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The Stone Breakers was a painting by Gustave Courbet, done in 1849. It was lost in a fire, in 1945.
Painting of a young rabbit, by Albrecht Dürer, done in 1502

Realism is a way of portraying or thinking about reality. The word "realism" is used in many liberal arts in many different ways (such as in music, painting, and philosophy). It usually means trying to be true to reality. This is where the word "realistic" comes from.[1] Realism is usually seen as an opposite of romanticism and idealism.[2][3] It is also sometimes seen as an opposite of liberalism and classicism.[2][4] It is used mainly to describe the way that some artists treat making art. These artists try to focus on the world as it really is, without unrealistic or supernatural ideas.

Realism began as an art movement and philosophical movement in the 19th century. These realists wanted to give an accurate description of nature and of the way people lived. Realism can also apply to artists and artworks from before the 19th century though.[2]

Origins[change | change source]

The word "realism" first appeared in 1794, as the opposite of idealism in art and philosophy.[5] The French magazine Mercure du XIXe siècle (English: Mercury of the 19th Century) used the word in 1826. It said that realism was the art-style of being accurate to real life, rather than following art of the past.[2] Around this same time, realism was thought to have been one of the styles of philosophy within scholasticism.[5] Then in the 1840s, realism began as an art movement in France. It focused on realistic modern life without avoiding what was unpleasant. It also focused on the lower or middle classes.

Realism in liberal arts[change | change source]

In music[change | change source]

In music there was a movement called Verismo which was the Italian word for "reality". Verismo was popular in Italian opera around the end of the 19th century and early 20th century. Puccini was an opera composer whose style is typical of Verismo.

In painting and drawing[change | change source]

In politics and history[change | change source]

In politics, realism focuses on conflict and the harsher parts of history.[4]

In writing[change | change source]

Realism as a literary movement began in Germany. The poet and writer Heinrich Heine tried in his books to accept the world as it is instead of trying to escape from it. Realistic writers tried to find good things about society. The interest in realism led to a movement called naturalism. This meant describing scenes in nature accurately. The novelist Emile Zola was a naturalist.

In philosophy[change | change source]

In philosophy, realism is also a way of thinking about knowledge and reality. It is usually the view that a particular thing is real whether or not it is known about. In fact, one person can be a realist about some things and a non-realist about other things.[6] For example, some realists say that the past really happened no matter what we think about it. Other realist philosophers say that there are morals that really exist as facts. This is different from philosophers who say that things only exist because of people who are aware of them. For example, a non-realist philosopher might say beauty only exists because someone sees something that they think is beautiful. A realist philosopher might instead say that beauty is there whether anyone sees it or not.

Other styles[change | change source]

The term social realism describes an art form in America in the 1930s which expressed social protest in a naturalistic way. This is different from what is usually called socialist realism which was a term used by Soviet politicians from 1932 to the mid 1980s to describe art which showed the workers' struggle, glorifying the Soviet Union.

In the early 20th century Realism led to other movements such as Dadaism and Surrealism.

References[change | change source]

  1. Harper, Douglas. "Realistic". Online Etymology Dictionary.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 "Realism (art)". Encyclopædia Britannica. May 29, 2020.
  3. Hale, Bob (November 19, 2020). "Realism (philosophy)". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Korab-Karpowicz, W. Julian. "Political Realism in International Relations". In Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2018 ed.).
  5. 5.0 5.1 Harper, Douglas. "Realism". Online Etymology Dictionary.
  6. Miller, Alexander. "Realism". In Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2019 ed.).