Social realism 1928 – …

Term used to refer to the work of painters, printmakers, photographers and film makers who draw attention to the everyday conditions of the working classes and the poor, and who are critical of the social structures that maintain these conditions In general it should not be confused with Socialst realism, the official art form of the USSR, which was institutionalized by Joseph Stalin in 1934, and later by allied Communist parties worldwide Social realism, in contrast, represents a democratic tradition of independent socially motivated artists, usually of left-wing or liberal persuasion Their preoccupation with the conditions of the lower classes was a result of the democratic movements of the 18th and 19th centuries, so social realism in its fullest sense should be seen as an international phenomenon, despite the term’s frequent association with American painting While the artistic style of social realism varies from nation to nation, it almost always utilizes a form of descriptive or critical realism (eg the work in 19th-century Russia of the wanderers)

Social realism, an international art movement, encompasses the work of painters, printmakers, photographers and filmmakers who draw attention to the everyday conditions of the working class and the poor; social realists are critical of the social structures which maintain these conditions While the movement’s characteristics vary from nation to nation, it almost always utilizes a form of descriptive or critical realism

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Social realism should not be confused with socialist realism, the official Soviet art form that was institutionalized by Joseph Stalin in 1934 and was later adopted by allied Communist parties worldwide

Social realism traces back to 19th-century European Realism, including the art of Honoré Daumier, Gustave Courbet and Jean-François Millet Britain’s Industrial Revolution aroused concern for the urban poor, and in the 1870s the work of artists such as Luke Fildes, Hubert von Herkomer, Frank Holl, and William Small were widely reproduced in The Graphic

In Russia Peredvizhniki or “Social Realism” was critical of the social environment that caused the conditions pictured, and denounced the “evil” Tsarist period Ilya Repin, said that his art work was aimed “To criticize all the monstrosities of our vile society” of the Tsarist period Similar concerns were addressed in 20th-century Britain by the Artists’ International Association, Mass Observation and the Kitchen sink school

Many artists who subscribed to social realism were painters with socialist (but not necessarily Marxist) political views The movement therefore has some commonalities with the socialist realism used in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, but the two are not identical – social realism is not an official art, and allows space for subjectivity In certain contexts, socialist realism has been described as a specific branch of social realism

Social Realism developed as a reaction against idealism and the exaggerated ego encouraged by Romanticism Consequences of the Industrial Revolution became apparent; urban centers grew, slums proliferated on a new scale contrasting with the display of wealth of the upper classes With a new sense of social consciousness, the Social Realists pledged to “fight the beautiful art”, any style which appealed to the eye or emotions They focused on the ugly realities of contemporary life and sympathized with working-class people, particularly the poor They recorded what they saw (“as it existed”) in a dispassionate manner The public was outraged by Social Realism, in part, because they didn’t know how to look at it or what to do with it