Social Realism In Art Social realism, in art, describes both a specific stylistic approach and an overall attitude toward the subject. Social realism aims toward the not-so-lovely part of life. Its goal is not to amuse but to show the observer the evils of poverty, immorality, and war. Social Realists believed that paintings should describe and express the people, their problems, and their times.
The roots of social realism lie in the 18th century. Some of the artists involved in the start of social realism are William Hogarth, Francisco de Goya, and Honor Daumier. William Hogarth attacked drunkenness and foolish extravagance with his engravings from the 1730s to the ’50s. Goya had a series of horrifying etchings titled The Disasters of War. Daumier had satirical lithographs of the 1830s to ’40s, that reflect deep social concern.
Social realism painting declined, in France, after the 1860s which was the time it became important in Great Britain. Sir Luke Fildes’s Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward, Frank Holl’s Newgate: Committed for Trial, and Hubert Herkomer’s Pressing to the West depict grimy scenes of urban poverty. In the 1900s the British social realist tradition was carried on in the United States by the Ashcan school.
After 1920 its emphasis was carried on by several major American painters. Ben Shahn was one of the artists in the 1920s and early ’30s. He showed laborers and other victims of the Depression as well as scenes of the Sacco and Vanzetti trial and execution. Also, Ivan Albright and Edward Hopper focused on the isolation of individual people in a society.