity of individuals, as it happens in literature, but rather, they are supported by the entire mass of participants in the collective creative process. Therefore, their change occurs in compliance with the impact of historical events. At the same time, genres in folklore are not immutable. They arise, develop, and disappear, being replaced by others. For example, epics originated from Ancient Rus, developed in the Middle Ages, and in the 19th century, they became gradually forgotten and then disappeared entirely. With the changes in conditions of the existence, many genres are being destroyed and forgotten — however, it does not indicate the decline of the folk art. Changes in the genre composition of folklore are a natural consequence of the development of artistic collective creativity.

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The folklore is the art that appeared spontaneously, and it constantly developed, gaining new forms by being passed through the time by different carriers, who changed the songs and gave them new melodies, adding lyrics and applying different methods of playing music.

Primitivism, on the other hand, did not appear naturally and spontaneously as folklore — instead, it was created artificially, playing the role of response to the old and ambiguous desire to go back to the carefree existence of the past. Thus, the differences between the directions of both kinds of art are obvious. Folklore comes from the traditions, beliefs, and spiritual culture, unlike primitivism. Another difference between folklore and primitivism lies in the sources used in producing the art pieces, whether it is a song or a fairytale. Thus, the art of folklore and its plots were mostly taken from real life, giving the characters special characteristics based on the beliefs and moral norms, with their definitions of good and bad. Considering the details, it is possible to make a conclusion that these two forms of art kinds are difficult to compare, since they reveal the different concepts related to their nature.

Primitivism in music does not have the same divergences in its conceptual expression as it happens in paintings or literature. Simplification is the reaction to the overrefinement of impressionism. The primitivistic tunes revolve around one main note — however, the primitivistic music cannot be regarded as something simple. It often carries the characteristics of the impressionistic melodies. Massive chords are accompanied by percussive effects, moving to stronger impulsions in a tonal center.

Furthermore, it is important to notice the role of folklore in primitivism development, since the composers were inspired by Southeastern Europe and Asiatic Russia culture while creating their music. The folk music with its rhythms enriched musical compositions, adding new feelings and fantasies to them. For this style, the most significant pieces are Allegro Barbaro by Bartok and Le Sacre du Printemps by Stravinsky (Machlis, 1979). Stravinsky tried to unite the savage and urban moods together and show their similarities. About Le Sacre du Printemps, Eliot wrote that "despairing noises" were transformed into music. All these noises of machinery, underground railway, and motor horns are similar to barbarian echoes (Eliot, 1921). Naturally, such music finds its followers as well as those who dislike it.

Furnishing music is a musical art created by the French composer Eric Sati in the beginning of 20th century. The main principle of inventing new music was the arbitrary repeatability of one or more sound cells, or thematic phrases, for an unlimited number of times (Bowen, 2015). Understood and appreciated by no one and supported by nobody from the contemporary time, "furniture music" had remained mostly forgotten for a long time, until it was put in the foundation of a new avant-garde trend, which started to be called "minimalism" in 1960. Thus, unlike folklore that has always been popular and served as the inspirational source, the primitivism music did not find as many followers as could be expected. Paradoxically, such styles are difficult for perception and are not close to people, despite the initial intention of being simple and offering to look at the world through the child’s eyes.


Folklore and primitivism are difficult to compare in regard to the difference of their concepts. The main feature serving as a reason for this difficulty is the fact the primitivism artists were inspired by folklore with its richness of characters. Folklore had appeared much earlier than primitivism, and that is why the comparison of these kinds of art is unequal and one-sided, in spite of range of similarities between them. In the 20th century, when primitivism had only emerged, it could hardly be called as something new, since it represented a transition between the epochs and was not viewed as an art that constantly developed and changed, unlike that of folklore. Moreover, folklore is still popular, since it inspires even modern artists to create something exciting and worth attention. In this aspect, primitivism failed to dominate due to the reasons mentioned above. Thus, folklore has all the means to develop further, while trends such as primitivism will appear and fade due to their instability and transitional nature.

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