In literature as well as art realism is the depiction of subjects as they appear in practical, everyday life. Realism does not deal with interpretation or embellishment. The point of realism is to capture people or situations in a gritty and real way. Similar to realist photography, the realist painter does not place emphasis on stylization but is most interested in depicting situations just as they appear to the naked eye.
While realism depicts real characters in real situations, there tends to be emphasis placed on the sordid or ugly. In this way, realism is very much the opposite of idealism. With realism, however, it’s as though we’re saying “all I know for sure is what my eyes and other sense organs tell me”.
Realists tend to throw out such hubris as classical forms, theatrics and lofty esoteric subjects in favor of the most commonplace subjects and themes. A very famous example of a realist painting is Jean-Francois Millet’s ‘The Gleaners’ from the year 1857. This painting portrays three women working in the fields. The colors are very realistic, almost drab, by contrast to non-realist paintings.
Realism as an art movement appears as early as 2400 BC in India in the city of Lothal. Examples of this type of art can be found around the world and throughout art history. In a very broad sense, realism is art that shows any subject or object that has been observed and accurately depicted, though the entire art piece may not conform to realism conditions.
Realism still plays a role in paintings and art of all kinds today. From film to television and the fine arts, realism is still a major player in the world of creative and expressive processes and productions. Throughout human history there have been those that wish to see things as they are and those that see in reality a hint of the divine. Realism went a long way in providing the one extreme with which we’ve discovered several in betweens in more modern and contemporary art.