Artists work reflected their ambivalence about the modern, as represented by the railroad, the big city, and the factory.
While the impressionists and realists of the mid-nineteenth century had largely celebrated progress, the painters and novelists of the century's end took a darker view. They turned away from enlightened clarity and descriptive prose, searching for more instinctual truths.
Now the primitive came to symbolize both Europe's lost innocence and the forces that reason could not control, such as sexual desires, religious fervor, or brute strength. The painter who led the way in incorporating these themes into modern art was Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), who found in African art forms a radically new way of expressing human sentiments that was shocking to most European and American observers. Against conservative criticism, Picasso and his contemporaries claimed that African and Oceanic forms were both beautiful and more instinctual than overly refined western forms.