The occasion of the Centennial inspired retrospection and commemoration, even as the new infrastructure of an expanding and consolidating nation was being put into place. While much of the art of this period was both stylistically and temperamentally conservative, artists also took steps toward new modes of representation, as can be seen in Homer's and Saint-Gaudens's combinations of realism infused with symbol; in Wohaw's condensation of historical complexities into memorably terse images; or in Tanner's transformation of race stereotypes into a poignant essay on African American tradition.
The 1870s, however, was a period not only of national introspection, but also a time of growing cosmopolitanism, as the inward-turning and nation-bound attitudes of antebellum culture gave way to increasing international travel and study. After this time, artists, designers, and architects would look to a vastly enlarged global arena of forms and motifs, opened up by travel and by a series of World's Fairs that fueled curiosity and encouraged international exchange. Gradually the nation's artists would come to think of themselves as citizens of a wider world.