What is the difference between tribal art and folk art?

Welcome to my post friends, here we will learn about the difference between folk art and tribal art.

India’s cultural heritage is a treasure trove of artistic expressions, and among its distinct art forms, tribal and folk art hold a special place in the art history of India.

With a history spanning centuries and roots deeply embedded in the traditions of various indigenous communities, these art forms provide a unique glimpse into India’s rich past and cultural richness.

In this article, we will delve into some of the most attractive Indian tribal and folk art differences, each carrying its special grace and myth. From the complex Madhubani paintings to the vibrant Gond art.

Indian tribal and folk art are both forms of traditional artistic expression, but they originate from different Indian cultural contexts and communities.

While there are few similarities between the two, several key differences set them apart. Let’s explore the differences between tribal and folk art.

Tribal vs Folk Art: Understanding the Differences in Short

India’s cultural diversity is reflected in the varied art forms of indigenous people and local communities, known as folk and tribal art. Folk and tribal art encompass various forms beyond paintings, including dance, music, metal crafts, pottery, and jewelry.

While folk and tribal art share some similarities, they are distinct in origin, subject matter, depiction, traditions, and techniques.

  • Tribal art is named after the tribal community that creates it, such as Gond Art or Warli Art, while folk art is named after regions or techniques.
  • Tribal art often depicts subjects inspired by nature and daily life, reflecting the tribal community’s close relationship with the natural environment.
  • Folk art revolves around religious themes, deity worship, and community lifestyle, with celebrations and folklore being distinctly local.
  • Tribal art tends to be more unplanned and earthy, while folk art follows a more structured pattern with relatively more rules.
  • Traditionally, folk paintings are created by individuals representing their community’s cultural identity, while tribal paintings are specific to particular tribes.
  • Both tribal and folk art are traditional skills passed down from generation to generation, usually without formal training.
  • Natural colors and handmade canvases are commonly used in both tribal and folk art, reflecting the traditional techniques and materials employed in these artworks.

Below are few different types of tribal art

Pithora paintings

Pithora paintings from Gujarat are vibrant artworks created by Indian tribes like Rathwa, Bhilals, and Nayka. These paintings capture the joy and celebration of the community’s festivals and rituals. These paintings reflect the tribal way of life, beliefs, and celebrations, making them an integral part of tribal art in India.

Often this painting is done on raw silk fabric, Pithora paintings depict everyday life themes with bright colors and intricate designs. They serve as a rich cultural expression and are cherished as symbols of tribal heritage.

Madhubani Paintings

Originating from the Mithila region of Bihar, Madhubani paintings are an alluring art form created primarily by women. These paintings, characterized by difficult patterns and vibrant colors, were once used to beautify the walls of tribal homes. Today, they find their place on artworks, attracting art enthusiasts from around the world.

Artists use natural colorants like turmeric, sandalwood, and charcoal, and traditional tools like fingertips, branches, and nib-pens to create mesmerizing patterns of flora, fauna, and geometrical patterns.

Also Read: मधुबनी पेंटिंग क्या है कितने प्रकार की होती है

Bhil Art

Hailing from the states of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra, Bhil art offers a visual narrative of tribal life. Through brilliant colors and complex detailing, Indian bhil artists portray the changing seasons, natural occurrences, mythological figures, and their immortals.

The Bhil tribal people in India frequently decorate their household items, such as windows and doors, with complexly crafted wooden tribal art, reminiscent of the example portrayed in the image below.

difference between folk art and tribal art

Their use of herbal and vegetable colors, along with acrylic paints, adds a unique touch to this distinctive art form.

Miniature Paintings

Fascinating in their small size and precise detailing, miniature paintings have a history dating back to the Mughal era.

Influenced by Persian art, these paintings flourished during the reigns of Shah Jahan and Akbar and later found a place in Rajasthan’s artistic landscape.

Depicting spiritual concepts and sagas, miniature paintings showcase figures with wide eyes, sharp noses, and elaborate turbans.

Warli Art

One of India’s oldest art styles, Warli art finds its connections back to 2500 BCE and originates from the Warli tribes of the Western Ghats. This art form primarily utilizes circles, triangles, and squares to portray everyday activities like fishing, hunting, and celebrations.

The use of simple shapes and white patterns against a vermilion or black background creates a visually striking and fascinating artistic display.

Also Read: वारली पेंटिंग क्या है कितने प्रकार की है

Gond Art

From the Gondi tribe of Madhya Pradesh comes Gond art, known for its vibrant colors and representation of flora and fauna. Rooted in a deep relationship with nature, Gond art uses materials like charcoal, leaves, and colored dirt to create captivating patterns composed of dots and strokes.

The art style experienced a renaissance led by the acclaimed artist Jangarh Singh Shyam, gaining recognition worldwide in the 1960s.

Tanjore Art

Tanjore Art, also called ‘Thanjavur Art,’ is a traditional form of painting found in various Indian states like West Bengal, Rajasthan, and Gujarat. These paintings describe legendary stories and myths of local heroes, showcasing the rich cultural heritage of India.

One of the finest examples of Tanjore paintings is ‘Religious Paintings with a Royal Heritage,’ which is widely admired across the country. These paintings are adorned with exquisite gold leafwork, vibrant colors, decorative gems, and cut glass, enhancing their beauty and charm.

Kalamkari Art

Kalamkari, meaning “pen drawings,” encompasses two distinct styles – Machilipatnam and Srikalahasti. While Machilipatnam is block-printed, Srikalahasti involves free-flowing art created with a pen on cloth.

These perfect art pieces grace sarees and traditional garments, portraying various themes from nature to mythological tales like the Mahabharata and Ramayana.

Also Read: कलमकारी चित्रकला क्या है जाने कैसे बनाते है

Below are a few different types of Folk art

Papercutting (Jianzhi)

Originating from China, papercutting involves intricately cutting designs and patterns into paper to create fancy artwork. It is a traditional folk art form that often features motifs inspired by nature, mythology, and everyday life.


Quilting is a traditional folk art worked out in many cultures around the world, including the United States, India, and parts of Africa. Quilts are made by sewing collective layers of fabric to create a warm and decorative covering.

Quilting designs vary widely, from geometrical patterns to intricate floral motifs, and often reflect regional traditions and personal stories.


Woodcarving is a folk art form found in numerous cultures globally, including Scandinavia, Africa, and Southeast Asia. It contains carving designs, figures, and patterns into wood using specialized tools.

Woodcarving patterns can range from religious symbols and mythological creatures to everyday objects and scenes from nature. The complex craftsmanship and cultural significance of woodcarving make it a cherished folk art practice in many communities.

Difference between tribal art and folk art

What does tribal art mean?

As the word itself suggests any art that is created by tribal people is called tribal art.

Tribal art points out the traditional artistic aspects created by indigenous peoples or tribal communities. It involves a wide range of artistic forms, including paintings, sculptures, textiles, pottery, masks, and ceremonial objects.

Tribal art is deeply rooted in the cultural, sacred, and social practices of the communities that produce it. One of the distinguishing features of tribal art is its close relationship to its mother nature, mythology, rituals, and everyday life within the community.

It often indicates the collective identity, beliefs, and values of the tribe, serving as a means of communication and safeguarding cultural heritage across generations.

Tribal art varies greatly from one community to another, exhibiting diverse styles, techniques, and motifs that are specific to each culture and region. Examples of tribal art include the difficult wood carvings of the Maori people in New Zealand, the symbolic masks of the Dogon people in Mali, the vibrant textiles of the Kuna people in Panama, and so on.

Tribal art is not only appreciated for its aesthetic good looks but also for its cultural prestige and historical importance. It offers insights into the traditional ways of life, spiritual beliefs, and artistic traditions of indigenous peoples around the world.

Tribal art Origin and Cultural Context

Tribal art is the artistic expression of indigenous communities or tribes living in specific regions or areas. It is deeply rooted in the cultural, religious, and social practices of these communities. The art forms are passed down through breeds and express the unique character and worldview of the tribe.

Tribal art Segregation and Authenticity

Tribal art often develops in remote and isolated regions where these indigenous communities reside. Their relative isolation helps keep the authenticity and traditional techniques of the art form. Tribal art remains largely untouched by external influences and maintains a powerful link to the tribe’s heritage.

Tribal art Subject Matter

The subject matter of tribal art is often symbolic and revolves around the tribe’s beliefs, myth, rituals, and connection to nature. It may depict deities, animals, nature, and daily life, conveying the community’s spiritual and cultural significance.

Materials and Techniques

Tribal art relies on natural materials found in the region, such as clay, wood, natural dyes, and organic dyes. The artistic techniques are handed down orally within the tribe, ensuring the safety of their traditional art forms.

Example of Tribal Art: Warli Art

Warli art is a well-known tribal art form worked out by the Warli tribe in the state of Maharashtra, India. The Warli people have a rich cultural heritage and live in the remote regions of the Western Ghats.

Warli art is characterized by its simplistic and geometric style, with the use of basic shapes like circles, triangles, and lines. The art form predominantly depicts scenes from daily life, nature, and religious rituals.

What does Folk Art mean?

Folk art is a classical visual style that mirrors the collective cultural aesthetics and societal interests of a specific community or geographical area. Handcrafted in nature, folk art can serve both decorative and practical purposes, whether incorporated into daily life or reserved for significant functions.

It may be crafted for communal use within a specific group or created for commercial to generate income. Folk art summarizes a diverse range of artistic mediums, including painting, sculpture, textiles, and crafts, serving as a tangible reflection of shared traditions, narratives, and customs within distinct cultural or ethnic groups.

Community-Based Expression

Folk art is the artistic expression of rural or non-professional artists belonging to a specific cultural community. It represents the artistic custom of a broader rural population rather than a specific tribal group.

Folk art Cultural Heritage and Everyday Life

Folk art is passionately implanted in the everyday life and cultural traditions of the community. It often celebrates festivals, rituals, and community events, making it an essential part of the collective identity.

Folk art Regional Variation

Folk art can vary significantly from one region to another, reflecting the diverse cultural practices and customs of different communities across a country.

Materials and Techniques

Folk art utilizes a wide range of materials and techniques, including pottery, textile art, mural paintings, and craftwork. The artists often use locally available materials and may innovate with new styles while staying true to their cultural heritage.

The Overlapping Nature

While tribal art and folk art have distinct characteristics, there can be some overlap, especially in regions where indigenous communities and rural populations coexist. In such cases, the artistic expressions may be influenced by each other, resulting in a fusion of styles and themes.

Example of Folk Art: Pattachitra Art

Pattachitra art is a form of folk art practiced in the state of Odisha, India. It involves sophisticated and detailed paintings on cloth or palm leaves.

The Pattachitra paintings often depict events from Hindu epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata, as well as mythological stories and religious themes.

Some important tribal artists and their works

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: A famous Native American painter known for her pictures that advocate for Native rights and address social and political issues.
Raven Halfmoon: A Caddo Tribe artist known for her large-scale ceramics that blend traditional Native American imagery with new themes.
Kalam Patua: An eminent artist who restored the dying Kalighat painting tradition in India and introduced contemporary themes to the art form.
Baua Devi: A popular Indian artist from the Mithila region of India, known for her leadership in Madhubani painting and her influence on generations of Madhubani painters.

In Summary

India’s tribal and folk art forms are a testament to the nation’s diverse cultural heritage and artistic cleverness. Each art form has its unique story to tell, reflecting the customs, beliefs, and creativity of indigenous communities.

Saving and appreciating these art forms not only honors the past but also ensures that their beauty and significance continue to thrive in the present and future.

As we celebrate the artistic legacy of Indian tribal and folk art, let us embrace the beauty and richness of these captivating creations. We hope that this exploration has shed light on the vibrant tapestry of art that enriches our cultural landscape.

Thank you for reading our article called Difference between folk and tribal art, and we hope you enjoyed learning about the glamorous world of tribal and folk art. We welcome your comments and feedback, as they help us in our endeavor to share the beauty of these historic artistic styles with a wider audience.

Let us all continue to cherish and support the artistic heritage that connects us to our roots and fosters cultural awareness and appreciation.




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