Letter from Ernesto Veiga de Oliveira

In reply to Ernesto de Sousa's "report for the fourth quarter of 1966"
March 11th, 1967

​Published in Ernesto de Sousa and Folk Art: Around the exhibition “Barristas e Imaginários” [catalogue], Guimarães, CIAJG, 2014.


Lisbon, March 11, 1967

My Dear Friend,

Please find attached the manuscript of your report for the fourth quarter of 1966, which I have read with great care and interest. Beyond the purely aesthetic considerations of naive art – that raises so many questions – your extremely lucid and comprehensive analysis focuses on some fundamental concepts that we currently  deal with in ethnology (without, nevertheless, always having annotated them with 
sufficient accuracy). Your work is exercised with illuminating penetration on the 
basis of a broad data sample, founded on solid reading, which nonetheless doesn't 
tarnish the originality of your personal vision and speculation.

The misconception in the definition of "folk art" (and even of the term "folk" or 
"popular" in genera!), that is characterized in the Expressionist exaggeration of a 
"naive" situation of a first encounter, and established in function of objective relations – the "country dweller" and above all the "cultural situation of orality" – 
is identified in your work in terms that can offer a more rigorous delineation, and 
therefore better usable in science.

I'm extremely interested by your observations on the characterization of this "art 
of popular expression", in terms of its relations with cultured forms, and in the 
two planes, synchronic and diachronic, which enable a more enlightened approach to such an uncertain and elusive definition of that which is "primitive".

In particular, I'd like to highlight your excellent critique of "imitation" and the 
deeper meaning of its role in preparation of the folk product, and the question of 
the relationship between art and popular crafts, from folk art has been proclaimed 
to playa key role. In particular, your affirmation of the creative power that is even 
found in imitation practiced by the rural artisan, who nonetheless works within 
the limits of objective end subjective reality before which he behaves passively, 
and which corresponds to what we understand by local "tradition" or "culture". 
In your work, emphasis is therefore placed, with particular acuity, on one of the 
key facets of the problem of the relations between the individual personality, affirmed via personal invention, and the social element of the psyche, that offers 
such fruitful perspectives in explaining man's

I sincerely and warmly congratulate you for your latest work. I was particularly 
pleased to find many of my own concerns and ways of seeing in your work, in 
addition to your understanding of our country and its people, from the broadest 
perspective of universal man. Furthermore, if your ultimate goal is to "discover 
the unpolished outlook as one of the faces of the infinite", and the "infinite via 
the ways of the earth" – i.e. the "rough reality" of your magnificent quote from 
Rimbaud – isn't all this a programme of man's complete knowledge, like that 
which we seek in parallel via his cultural behaviour?

For all these reasons and for many more revealed to us via your work, that treads 
such an arduous new path, awakening many new perspectives, please accept 
my sincerest admiration and gratitude.

Your very devoted friend,
Ernesto Veiga de Oliveira