an attempt to describe human behavior and surroundings or to represent figures and objects exactly as they act or appear in life. Attempts at realism have been made periodically throughout history in all the arts; the term is, however, generally restricted to a movement that began in the mid-19th century, in reaction to the highly subjective approach of romanticism. The difference between realism and naturalism is harder to define, however, and the two terms are often used interchangeably. The distinction lies in the fact that realism is concerned directly with what is absorbed by the senses; naturalism, a term more properly applied to literature, attempts to apply scientific theories to art.
From encarta.msn.com

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