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Realism in art and literature is an attempt to describe human behavior and environment or to depict figures and objects realistically as they appear in life. Trials at realism have been attempted now and then throughout history in all the arts. The term is generally restricted to a movement that started in the middle of 19th century, to counter the highly subjective approach of romanticism. Since the difference between realism and naturalism is difficult to define, the two terms are frequently used interchangeably. The difference is in the fact that realism is related directly with what the senses take. Naturalism, a term more correctly applied to literature, tries to apply scientific theories to art (Herding, 1991).
Realist literature is defined especially as the fiction generated in Europe and the United States from around 1840 until 1890's.This is the time when realism was followed by naturalism. type of realism originated in France in the books of Gustavo Flaubert and in the short stories of Guy de Maupassant. It was presented in the plays and short stories of Anton Chekhov. As she announced in Adam Bede (1859), George Eliot, novelist introduced realism into England fiction. Her purpose was to offer a (faithful representation of commonplace things. Realism was pioneered in the United States by Mark Twain and William Dean Howells. Henry James, one of the greatest realists of all and an Anglo-American, received a lot of inspiration from his mentors, the likes of, Eliot and Howells.
In other words, the main tenets of realism were illustrated by these writers .That writers should set down their observations objectively and not on set ethical ideals and selected facts in accordance with preconceived aesthetics. The realists actually disregarded plot in favor of character and concentrated on average class life and their occupations, avoided larger and more dramatic issues because they were concerned with the true presentation of life,that often lacked form (Clark, 1982).
In art, although a clearly defined realist school has never evolved, a realist approach has been manifested in different ways at various times. The term realist, used to describe a work of art, has often simply meant that "ugly" objects or figures are represented, as opposed to those considered "beautiful." Frequently used to describe scenes of humble life, the term implies a criticism of social conditions. Thus, some of the work of the French artists Gustave Courbet (for example, The Stonebreakers,1850), Honoré Daumier, and Jean François Millet has been described as social realism (Nochlin, 1971).
In the United States, William Sidney Mount's quiet Long Island scene Eel Spearing at Setauket (1845) is in the realist style; the artist portrays his subjects with simplicity and respect but little elaboration. Mount diverges in style from the romanticism of his contemporaries of the Hudson River School. American realist painting also includes the honest, matter-of-fact portraits by Thomas Eakins, of his contemporaries, and the works of the American artists known collectively as the Ashcan school or The Eight, who at the beginning of the 20th century attempted to paint the American urban scene as it really was (see American Art).