The term 'ash can' literally refers to the depictions of filth and squalor that could be seen in the U.S up until the outbreak of the First World War. At first they were called 'The Eight' group, and they basically began as an opposition force to the conservatively academic artistic style that was then being taught in America [mainly the famous Chase's Art School in Pennsylvania ].
The Eight wanted to break free from the formalistic and stuffy style of paintings and their first exhibition in 1908 had an outcast atmosphere of people going against the appropriate. Theirs was a realistic style of paintings of city scenes and 'real life'. Many painted the poverty of city slums, ghetto communities and ethnic minorities. This group included the artists Robert Henri, who was the leader of the group and had a signature trademark of quick, expressive brushstrokes, Georges Luks, John Sloan , Edward Hopper, Everett Shinn , Glen Coleman , Art Davis and Georges Bellows.
Resembling the same social mentality that is prevalent in the paintings of Francisco de Goya and Honore Daumier and Eduard Manet's brushstroke technique, the Ashcan school also used quick, broad brushstrokes that were left rough and unpolished. They colors were usually not bright or contrasting, but rather reserved. Despite dealing with very social issues, and the general air of radical politics about them, this group stressed far less emphasis on the general point of view, but rather dealt with the private side of these people's lives. There are many portraits of single figures wandering about the streets, people who had been outcast from 'normal' society and were no longer considered useful.