Primitivism as an art movement can be seen as a reaction to the Enlightenment and it drew heavily from Rousseau’s concept of the noble savage –the embodiment of Nature, passion, emotion, instinct and mysticism.
Primitivism could also be seen as a European Art Form inspired by Oriental art. These conventions were first developed by Europeans and Euro-Americans who were dissillusioned with the constricting nature of European culture, and tried to find fulfillment in other parts of the world. What emerged was a simplistic understanding of other cultures, structured by the primitivists' own desires, their lack of knowledge of other societies (e.g. African), and the racism of European society. Their work has contributed to an ongoing belief in the multitude of non-western societies as fundamentally similar in their "primitiveness," supposedly meaning their irrationality, closeness to nature, free sexuality, freedom, proclivity to violence, "mysticism," etc. Such artists, especially Picasso, are still popularly understood as somehow escaping European conventions and expressing "primal" impulses within themselves.
Matisse and Picasso were both interested in 'primitive art' but they were attracted to different cultures for different reasons. Picasso’s Spanish heritage meant he was familiar with the simplified, stylized and monumental figures of Iberian sculpture. He was also interested in African art. Although he never visited the continent, he studied objects in the Paris ethnographic museum and made his own versions of totemic African carvings. Picasso was fascinated by their highly stylized representations of the body and also their function as ritual objects. Picasso was very superstitious and he believed in the magical and talisman properties of objects. For this reason he felt a personal affiliation with this aspect of African art.
Picasso as a painter had the innocence and the ability to interpret the most complex images in his own language. He said – “There are painters who transform the sun into a yellow spot, but there are others who, thanks to their art and intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun.”