Realism is the artistic attempt to recreate life as it is in the context of an artistic medium. The artist’s function is to report and describe what
he sees as accurately and honestly as possible. Realism began as an artistic movement in the 18th Century in Europe and America. It was a
revolt against the conventions of the classic view of art which suggested that life was more rational and orderly that it really is. It was also a
revolt against the romantic traditions in art which suggested that life was more emotionally satisfying that it really is. Realism tries to portray
life as objectively as possible. The realistic artist tries to keep his own preconceived notions out of his art but rather to just report what he
sees as accurately as possible, “warts and all.”
Realism developed historically in tandem with the rise of modern science with its emphasis on observation, accurate recording and theorizing
about natural phenomena. It also developed at the same time that writer started to have a social conscience, seeing the evils of society and
calling for reform. Some of the leading French writers in the realistic tradition were de Balzac, Flaubert and Zola.
Realism was a broad spectrum movement involving painting, literature, drama in several European countries. Some of the leading French
realist painters were Corat, Courbet and Daumier.
When the 20th century arrived with the invention of the moving picture camera, one of the first motion picture ever made was titled
“Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory” by the French film pioneers, the Lumiere brothers. This film was one of the first realistic films ever
made because its subject matter was exactly what the title stated. This was in direct contradistinction to another French film of the period
“Trip to the Moon” which was an overt fantasy and one of the first science fiction films ever made. Since its inception, the world of cinema
has descended from these two progenitor film approaches:
Realistic films that try to show the world as it actually is, and Fiction/fantasy films that try to present the artist’s imaginative view of the world
in an entertaining manner.
**Written by Robert McConnell, Ph.D. copyright 1997
(permission to copy and distribute this document for educational purposes is
granted to educators by the copyright holder)