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.
INSTITUTE OF HIGH CULTURE
CENTRE OF PENINSULAR ETHNOLOGY STUDIES
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