Many of the artworks that we see as part of realism today may seem like beautiful landscapes, cityscapes or portraits. But, the movement is steeped in a sense of rejecting farce, superficial, exaggerated beauty. Instead, the artists belonging to this movement tried to show the labor, pain, oppression by re-examining traditional systems of belief and value.
In many ways realism artists were the first modernists because of their nonconformist and anti-institutional nature. Realism art broke away from the older system of art appreciation where only a few people had the power to determine what was considered as “good art”. Instead, realism art not only showed the real state of public affairs but they promoted themselves directly to the public instead of going through older channels of exhibitions and patronage. Equivalent to contemporary artists takes charge of their own promotions and patronage through social networks. Painters such as Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet brought about the idea of artist as self-publicist.
Progressive and still relevant, realism was a movement that was far more than simply depicting realistic paintings but instead, it reveals the reality of far deeper, systemic issues.