Since I now own the phrase "Modern Realism" in so far as the dot.com world is concerned, I feel I bear a certain "responsibility of ownership" to define what at least the phrase means to me. This, of course, requires defining what the name "Realism" really means historically in the academic Art world. "Realism" is used to describe the type (note that I didn’t say "style") of paintings artists produced primarily in the second half of the Nineteenth Century. They focused on the reality of common life, often the harsher realities, in an effort to distinguish themselves philosophically, more than painterly, from the Romanticists, the movement preceding them.
Romanticism was a movement in counter-reaction to Neo-Classicism, the movement preceding it. After the Renaissance and before the great social revolutions at the end of the Eighteenth Century, Neo-Classicism extolled the virtues of high society and nobility. Contrarily, Romanticism sought to glorify peasant life for its simplicity and beauty by painting bucolic scenes, often in the brilliant colors of dusk or dawn. Realists saw this saccharin depiction of rural existence as a "heads in the sand" philosophy and painted to countermand it; their differences being mainly in choice of subject matter, varying stylistically perhaps only in the choice of palette.
In fact most "modern" art movements (those after the Middle-ages) have been reactions or counter-reactions to the movements preceding them—a trend that continues today. However, contemporary Art has become so eclectic that many movements are going on simultaneously, feeding off each other in a golden age of creativity. What then should be the definition of Modern Realism?
It should at least give recognition to its original definition and not artificially sweeten or distort the nature of existence, thereby holding to the concepts of Realism. Otherwise, it is in danger of losing its identity to, say, Modern Romanticism, Impressionism or even Abstraction, all of which have different objectives. What then, if it simply depicts reality, is "modern" about it? Certainly, modern reality is different from past reality. The subject matter that is the world today is vastly different than it was yesterday. However, a more important difference presents the real challenge for Modern Realists, particularly if they want to be considered painters and not illustrators.
As painters today we have the vast knowledge of hundreds of years of stylistic interpretation and development of materials, tools and techniques that makes our bag of tricks (we are, after all, illusionists), the fullest in history. We have better lighting, better living environments, the mass media to help us examine in detail the complete works of past masters, more personal mobility to travel and be exposed to those works, more writings to study, more education, more access to materials, more, more, more…With all these assets we also have a greater obligation to do more and to reflect our exposure by including it in our work while adding our own innovations. This is how Art advances, even while staying within the same genre.