Realism in the visual arts and literature refers to the general attempt to depict subjects “in accordance with secular empirical rules,” as they are considered to exist in third person objective reality, without embellishment or interpretation.
Realism often refers more specifically to the artistic movement, which began in France in the 1850s. These realists positioned themselves against romanticism, a genre dominating French literature and artwork in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Purporting to be undistorted by personal bias, Realism believed in the ideology of objective reality and revolted against the exaggerated emotionalism of the romantic movement. Truth and accuracy became the goals of many Realists. Many paintings which sprung up during the time of realism depicted people at work, as during the 19th century there were many open work places due to the Industrial Revolution and Commercial Revolutions.
The popularity of such ‘realistic’ works grew with the introduction of photography — a new visual source that created a desire for people to produce representations which look “objectively real.”
The term is also used to refer to works of art which, in revealing a truth, may emphasize the ugly or sordid, such as works of social realism, regionalism or Kitchen sink realism.