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What is naturalism in art?

The question "what is naturalism" is one of the most difficult in science, since quite often this direction is confused with realism in general and the art of photography in particular. Therefore, it is necessary to clearly understand the differences between these two currents and to clearly delimit them, because this determines the understanding of the development of culture in the second half of the 19th century. First of all, one must remember the circumstances and prerequisites for the emergence of new ideas about the tasks of the artist, writer and director.

The conditions of appearance

Understanding what naturalism is is impossible without taking into account the social situation of the second half of this century. At the considered time, there have been fundamental changes in science, which strongly influenced the creative intelligentsia of Europe and America. At that time, the dominant direction was positivism, which implied the study of nature and society not on the basis of abstract mental constructions, but with the help of concrete facts. Therefore, many scientists abandoned the theoretical studies and moved on to a detailed analysis of specific phenomena. This principle was quickly picked up by a number of cultural figures, in particular, it was actively developed in his works by the famous writer E. Zola. According to the new concept, the artist should now depict reality as it is, without embellishments and conventions, following the rules of pure, positive, experimental science.


The study of the problem of "What is naturalism" should be continued by analyzing new ideas that representatives of the new direction began to carry out. They began to describe and explain the psychology and character of man by the peculiarities of his physiology, race, and external conditions of existence. Disclosure of the spiritual world of the individual, his complex contradictory nature, moral search has ceased to interest adherents of the new trend. Much more they were interested in human pathologies, social conflicts, a rough struggle for survival. For some time, these ideas have taken a leading place in painting and literature. A distinctive feature of naturalism is the satisfaction with life and the reluctance to change anything. If Romanticism seeks solutions to problems in flight from reality, realism offers more or less concrete measures to improve the human community, the new genre stops at what it portrays, what is its drawback. Nonetheless, naturalistic authors carry the idea that, for all its imperfection, the world is still more or less stable, and therefore everything in it deserves attention, even the most unsightly details.


To better understand what naturalism is, one must remember the conditions of the time in which it arose. Romanticism and realism no longer interested the creative intelligentsia, which was looking for new forms of expression of their thoughts. Revolutions, social upheavals, wars, characterized by particular cruelty, which marked the second half of the 19th century, could not but affect the spiritual life of society. Representatives of the new current abandoned all conventions, often began to depict rough scenes from life. A characteristic feature of the direction was the de-aestheticization of art. Artists and writers described and reproduced the negative aspects of human existence, believing that in this way they demonstrate an objective reality. Unfortunately, this trend often led to the appearance of works that are difficult to attribute to the field of art, since they were distinguished by the particular rudeness and unattractiveness of the plot and forms. Great importance was attached to the image of man in the material world. Artists paid attention to its external appearance, and writers - to physiology and instincts.

The ideological basis

A new trend in art and culture arose not from scratch. He had his own philosophy, which inspired his supporters. Indicative is the fact that its first manifestations date back to ancient times, when some thinkers explained all phenomena of reality, including the personality of the person surrounding it by nature (Epicurus, representatives of Stoicism). In modern times, this ideology has been developed in the work of a number of philosophers and authors of educational literature. They pointed out that the essence of naturalism is reduced to removing all that is happening from the concrete facts of nature. Some authors even tried to consider ethical concepts through the prism of man's struggle for existence. These thinkers paid attention to natural instincts, the struggle of people for survival.

In prose

Naturalism in literature puts the image of human nature in connection with the description of everyday and material conditions of existence. Writers were inclined to explain the behavior of a person with her heredity and physiological characteristics. A distinctive feature of the work of a number of authors was the imitation of scientific methods, which, unfortunately, led to the impoverishment of artistic means and possibilities. Another drawback of this genre was the lack of ideological and critical attitude to any kind of ideology in any manifestations, which, as we know, was the backbone of Romanticism and Realism.

Naturalism in literature is associated primarily with the name of the French author Zola. The main theme of his work was the depiction of the disordered philistine way of life. He focused on the everyday side of the existence of his characters. However, in his works, despite the apparent rudeness of images and plots, there is a philosophy that singles out this writer among his colleagues in the shop.

Examples in the literature

Representatives of naturalism made a significant contribution to the development of world literature. Guy de Maupassant was the most prominent representative of this trend. He was a master of short prose and the creator of a whole cycle of famous novels. Indicative is the fact that this writer rejected pure naturalism, but at the same time he himself sought to achieve almost a documentary accuracy in the depiction of events. He refused to analyze the psychology of man and limited himself to only listing the facts from the life of the heroes. At the same time, he was extremely sensitive to everything around him, which was reflected in his works, due to which the latter acquired all-European fame.

In painting

In 1870, naturalism took shape in the fine arts. The photo became a kind of a model for artists who sought the most authentic picture. At the same time, they tried to maximally abstract from the depicted subject, tried to avoid the transmission of emotions, which, of course, did not always work. Landscapists and portraitists tried to communicate objectively to the viewer any particular phenomenon without embellishments and aesthetic conventions. One of the prominent representatives of the painting of the new trend was the French artist E. Manet.

He is considered to be the ancestor of impressionism, which quickly replaced the direction in question in culture, but he began with the fact that photographed accurately reproduced the depicted object. One of his most famous paintings, which depicts a worker of the bar, strikes with its specifics and detail.

This was exactly what naturalism was striving for. The photo became for his adherents the real standard of work.

Other representatives

One of the shortcomings of this direction was the lack of artistic and ideological generalizations. Subjects were not subjected to philosophical reflection, as well as critical evaluation and processing, which was characteristic of realism. However, the new trend had a number of advantages: a reliable reproduction of reality, an accurate transfer of details and details.

In addition to this artist, in this style worked E. Degas. His paintings are imbued with simplicity and harmony, which distinguishes the author's paintings from those of those who preferred to depict rough scenes from simple life. Degas preferred to work as a pastel, rather than stand out among his contemporaries. The features of naturalism were particularly evident in the works of A. Lautrec.

His advertising posters and paintings are distinguished by some eccentricity and even liberties for their time.

In the cinema

Naturalism of the 19th century influenced the creation of films. Already the first directors of just born cinema began to apply his techniques in their practice. One of the first such paintings was the adaptation of Zola's novel The Man-Beast. In modern films, you can often meet elements of this style, especially in action films and horror films. For example, the movie "Fight Club", in which there are many scenes of violence and cruelty. The latest premieres show that this direction is still of interest to filmmakers.

For example, most recently released on the screen military film "For reasons of conscience", abounding with cruel scenes. So, the current under consideration has strongly influenced the world cinema.

Comparison with the previous direction

The question of what is the difference between naturalism and realism, as a rule, causes serious difficulties for schoolchildren, since both tendencies at first glance have much in common. Their goal is to reproduce the phenomena of life with objective certainty and accuracy. Adherents of the directions tried to give a true picture of the surrounding reality, but they achieved their goal in different ways. The realists sought in the depicted subject the typical traits that they comprehended, generalized and represented in individual images. The naturalists initially set themselves the goal of copying the observed phenomenon and deliberately abandoned philosophy. Perhaps, this is the fundamental difference between naturalism and realism.

Differences in the subject matter

Both directions achieve truthfulness in reproducing the phenomena of social reality. In this respect, they can be countered with romanticism, which, on the contrary, leads the reader into a beautiful world of dreams and fantasies. However, the adherents of both trends in culture have seen this reality in different ways. Realists in depicting everyday life emphasized the spiritual world of man, they were interested in the struggle of the individual with petty-bourgeois life. They focused on how people kept spirituality under difficult conditions. Naturalists, on the contrary, were interested exclusively in physiology and social conditions, which, in their opinion, determined the existence of man. In connection with these differences, realism and naturalism use various artistic and visual means. Those who were adherents of the first current used a variety of techniques to recreate the object of interest, while representatives of the new direction restricted themselves in the language plan, avoiding metaphors and epithets, because they believed that they distract readers from concrete facts.

New Features

When it comes to what is critical naturalism, an analogy with realism usually comes to mind. This direction not only sought to accurately depict reality, but also criticize its shortcomings. The authors often raised acute social issues, touched on topical issues of our time. In doing so, they often ridiculed the vices of society, using for this the techniques of satire. The same can be said about naturalism. However, if realist writers tried to comprehend the causes of socio-economic problems and even proposed solutions, the authors, who limited themselves to listing the shortcomings of the depicted subject, simply stated concrete facts, which, of course, was not always sufficient for a complete and objective depiction of a particular plot . It should be remembered that naturalism is a direction that does not pretend to philosophical comprehension and generalization. He only reproduces the object of interest with photographic, almost documentary accuracy. Perhaps, that is why this direction is one of the most controversial in culture, which did not last too long.

In the domestic art

In our country, the same stages of development of romanticism, realism. Naturalism, on the contrary, has not received much publicity in Russia. Some authors explain this by the peculiarities of Russian culture and mentality, pointing to patriarchy and a high degree of spirituality. Nevertheless, some features of the current are still reflected in a number of works of literature and some films. So, the books of the writer DN Mamin-Sibiryak are written under the clear influence of this style. The author portrayed the life of the population of the Urals, describing how the post-reform era led to a change in public consciousness, the breaking of habitual foundations and morals.

Another prose writer, PD Bobrykin, was a clear imitator of Zola's work. In one of his most famous works, he almost faithfully reproduced the details of the merchant life, the life of the nobles, and described their habitation. In Soviet times, naturalism was seen as the opposite of realism, so many critics negatively treated the methods and methods of its representatives. In their opinion, the authors focused on the dark sides of human existence, while Soviet propaganda cultivated the idea of constructive activity of people in building communism.

But, despite the negative attitude to naturalism, the direction in question was reflected in Soviet cinema. For example, the picture-epic of A. Konchalovsky "Sibiriada" was removed under the strong influence of naturalism. This tape was recognized in the West. In this picture, the director showed not very conspicuous aspects of people's lives in a remote, deaf Siberian village at the turn of the era.


Naturalism in art played an important role in the development of culture in the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The desire of writers and artists to depart from some formal conventions and rules, combined with an active search for new forms of expression of ideas and the desire to reproduce as accurately as possible the phenomena of the surrounding reality, led to new original solutions in the artistic word and means of representativeness. Some representatives of the current still retained some philosophy in their works, which, combined with a convincing description of the life of ordinary people, allowed them to create memorable works in literature, painting and cinema.

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