Romanticism and Realism


Romanticism and Realism

Written by Alfonso Elizondo

Created on Saturday, May 14, 2016; 8:29


Romanticism encompasses both the freedom and the inherited misfortunes of the French Revolution and it spread throughout Europe for most of the nineteenth century. This new artistic movement sought to counter realism which aimed to be faithful to historical facts, by emphasizing the imagination, dream and fantasy. Although the concept of the ‘individual’ was born a few centuries earlier, it was in the nineteenth century that it became established and it was subsequently reaffirmed in the twentieth century.


In the view of contemporary art every human being is unique and has his own outlook and perspective. Consequently, it has engendered a variety of artistic expressions and it seeks full respect for the individual expression of each artist. The application of new technologies to art has given rise to the possibility of experimentation that is beginning to take effect in the contemporary era.


Artistic expression with individual characteristics is more acceptable now and the reference point is the author himself, who decides what is art. The idealization found in Romanticism is also present in virtual reality, where ideal scenarios are generated to recreate fantasy with the use of sight, touch and hearing. This new technology will become a great tool for creating dreamlike and imaginary worlds as it keeps getting better.

Romantic artists exalted the imagination through drug use and reflected their fantasies in their work. Since its beginnings, art has been the illusion of feeling transported to dream or fantasy worlds. On the other hand, Romantic subjectivity is also manifested in the individual’s relationship with nature through landscape painting.


The human being gets lost in the infinity of the universe and he is at the same time a small part of that universe. Man and his physical body are a microcosm that is inserted into the universal cosmos and he has tried to turn the machine into a substitute for human intelligence by making it part of a human microcosm.

Realism comes into being in the second half of the nineteenth century and is the immediate predecessor of Symbolism. Its aim is to give a truthful, objective and impartial representation of the real world, based on meticulous observation of life at a particular time. Although the artist was trying to be faithful to reality, he came up against certain restrictions, such as the illusory elements of a fixed point of view and the representation of reality on a two dimensional plane. Something similar happened with photography.


Nineteenth-century realism was concerned with the veracity of the facts of history and with their representation in painting. It also aimed for objectivity in recounting everyday issues, with no attempt at idealization as was the case with Romanticism. Realist paintings contain scenes intended to recount reality although sometimes this reality is violated by the natural illusion present in the artist’s perception and his particular way of representing events.

Truth and reality were the values ​​that prevailed in culture and in the arts from the middle to the end of the nineteenth century in Europe. Realists were very close to scientists in their attitudes towards nature and towards reality. Their view included the same forces that shaped the attitude of scientists. Emile Zola used to say that despite their natural condition as artists, they felt driven towards the precise study of events and things as did the scientists.


The idea or illusion of reaching true reality has persisted in the history of art to this day. Paradoxically, art is illusion and reality is presented at each moment and by each author in each period in a different way. Therefore, virtual reality is just an idea and a factory of illusions, as were Romanticism and Realism in their time. The only difference is that new technologies allow us to see, hear and feel an image whose form is totally different from images in the past.

Photorealism, for its part, was viewed as the faithful representation of reality sought by art, and it was even thought that it would displace painting because it captured reality as it was, which had been the main desire of painters of that era. But in fact, the function of photography was to reproduce images and testimonies of reality to enable man’s presence on the planet to last, or perhaps it was out of a need for immortality.


From the still camera emerged movie cameras and video. And towards the end of the twentieth century came helmets, gloves, goggles and sensors that are the tools of virtual reality and mediators between man and machine. These devices serve to manipulate the image or the environment by providing the focus, perspective, light and sound to transform reality according to the desires of the individual or the artist.


Addendum: With the process of neo-colonization of the world initiated by the United States and Great Britain, in the early twentieth century a new middle-class society emerged and way above them was installed an elite group that dominated the twentieth century and still does so today. As a result, art became diversified and fragmented and mixed with other creative disciplines, generating real mishmash in artistic production that still has neither head nor tail.