John Berger on Tradition, Compulsion, and Outsiders

November 20, 2010

“But then one has to ask: why does he refuse the tradition? And the answer is only partly that he was born far away from that tradition.  The effort necessary to begin painting or sculpting, in the social context in which he finds himself, is so great that it could well include visiting the museums.  But it never does, at least at the beginning.  Why? Because he knows already that his own lived experience which is forcing him to make art has no place in tradition.  How does he know this with out visiting the museums? He knows it because his whole experience is one of being excluded from the exercise of power in his society, and he realises from the compulsion he now feels, that art too has a kind of power.  The will of primitives derives from faith in their own experience and a profound scepticism about society as they have found it.
I hope I have now made clearer why the “clumsiness” of primitive art is the precondition of its eloquence.  What it is saying could never be said with any ready-made skills.  For what it is saying was never meant, according to the cultural class system, to be said.”

1976
“About Looking” p. 68
John Berger

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