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The Link Between Realism and Impressionism in Art Essay

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Updated: Dec 26th, 2021


On the one hand, realism and impressionism are not linked with each other, however, it should be emphasized that both influenced the development of arts, and similar features may be found in both art styles. In fact, the key aim of art criticism is to realize the nature of the work and try to understand the author’s motives which originated the concept of the creation. Therefore, the question of the origin of the works of art becomes a question about the nature of art. Two concepts are used to provide explanations about the work of arts, realism, and impressionism, each of them differing from the other in terms of their unique characteristics. The aim of the paper is to realize the link between realism and impressionism and define the influence of these two styles on each other.


The basics of realism are closely associated with the necessity to render the objects, items, and characters as they look and exist in the real life. The true-to-life manner is the key aspect of this art style; that is why realistic images and characters often lack the charm of something unknown and mysterious. On the other hand, they are true and sincere, which makes them close to the audience.

In fact, realism has an aesthetic and a cognitive dimension, neither of which can be wholly separated one from the other. Aesthetically, realism refers to certain modes and conventions of verbal and visual representation that can occur at any historical time; however, it is connected particularly to the secular and rational forms of knowledge that constitute the tradition of the Enlightenment, stemming from the growth of scientific understanding in the eighteenth century. Underpinning enlightenment thought is an optimistic belief that human beings can adequately reproduce by means of verbal and visual representation.

The origin of realism lies in the unconscious convictions of man and his development in making it a conscious and logically grounded self-consistent theory. What we see with our eyes and touch with our hands is real and exists independently in space and time; this is an instinctive belief of man. Indeed, its formulation and its vindication are the work of reflective thought. However, from instinct to thought, and from an unconscious belief to a well-worked-out theory, there is a long and weary way. Conscious realism is the idea that hovers before it; the struggle consists of realizing this ideal and until this ideal is realized, the process is never complete. These attempts are the beginning of realism. However, the questioning of the validity of the realistic instinct consists of denying the directness of perception and the independent reality of objects – the two main theses of realism.

Ancient philosophy remained in the instinct to the reality and perception of the external world. Primarily, the name Realism was first applied in 1850 to a new style of painting and soon spread to literature. However, realists of the mid-nineteenth century rejected Romanticism as they wanted to deal with ordinary characters from actual life rather than Romantic heroes in exotic settings. They also sought to avoid emotional language by using close observation and prehistoric description, an approach that led them to write novels instead of poems, and portraits of ordinary people instead of noble society. Hence, one of the brightest instances of realism in art is the image by Van Gogh “The Potato Eaters” (1885). This is the image of ordinary people – poor folks, who do not even remind people by their appearance. However, the emphasis is made not on their appearance, but on the impressions of their faces, the emotions which they may experience. Realism became the dominant style in the art after 1850, for instance, realist art demonstrated three major characteristics: a desire to depict the everyday life of ordinary people, whether peasants, workers, or prostitutes; an attempt at photographic accuracy; and an interest in the natural environment (Duiker and Spielvogel, 2009, p. 603).

Towards the end of the 18th century, a new intellectual movement known as Romanticism emerged to challenge the ideas of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment argued that the major means of discovering the truth is through reasoning. Romantics on the other hand disparaged reason but they balanced its use by stressing the importance of feeling, emotion, as well as imagination as sources of knowledge. Enlightenment and Romanticism, in their turn, created the basics for the appearance of impressionism on the map of world arts. It should be emphasized that enlightenment made people more open, sincerer, and free in the expression of their emotions and impressions. Hence, impressionism was the important aspect of Enlightenment and further development of art. (Duiker and Spielvogel, 2009)


Impression in art might be characterized as a precursor to today’s discipline of fuzzy thinking. The impressionist movement took place primarily in France at the end of the 19th century with the primary concern being the effect of light on an object rather than the exact presentation of the form. In addition, the depictions they created tended to be much more vivid than the blending of pigments that were generally in use at the time. However, subtleness, juxtaposition, and shading of primary colors were crucial to achieving the desired effect that is best appreciated from a distance. Part of the wide appeal of Impressionist paintings may be the fact that the human brain tends to perceive objects using what might be called an impressionist filter. Details of an object are often not perceived at first glance in most life’s daily snapshots, while vivid colors are generally considered more cheery than dull ones or dark shades. Indeed, it was the novel use of color that influenced many artists of later generations and movements, as well as establishing Impressionism as a seminal movement in the history of art (Clancy, 2003, p. 1).

Science yielded facts: the information taken to be objectively verifiable and hence true. Science and scientific methodology also provided the backdrop for many of the revolutionary challenges to conventional thinking that arose during the century.

As for the instances of Impressionism, it should be stated that the classification of the impressionistic images is hard to understand, however, the definitive feature of impressionism is closely linked with the matters of emotions and feelings of the creator. Thus, while realism emphasizes the emotions of the objects and people, impressionism is aimed at creating the image of the author’s impression, feelings and emotions. Claude Monet is one of the brightest impressionists of the epoch. Thus, his “The Cliff at Étretat after the Storm” (1885) reveals a great impression of colors, tones, the game of lights and shadows. Partially, these are the impressions of the artist, however, the key aspect of the image is based on the realistic images of the real image using the unrealistic (impressionist) tools.

Realism and Impressionism

Despite the fact that almost exclusively, subject-oriented movements such as surrealism and subject-oriented techniques such as stream of consciousness appeared primarily after impressionism, pre-positions already existed in nineteenth-century idealist thought. For impressionism, although subjectivity may alter an object, that object is also altered by its physical surroundings; thus, subjectivity may influence but cannot single-handedly produce an object. In addition, although impressionism responded to idealist philosophy, its primary target was positivism. Moreover, realism was positivism’s artistic and literary representative (Clancy, 2003).

Whereas realism’s primary emphasis was to represent an object such that everyone experiences the same object, impressionism emphasized that all interaction between consciousness and its objects is, by definition, dependent on the existence of both subject and object. Realism sought the impossibility of representing noumena, while impression sought the possibility of representing phenomena. Therefore, rather than the unmediated representational art and literature realists sought to produce, they in fact present a mediated construct of the object.

Since realists tried to eliminate subjectivity from the epistemological process, impressionism believed its works were actually more realistic – more representational – than traditionally termed representational works. Moreover, realism tried to civilize the interaction between consciousness and its objects, removing individual subjectivity and representing a universal product, while impressionism rendered a primitive and essentially unmediated object (Peters, 2001, p. 21). The earlier works of realism and impressionism influenced further creativity by creating the basic concepts of art. In the light of this statement, it should be emphasized that the principles of realism originated the development of realistic concepts and features, which became interwoven with other styles and branches of art. As for impressionism, this style became the origin of numerous genres in painting and photography, as well as music and cinema.


Realism and impressionism were the basic concepts of arts, which became the essence of the art epoch. The influence of these styles is immense. In spite of the fact that they have similar features and tools for transcribing an image, the meaning of these images is quite different. The link between these art epochs is not evident, however, the influence is important.


  1. Clancy, J. (2003). . NY, Nova Publishers. Web.
  2. Duiker, W. J. and Spielvogel, J. J. (2009). . MA. Cengage Learning. Web.
  3. Peters, J. G. (2001). . NY, Cambridge University Press. Web.
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