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09-Jul-2020 21:13

A commonplace of African art criticism has been to identify particular styles according to supposedly tribal names—for example, Asante, Kuba, or Nuba.

The concept of tribe is problematic, however, and has generally been discarded.

Another misapprehension is that in the West art is created for art’s sake, while in precolonial Africa art was solely functional.

The motive for the creation of any work of art is inevitably complex, in Africa as elsewhere, and the fact that most of the sculpted artifacts known from Africa were made with some practical use in mind (whether for ritual or other purposes) does not mean that they could not simultaneously be valued as sources of aesthetic pleasure.

Moreover, the very idea of tribe is an attempt to impose identity from the outside.

The Western separation of fine art from the lowlier craft (i.e., useful skill) came out of a sequence of social, economic, and intellectual changes in Europe that did not occur in Africa before the colonial period at the very earliest.

This separation, therefore, cannot be applied without qualification to African traditions of precolonial origin.

More often than not, a work of African art combines several or all of these elements.

Similarly, there are full-time and part-time artists; there are artists who figure in the political establishment and those who are ostracized and despised; and some art forms can be made by anyone, while others demand the devotion of an expert.

Moreover, the very idea of tribe is an attempt to impose identity from the outside.

The Western separation of fine art from the lowlier craft (i.e., useful skill) came out of a sequence of social, economic, and intellectual changes in Europe that did not occur in Africa before the colonial period at the very earliest.

This separation, therefore, cannot be applied without qualification to African traditions of precolonial origin.

More often than not, a work of African art combines several or all of these elements.

Similarly, there are full-time and part-time artists; there are artists who figure in the political establishment and those who are ostracized and despised; and some art forms can be made by anyone, while others demand the devotion of an expert.

It is also often assumed that the African artist is constrained by tradition in a way contrasting with the freedom given to the Western artist.