In an effort to create a new type of universal art idiom, many midcentury American artists looked to native or, more pejoratively, primitive cultures for inspiration. Totemic figures from Oceania, African and Polynesian masks, ancient pictograms, and symbols culled from pottery and cave paintings were all confidently plucked from their cultural contexts and incorporated into contemporary works. Artists coupled these motifs with expressionistic brushstrokes and drips and splatters of paint, a combinative strategy of symbolism and process they hoped would help viewers tap into a Jungian collective unconscious and would reflect a universal spirituality devoid of specific signifiers. Critics considered these works fresh and positive, exuding an energy suitable for the postwar era.
Butt CA. Cave DwellingsDeforrest Judd. JAMA. 2016;316(5):480-481. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.14408