This is not because of any inherent limitation of African culture but because of the historical conditions under which European cultures arrived at their concept of art.

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Some further general points can be made, however, in regard to the status of precolonial sub-Saharan art.

First, in any African language, a concept of art as meaning something other than skill would be the exception rather than the rule.

Thus, some African art has value as entertainment; some has political or ideological significance; some is instrumental in a ritual context; and some has aesthetic value in itself.

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

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

“Tribal” names, in fact, sometimes refer to the language spoken, sometimes to political entities, and sometimes to other kinds of groupings, yet the boundaries between peoples speaking different languages or acknowledging different chiefs do not necessarily coincide with their respective tribal boundaries.

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.

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.

The popular notion of art in the West, however, is very different, for it is thought to comprise masks and very little else—except, perhaps, “local colour.” This misconception has been enhanced by the aforementioned European concept of fine art, but it may have originated in a dependence, during the first period of Western interest in African art, upon collectible artifacts—some of which (pieces of sculpture, for instance) fitted neatly into the category of fine art, while others (such as textiles and pottery) were dismissed as craftwork.