Social Realism developed as a reaction against idealism and the exaggerated ego encouraged by Romanticism. Consequences of the Industrial Revolution became apparent; urban centers grew, slums proliferated on a new scale contrasting with the display of wealth of the upper classes. With a new sense of social consciousness, the Social Realists pledged to “fight the beautiful art”, any style which appealed to the eye or emotions. They focused on the ugly realities of contemporary life and sympathized with working-class people, particularly the poor. They recorded what they saw (“as it existed”) in a dispassionate manner. The public was outraged by Social Realism, in part, because they didn"t know how to look at it or what to do with it.
Social Realism was broadly accepted during the depression in 1930s in United States. The government used art to sell its political programs during the 30s and 40s. President Roosevelt sought to use the power and resources of the federal government to help those in need during the depression. His administration"s decision had a precedent in Mexico, where the revolutionary government that took control in 1921 employed artists to help forge a national cultural identity. The American painters Ben Shahn, Leon Bibel, and the Mexican painters (muralists)Jos Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera are all examples of Social Realists.
Social Realism was especially common in communist countries. Social Realism appears differently, but it always utilizes a descriptive or critical realism as form.