The Constraints of Realism as a Democratic Art

June 1, 2023
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Realism, as an artistic movement, emerged as a response to the idealism and romanticism of earlier periods. It aimed to depict the world in an objective and unembellished manner, presenting an authentic representation of reality. However, despite its intentions, realism faces certain constraints as a democratic art form. These constraints arise from the inherent subjectivity of interpretation, the limitations of time and space, and the focus on the ordinary and mundane. This essay explores these constraints and their implications for realism as a means of democratic expression.

Constraints of realism

Subjectivity and Interpretation

One of the fundamental constraints of realism lies in the subjectivity of interpretation. Artists and authors bring their own perspectives and biases to their work, influencing the portrayal of reality. This subjectivity introduces a degree of bias and limits the objective nature of realism. Each creator has their own unique lens through which they view the world, which can affect the way reality is represented.

Moreover, the viewers or readers themselves bring their own interpretations and biases when engaging with realist works. The audience's personal experiences and cultural backgrounds influence how they understand and interpret the artistic portrayal of reality. Thus, realism, while aiming to present an objective truth, is inevitably filtered through subjective lenses, undermining its democratic potential.

Constraints of Time and Space

Realism also faces constraints in terms of time and space. The artist or author must select particular moments and scenes to depict, as well as decide what to exclude. This selectivity can lead to the omission of important perspectives or elements of reality, limiting the comprehensiveness of the artistic representation. The finite nature of time and space imposes restrictions on the breadth and depth with which reality can be captured.

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Furthermore, realism often focuses on the microcosm of everyday life, the mundane and ordinary. While this emphasis allows for a detailed examination of the lived experiences of individuals, it may limit the ability to address larger social and political issues. By prioritizing the mundane, realism may neglect systemic problems or fail to explore abstract concepts and philosophical ideas. It is within these larger contexts that the democratic potential of art to inspire change and critical engagement can be fully realized.

Challenging the Extraordinary

Finally, realism's commitment to representing the ordinary can pose challenges to its ability to engage and captivate audiences. The emphasis on mundane subject matter can sometimes result in works that lack a sense of intrigue or novelty. Audiences may seek art that transports them to extraordinary realms, offering an escape from the ordinary rather than a reflection of it. Realism, with its focus on the everyday, may struggle to captivate the imagination in the same way that more fantastical or speculative genres can.

Moreover, the realism's commitment to authenticity and truthfulness may constrain artistic creativity. Artists and authors may feel bound to rigidly adhere to reality, limiting their ability to explore imaginative storytelling techniques or experiment with alternative narratives. The desire for accuracy and fidelity to reality can restrict the artistic license to push boundaries and challenge societal norms.


Realism, as a democratic art form, faces constraints that limit its ability to fully capture and represent the complexities of reality. The subjectivity of interpretation, the constraints of time and space, and the emphasis on the ordinary and mundane all pose challenges to realism's democratic potential. Despite these constraints, realism continues to offer valuable insights into the human experience, providing a nuanced understanding of society.

Recognizing the limitations of realism prompts us to critically engage with artistic representations of reality, understanding that they are not objective truths but interpretations filtered through subjective perspectives. By embracing these constraints, we can appreciate realism as an art form that invites dialogue and encourages us to question our own perspectives and preconceptions.

While realism may face challenges in captivating audiences seeking escapism or exploring alternative possibilities, its commitment to authenticity and its portrayal of everyday life contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of society. Realism remains an important artistic approach, providing a platform for marginalized voices and shedding light on the struggles, triumphs, and emotions of ordinary individuals. By acknowledging and navigating the constraints of realism, we can fully appreciate its democratic potential as an art form that inspires empathy, critical thinking, and societal reflection.

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