RealismThere was a time when the term "Realism" in art meant something. Now, in the late stages of the Twentieth Century, is has been used, misused, and overused to the point that no one really knows what it means and it brings to mind no concrete style or appearance other than a vague notion that it denotes an attempt by an artist to paint "real" stuff in a "real" manner.
Near the end of the Sixteenth Century however, having overdosed, so to speak, on Classicism and the Renaissance, painters were in search of something more down-to-earth. The term Realism came into being and the artists who lent their brushes to the study of "real life" made sure it meant something. With its roots in the so-called Northern Renaissance and artists like Albrecht Dürer, Jan van Eyck, and Matthias Grünewald, it meant an acute observation of the world around them in every minute detail, and then the choosing out from that world the subject matter that illuminated their ideas, and served their "real" purposes. Amongst the artists immersing themselves in this "new" art of the time were Diego Velázquez, Rembrandt van Rijn, and Jan Vermeer. The new style cut across national borders, languages, personalities, and generations. Eventually however, it succumbed to the myriad of "other" influences that diluted, distorted, and all but destroyed it, only to re-emerge every few hundred years in "new" forms with new artistic sensibilities. Today we call it Photo-realism in its harshest, most recent incarnation, but it is still the same aged, yet ageless wine, only in new bottles.
Contributed by Lane, Jim
17 December 1997