Russia 1 - Interactions between art and politics - 1917

1917

Interactions between art and politics

The Russian people has gone through profound changes during the last decades. Sometimes, these - often abrupt - changes were opened by revolutions. In 1917 Lenin and Trotzky led the Bolshevik party in a bloody and fierce revolution against the Russian Monarch Czar Nichloaus II. Of course, the break-out of a revolution did not come all of a sudden. The aim for a renewal in politics, working conditions and leadership started long ahead. When founded, the communist movement meant to create a society with equal social rights, a government devoted to its people, anti-fascist, anti-capitalist, and anti-hegemonic. 
Parallel to this political aspects artists sought a renewal as well. Although art was not political in the first place (e.g. Kandinsky), the developments went parallel to each other and did not exclude one another. 
The political and the artistic revolution ran in parallel, in order to sweep away the old order and its (artistic) representations.
In the Russian art production in 1913 the final steps to abstraction had not been entirely fulfilled. Two oft the most important artworks (the Black Square by Kazimir S. Malevich and the Counter-Reliefs by Vladimir Tatlin) had not been created or presented to the public. However, many artists pointed the way ahead. Kandinsky had presented his idea of The Great Spiritual (O duchovnom w iskusstvo) in 1911, many "left" artists stressed the importance of a concentration of art to its essence and Igor Larionovs Rayonism made the new directions clearly visible.
The primar aim was a creation of utopias, which expressed itself in autonomous artworks and a Hypertrophy of the artistic individual. The Constructivists sought a creation of self-referential artworks, which, at the same time, ought to have an utilitarian character.
The revolution of 1917 reinforced the utopian tendencies of art, gave new impulses and broadened its content via a strong social input.
Malevich, for example, did develop his Suprematism before 1917, but it was not after this year that he started to formulate his ideas theoretically and leveled criticism at capitalism. The same goes for Tatlin, who intensified his ideas of art for the purpose of creating harmony between human beings and nature. His Letatlin (aircraft) and the famous Tower for the III. Internationale (s. picture), which was meant to be a monument for the Bolshevik revolution, are two examples for this.
Both, politics and art, aimed for a new creation of the reality. Therefore it is hardly suprising that artists adapted the new political vocabulary and that politics made use of the artistic production. Tatlin wrote about the "initiated unity within the constructive activity of the collective" (1919) and thought that the artists is the interface between this activity. The newly formed "Left-Futurists" took (unconditional) sides with the revolutionists. In their newspaper Iskusstvo kommuny (communal art),  founded by Nikolay Punin, they discussed the role and the possibilities of art for the aspired renovation of society. The artist group Komfu (communist-futurist) demanded that the masses should become (artistically) constructive. The central term in the early days of the Constructivists was вещь (thing), a term Osip Brik introduced in the first issue of the newspaper iskusstvo kommuny. The aim, they said, should not be the idea, but the thing. So they decorated and designed everyday objects, by means to fuse art and everyday life. This utilitarian concept made their art and ideal instrument for politics. The formal vocabulary was used for political propaganda. 
What started promising for many artists and their new ideas, very soon became a risky business. The "New Economic Policy" (NEP), proposed by Lenin, was no longer compatible with the idea of intellectual freedom postulated by the Suprematism. Malevich for example wanted create abstract artworks without a specific function, while the NEP called for art that could be understood by everybody and which could be functional, that means: be of a political value (education of the proletariat, a tool for the class struggle, glorification of the communist order etc.).
Datei:442px-Kolkhozianos.jpgThose artists that demanded autonomy of art could not pursue their aims, while the utilitarian art step-by-step tranformed itself to - what we know as - Socialist Realism.
The legacy of  Russian avant-garde artists did not disappear, it kept visible in posters and paintings in the following decades. But it got integrated into representational artworks, which ought to serve a specific function: educate  and train the masses (which means that the artworks should be understood by everybody), and glorify Socialism.

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