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Define Realism

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Define “Realism”

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The concept of realism was developed in the 19th century by a band of artists who rebelled against the main themes and inspirations of artistic influence. Among these was a young painter called Gustave Courbet. His renditions of menial labor and poverty were inspired by the belief that people should depict their own time and place. Manet’s depictions of promiscuity and the flat abstract shocked people as he expressed the current morality and levels of hope the people had at that time (Roberts 131). Honore Daumier’s satirical lithographic arts were meant to confront the authority and inquire from them about the plight of the working class.

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Started in the 1850’s after the French revolution, Realism had ambition of being undistorted by personal bias and advanced by the belief in ideology of objective reality. It cut a grain against the exaggerated emotionalism of the Romantic period and concentrated on issues that carried more weight for the common man suffering under the weight of economic strain and the effects of the post-aristocratic period.

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The painter’s primary goals were a large part of the theme as art departed from the illusionism that characterized the period revolving around the Revolution. Accordingly, realists, as these arts came to be reoffered to, drew attention to their art works using unconventional and sometimes strange brush strokes. While it worked for their cause, most of the times, especially for those like Daumier who was against the government; these art works put them in trouble. But they cared less as their main objective had been achieved.

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With the introduction of realism, art’s objective, use of materials, means and process, as well as relationship to life were put on the spot light. As much as realism was never a real movement, its disregard for conventional attitudes and perception placed it on the podium where other similar undertakings in the form of Impressionism and Post impressionism were.

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Courbet rendered the world as he saw it and not as he knew it or was told of it. By empowering the viewers’ visual perception a role in deciphering the current affairs, he challenged the mental perception by providing it with material with which to question the subject matter, functions, and themes of art. While it seems a trivial thing today, in the 19th century perspective where romantic and classism were the main themes, it was quite a break from tradition. However, the new form of art rebelled from these two philosophies of art whose main objectives were the conveyance of allegorical, historical, moral messages (Zlotnick 134).

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Realism as philosophy in art did more than faithfully depict appearances and convey messages. It did not dramatize, nor did it idealize men, rather, it focused on some pertinent aspect of modern life back then. Courbet, Millet, and Manet changed the viewing patterns of ‘salon-going’ people, as they themselves attempted to look into the world without preconceptions.

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Courbet’s painting, Burial at Ornans, done 1849, was a rather peculiar depiction of a rural burial ceremony with about 45people in attendance, including the deceased’s relatives. In the throes of the Industrial revolution, France had a myriad of socio-economic problems that the elite seemed to conceal and escape from. At the Salon in 1851, the life sized depiction of death and its effects on the middle lower class. Its sheer size made it impossible to ignore, and many argued that it brought the same level of conspicuousness to the problem of the lower middle class during the Industrial revolution. Such realizations were the basis of Coubet’s claims that he was the first socialist painter as these were seen by the elite as attempts to cultivate a socialist mindset among the people.

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The Stonebreakers, a balmy representation of a father and his son working as stone breakers, is more than just art. It communicated the present day affliction that peasants in France during the Industrial revolution were undergoing. Issues such as social bias, unequal distribution of resources, and the unfair treatment accorded those perceived as the lower cadre were well communicated in Courbet’s depiction of a family in the throes of poverty. The father being in tatters was a clear demonstration of the then economic hardships and Courbet clearly exemplified the fact. In stark contrast to the elite’s children lifestyle – characterized by access to school and a comfortable life – ‘The Stonebreakers’ depicts a young boy working alongside his poor father. The level of economic hardship and dehumanization lower middle and lower class people had to deal with are obvious.

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Courbet, alongside his fellow advocates of Realism as an art philosophy, may have communicated or exposed the effects of the French and Industrial revolutions on the under privileged, but the issue of whether their actions had any positive impact is moot (Byerly 115). Their main agenda was not the radicalization of the masses; rather, it was to change the manner in which art communicated to the people about issues pertinent to their current life. It would be safe to state that it was by sheer coincidence that their decision to do this came at the same time as the revolutionary periods.

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Works Cited

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Byerly, Alison. “George Elliot’s hierarchy of representation.” Realism, Representation, and the Arts in Nineteenth-Century Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. 115. Print.

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Roberts, John. “The Battle of the Amazons book.” The Art of Interruption: Realism, Photography, and the Everyday. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998. 131. Print.

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Zlotnick, Susan. “Men.” Women, Writing, and the Industrial Revolution. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. 134. Print.

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