Realism, also known as naturalism was an art movement that started in the 19th century as a way for artists to reject Romanticism, putting an emphasis on representing reality as it truly is instead of idealizing it. Realism was a revolutionary movement that transformed the Western art world, bringing attention to subjects and forms outside high art traditions and portraying contemporary situations with as much truth and accuracy as possible. 


Realist artists should join together in a worldwide effort… Sharing it with each other and teaching it – that is the key to the success and never-ending beauty and harmony of Realism.

—Igor Babailov

Where Realism Came From

The Realist Art movement began in France in the early 1850s right after the 1848 revolts against European Monarchies. As a direct result of the revolution, Realist artists started replacing the idealistic and highly-sentimental ideas of high art with real, life-like works, depicting people of all classes in everyday situations. Realism merged art and life in the truest sense, representing the average, working-class individual as someone worthy of being an artistic subject. Realist artists used dark, almost-gritty color palettes to depict the harsh truths of life, providing social, cultural, economic, and political commentary through their work.

Caravaggio’s hyper-realism, a magician’s conjuring trick, I have come to regard as a perfect metaphor for great art, which declines to make obvious its deepest truths, leaving us to decipher them if we can.

—Michael Kimmelman

Realisms Impact on Art

Some important Realist artists included people like Gustave Courbet and Jean-Francois Millet who inspired other artists of the time to let go of traditional notions of perfecting lines and forms in paintings. Instead, Realist artists preferred creating almost ugly and unpleasant visuals to depict the reality of life. Many Realist paintings are set in farms, fields, and feature laborers engaging in everyday work. However, these artists often created their works on grand scales and large canvases that were traditionally meant for painting historical and religious subjects, completely changing the way people perceived and used art. Realist paintings have a reputation for being so accurate that they almost resemble photographs, capturing real moments in time.

Hyperrealism is both Breathtaking, and Boring. I want to see the Artist’s hand in the work of art. I want to see the essence and the spirit of the subject, and I want to see a celebration of the Medium in the work of art.

—Janet Badger

Realisms Impact on Film

While realism was initially limited to the medium of painting, it slowly made its way into cinema as well, where filmmakers used narrative and visuals to portray life as it really is, with simple, believable plots, location shooting, the use of amateur actors rather than big stars and low budget production costs. Filmmakers like Satyajit Ray were considered to be the pioneers of realist cinema. The realist movement in film gave rise to the modern ‘slice of life’ genre where filmmakers worked to bring intimate, grounded stories to the screen, helping audiences connect to the narrative and the characters on a more personal level. Classical Hollywood Cinema holds the reputation for being true to Realist frameworks, depicting simple, easy-to-follow stories and using continuity to produce a natural flow in the narrative.

I am not interest in showing that I can paint every hair on a person’s head, but I would like the viewer to wonder how I painted it so realistically without painting every hair.

—Bob Gerbracht

Realisms Impact on Literature

When the Realist movement began, many schools of writing also adapted the primary ideas of the art movement to give rise to what we now know as literary realism that focused on representing the middle-class. Realist novels focused more on characters rather than plot, with writers strictly moving away from using complex language, building fantastical settings, and writing epics surrounding love and war. The Literary Realism movement resulted in the production of works like Jane Eyre and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, featuring complex characters, themes of labor, class, struggle, and a detailed portrayal of reality.


The realist painter is always treading a tightrope between two worlds – the conscious mind and its perception of reality. But are these really different worlds? And what exactly is reality?

—Gwenneth Barth

Realisms Impact on Pop Culture

Realism gave rise to one of the most popular genres of recent times that has taken over movies, books, and TV shows in the modern era. Magical realism was a direct reaction to the Realist movement that focused on depicting ordinary people living ordinary lives through artistic mediums. Magical Realism emerged as a way of creating art by intertwining subtle elements of surrealism in the ordinary world with works like Harry Potter and The Wizard of Oz inserting fantastical elements into the mundane world. Just like the Realist movement, magical realism also focused on critiquing the social order and empowering the common people by making us question the world we live in.

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