Realism Art

Realism in the arts is the attempt to represent subject matter truthfully, without artificiality and avoiding artistic conventions, implausible, exotic and supernatural elements. Realism has been prevalent in the arts at many periods, and is in large part a matter of technique and training, and the avoidance of stylization. In the visual arts, illusionistic realism is the accurate depiction of lifeforms, perspective, and the details of light and colour. Realist works of art may emphasize the mundane, ugly or sordid, such as works of social realism, regionalism, or kitchen sink realism. There have been various realism movements in the arts, such as the opera style of verismo, literary realism, theatrical realism and Italian neorealist cinema. The realism art movement in painting began in France in the 1850s, after the 1848 Revolution. The realist painters rejected Romanticism, which had come to dominate French literature and art, with roots in the late 18th century.

Realism or naturalism as a style meaning the honest, unidealizing depiction of the subject, can of course be used in depicting any type of subject, without any commitment to treating the typical or everyday. Despite the general idealism of classical art, this too had classical precedents, which came in useful when defending such treatments in the Renaissance and Baroque. Demetrius of Alopece was a 4th-century BCE sculptor whose work (all now lost) was said to prefer realism over ideal beauty, and during the Ancient Roman Republic even politicians preferred a truthful depiction in portraits, though the early emperors favoured Greek idealism. Goya’s portraits of the Spanish royal family represent a sort of peak in the honest and downright unflattering portrayal of important persons.

The Realist movement began in the mid-19th century as a reaction to Romanticism and History painting. In favor of depictions of ‘real’ life, the Realist painters used common laborers, and ordinary people in ordinary surroundings engaged in real activities as subjects for their works. Its chief exponents were Gustave Courbet, Jean-François Millet, Honoré Daumier, and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. According to Ross Finocchio, formerly of the Department of European Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Realists used unprettified detail depicting the existence of ordinary contemporary life, coinciding in the contemporaneous naturalist literature of Émile Zola, Honoré de Balzac, and Gustave Flaubert.

In the 19th century “Naturalism” or the “Naturalist school” was somewhat artificially erected as a term representing a breakaway sub-movement of Realism, that attempted (not wholly successfully) to distinguish itself from its parent by its avoidance of politics and social issues, and liked to proclaim a quasi-scientific basis, playing on the sense of “naturalist” as a student of Natural history, as the biological sciences were then generally known. The originator of the term was the French art critic Jules-Antoine Castagnary, who in 1863 announced that: “The naturalist school declares that art is the expression of life under all phases and on all levels, and that its sole aim is to reproduce nature by carrying it to its maximum power and intensity: it is truth balanced with science”. Émile Zola adopted the term with a similar scientific emphasis for his aims in the novel. Much Naturalist painting covered a similar range of subject matter as that of Impressionism, but using tighter, more traditional brushwork styles, and in landscapes often with more gloomy weather.