The Art of Realism: An Overview
What is realism? Realism, sometimes referred to as naturalism, in art is the attempt to depict subject matter realistically, with little or no added artificiality and staying away from supernatural and fantastical elements. The word is derived from the word ‘realm’, which in the context of art indicates a wide range of landscapes and natural scenes including everyday life. In the art world, realism is used as an adjective meaning realistic, original, or inspired. Some modern artists use the word to describe their paintings and some other types of visual art.
The origins of realism art can be traced back to the early nineteenth century, when European artists started using the term to describe paintings they produced that were more akin to reality than fantasy. When discussing paintings that mimicked real subjects, such as nature scenes, they were criticized for glamorizing and objectifying subjects. In response, the French linguist, Albert Camus, defined realism as the search for the authentic. Camus believed that real subjects, real landscapes and towns, and real events, were preferable to idealized ones. This led to the first distinctions between reality and value, with realist art striving for truth and value, and the later, Romantic, art, often romanticizing the ordinary people and natural scenes found in everyday life.
The Romanticists are often credited with first painting the phrase’realism art in France, although this credit is sometimes wrongly given to Jean Baptiste Copley. According to historians, he saw the term realism as a blend of three words, parlementaire (artistic) parlementaire (a form of nominal government), and roman (of ancient Rome). Parlementaire refers to the French government’s censorship of literature and artistic activities during the early era of the Revolution. Parlementaire’s style was characterized by bold, whimsical paintings portraying everyday subjects like barns and fruit trees. Roman painting is often thought to have begun during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte. Impressionism, another type of art movement first began in Europe during the late nineteenth century, was a visual style of fine arts which emphasized the effect of light and colors on the viewer.
Impressionism and its visual equivalent called impressionist art, are closely related to Romanticism. Impressionism first began as an American reaction to the Impressionist movement in European art circles. Many of the characteristics of Romanticism are also present in Impressionist artwork, including the focus on everyday objects and subjects, the symbolism of nature and mankind, the use of color, and the disregard of any pretense of importance of the subject matter. Some of the most prominent Impressionist artists include Paul Gauguin, Honor Daumier, Maxime Pecaut, and Edouard Manet.
Realism is typically considered a form of art that depicts the truth, but this is not always the case. It should be noted that in many cases, when a work of art is considered to be realistic it is actually seen as part of the larger field of expressive art that includes figurative works, plays, and motion pictures. The majority of modern works of art do not depict anything as objective as the world portrayed in reality.
Surrealism was a later movement within the realism movement. It depicted scenes using objects and locations that were not part of reality. Surrealism is commonly found in abstract paintings and prints, and it was used to mark the opening between reality and the mind’s eye. This was a major departure from the earlier art movements, and it is often credited with paving the way for cubists such as Picasso and Moenco to create more realistic and meaningful images.