Realistic art didn't always imply "photorealism", but an honest representation of everyday life. Some of the earliest American artists to work at capturing realistic scenes from the urban and rural areas of their native country became known as the "Ashcan School" artists.
Interestingly, many of them began their professional lives as spot illustrators for Philadelphia and New York newspapers; spending much of their daily life accurately capturing crime scenes or news stories to be reprinted in the "Philadelphia Press" and the "New York World" among others.
The painters most frequently associated with the school were all also members of the historic "The Eight", who had organized an exhibition of their own in New York 1908. The group included Robert Henri, George Luks, William Glackens, Everett Shinn, John Sloan, Arthur B. Davies, Ernest Lawson and Maurice Prendergast. Under Henri's leadership they had come together in reaction to Luk's rejection by the National Academy of Design's selection committee for their annual exhibition.
The group did not have a singular or unified style, but a philosophy that rejected the refined American Impressionism that was predominating American art. Later, other artists, and some photographers, would align themselves with this way of thinking about contemporary art, and critic Art Young would give them their name in 1916. His choice was not intended to be complimentary; more a negative criticism on their subject matter.
Their works would often have a darker mood or tone, but they all generally captured instances or spontaneous moments of American life, including boxing matches, laundry lines and street scenes with prostitutes or the urban poor. Though critically questioned, their works were generally well received.
The Ashcan School would eventually include some of Robert Henri's students, like Edward Hopper and George Bellows, as well as Mabel Dwight, Alfred Maurer, Guy Pene Du Bois and photographer Jacob Riis.