Soviet artists: new role, new goal
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2.2 Soviet artists: new role, new goal
The First Five years plan. 1928 – 1932.
The First Five Years Plan
(which was initiated in 1928) foreshadowed the more strict
policy toward art, which become a main visual tool of the new regime’s
consolidation during the Stalinist’s period.
М. Делягин. “Сотвори кумира”. Завтра, №40 (672), 2006, C.18.
Kitiaj-grad – a sacred space of spiritual Russian dream existed for centuries in Russian folk and
legendary tradtion, later in XIX century was widely displayed in art and theological Russian thought.
Existing as a direcly appealing artistic archetype became a reference for new communistic ideology
and on its base was created a new utopical dream-land of Communist’s prosoperity ; it was well
Криничная, Н. А. Легенды о невидимом граде Китеже: мифологема взыскания
литературе XVIII—XX веков. Петрозаводск: Вып. 4, 2005, С.53-66.
“The first five-year plan of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was a list of economic goals,
created by General Secretary Joseph Stalin and based on his policy of Socialism in One Country. It was
implemented between 1928 and 1932.In 1929, Stalin edited the plan to include the creation of "kolkhoz
Logically appears a problem of Artist’s fate in the totalitarian State. It is a crucial and
vital issue for Soviet artists, which was most brightly reflected in literature by famous
Russian writer Mikhail Boulgakov in his novel Master and Margarita. The writer
describes Moscow in its 1930s, which appears as kind of hell, where flourish all the
most unworthy passions, while in the creative fields survive only hacks, people with
lack of talent, time-servers. Writers of the official creative union – the MASSOLIT do
not write, instead, actively solving their proper social problems – flats, second
residences etc., concerned only by their social success. Thus cynic, pragmatic
characters form the creative atmosphere of Moscow in 1930s. In M. Boulgakov’s
novel the conflict of a free-thinking artist who opposes by his sincere and fearless
Pontius Pilate novel to the kingdom of mediocrity and ordinariness ended in an
expected way: Master enters the psychiatric hospital in a state of nervous shock as
in his proper words he does not stand violence, bad poetry and social commission.
This hero was deprived of the most crucial for Artist – freedom of Creativity. In
Boulgakov’s main idea the fate of a true artist used to end tragically in conditions of
totalitarian State, where talent and interior freedom were not valued, but
substituted, instead, by agreeableness and mediocrity.
The Plan stated that its major cultural aims consisted of increase of the proletarian
consumption of art but it also supposed an entire reorganization of art under the
party’s instructions. Accordingly, the following year sculptors, painters, graphic and
decorative artists, architects were united under a single artists' group - The
unity and creative uniformity capable of placing the Soviet art behind the
industrialization’s collectivization drive”
in the Soviet economy.
In the opinion of Alexandre Karnensky in his work Art in the Twilight of the
totalitarianism, the years of the Second World War have a special place in Soviet art.
At this time period, aesthetic debates were suspended to give way to the use of art
. The works of 1941-1945ss are mainly of documental interest of their
time. As to1946 -1954ss, the party made everything to take an entire control of art.
collective farming systems that stretched over thousands of acres of land and had hundreds of
peasants working on them. The creation of collective farmsessentially destroyed the kulaks as a class,
and also brought about the slaughter of millions of farm animals that these peasants would rather kill
than give up to the gigantic farms”. Ратьковский, И.С., Ходяков, М.В. История советской России.
СПб.: Искусство, 2001, Гл. 3.
Karnensky, A. Art in the Twighlight of the totalitarism. Spb.: Kukshino, 2007, p.25.
Certainly we can name a few exceptions (for instance some historical compositions,
portraits, landscapes of masters such as Petr Konchalovski, Pavel Korini, Sara
Lebedeva, Vera Mukhina, Robert Falk and Vladimir Favorsk). It would be fair to
define these artists as being engaged on a spiritual quest, which was totally distinct
from the program asserted by Communist politicians. Their work was the sincere
manifestation of reality which preserved the true historical moment in decades.
The Soviet population was filled with hope when the War was almost over. The
society aspired that Russian people would find a new moral strength from the victory
over Germans and that this consequently would lead to the restoration of some of
artistic and personal freedoms suppressed during the 1930s. At first this hope seemed
justified. Returning to 1944, when the Soviet troops advanced on Berlin, new works by
Russian composers Shostakovich and Prokofiev were widely introduced; poets such
as Boris Pasternak and Anna Akhmatova could officially and openly read previously
unpublished works; meanwhile at exhibitions appear some of the forgotten Russian
artistic heritage, from icon painting to masterpieces of the Silver Age (1890-1910ss).
The majority of Russian society believed that a turning-point in spiritual and cultural
life had become a reality.
Unfortunately, this hope turned out to be an illusion. The totalitarian system which
had been established over more than thirty years had just taken a pause during the
war; after the victory over the Germans the Communist party showed its true
dictator’s face once more. It almost uncomprehensive that in a country
overwhelmed with poverty, destruction and starvation, so much attention was paid
to cultural and artistic questions, but Soviet government’s alertness was a fact.
Between 1946 and 1948 the Party issued one unforgettable decree after another
concerning music, theatre cinema and literature
. In 1949 it initiated the struggle
against cosmopolitanism, smacking of anti-Semitism. These decrees, and the
speeches and press commentaries which accompanied them, had an especially
reactive nature and were phrased in crude military terms. This aggressive anti-
intellectual campaign is often defined as the zhdanovshchina, after Andrei
Zhdanov, secretary of the Central Committee of the Party and Stalin's closest
confidant on ideological questions, who was in charge of the issue
. This period
shone with falsity. Soviet artists were required to produce optimistic works, rich in
Сталин и космополитизм.
Постановление политбюро ЦК ВКП(б) о цензуре информации из СССР, M.: Фонд
Александра Яковлева, 1946, C.2-4.
enthusiasm and heroics thinking, full of the praises of blossoming socialist
. Such bragging connected directly with everyday reality in a state on
the threshold of starvation and despair, but none the less it was expected from
artists. If in the post-revolutionary period when many artists and the society sincerely
believed in a brighter future, - enthusiasm was often a sincere belief, now after
facing the difficulties of the post war situation viewers perceived such images as
mockery, insult and fake.
Everything linked to bourgeois society was subjected to official attack, as well as
anything concerning human values or novel views on beauty or the origins of
spirituality, whether in a foreign or domestic context. Any criticism of Soviet society,
even the most harmless, was a subject to a direct criticism and censorship. In
Zhdanov´s decree On the Magazines Zvezda and Leningrad he spoke about
traditions of the early twentieth century in Russian literature, especially he mentioned
the work of Akhmatova, and anathematized the brilliant anti-philistine satire of
Mikhail Zoschenko as rotten and corrupting
Fine art escaped disorders but the declarations made about it were dear enough.
At the congress of Soviet musicians in January 1948, Zhdanov said: “Not so long ago
the Academy of Arts was set up. As you know, stone tint there were strong bourgeois
influences in painting which appeared everywhere under a leftist banner and
tagged themselves with names such as Futurism, Cubism and Modernism: they
overthrew rotten academicism and voted for novelty. This novelty manifested: lf
infinites depictions of girls with one head and forty legs. How did it all end? With the
complete collapse of this new movement. The Party reflected the significance of the
classical heritage of Bruni, Bryullov, Vereshchagin, Vasnetsov and Surikov”.
Accordingly, the idea was clearly stated. Any kind of novelty in art was
unequivocally rejected and classicism was imposed as a staple doctrine. Imitation,
both of renowned Russian artists of the nineteenth century and of pseudo-academic
movements and styles were encouraged
Советская цензура в эпоху тотального террора. 1929—1953. СПб.: Академический проект,
2000, C. 283.
Постановление ЦК ВКП, доклад а с осуждением Ахматовой и Зощенко. О журналах: Звезда и
Ленинград, Август, 1946, C.4-9.
Горяева, Т.М. История советской политической цензуры. Документы и комментарии. М.:
Российская политическая энциклопедия (РОССПЭН), 1997, C.15-21.
However it would be wrong to consider that artists in the 1940s and 1950s worked
only on imitation and society’s entertainment. The reality suggested more options:
Soviet post-war art created a world of myth according to an elaborated plan. The
approved works of art of this period gave a picture of life which was invented by the
Party and had nothing in common with reality. Artists were required to depict Soviet
reality in a glorifying context, worshiping greatness of its time
. The required and
imposed world-view was, to say the least, one-sided, but it was accepted by nearly
the majority of artists
. Certainly the works of this time had their own special
aesthetic value and should not be all strictly attributed to the socially commissioned;
however the existing exceptions just outlined the rule.
The Thaw. First steps to liberty. The Nonconformist Art.
There were a significant number of artistic groups and movements which actively
positioned them-selves in the Soviet Union after the period of the Thaw
. It appears
to be challenging to classify this category of artists since they often were rather
defined by their geographical proximity than due to their stylistic objectives.
Furthermore, participation in these groups was fluid as the community of
in Moscow and Leningrad was relatively small and even-
Lianozovskaya School in Moscow represents a group of Russian poets and artists
which was formed in the end of 1950s. Its spiritual leader especially at its starting
point was an artist and a poet Evgenii Kropivnitsky. The artistic group consisted of
following personalities: Valentina Kropivnitskaia, Evgenii Kropivnitsky, Olga Potapova,
Zhdanov, A. Sovetskaya Literatura samaya ideinaia. Moscow: Academic project,1953, p.65.
This tendence can be followed at the All-Union and whatever exhibitions in the period between 1948-
52ss: A Toast to the Hem of Socialist Labor, Congratulations to the Heroine, 7e Cotton-Growers 'Award
the Industrial space, such as Triumphant reamer was obvious the abundance of the cuIt ideas
introduced. Precisely in these works artists create images of a dream-land, kind of social sovietic
paradice which will become true if soviet citizens will be faithful sons of their native land. See Graham,
Loren R., Stites, Richard. Red Star: The First Bolshevik Utopia. L.: Bloomington, 1984.
The period of Nikita Khrushiov’s governing between 1953 and 1964 is officially defined as the period of
Thaw, due to the fact that a significant number of political prisoners were liberated from Russian prisons
and concentrated camps, in addition the censorship politics was significally softened. Despite of all
took place the aggressive anitreligious campaign, which resulted into a demolition of thousands of
churches and monasteries, regardless of their architectural value: Хрущёв, С.Н. Пенсионер союзного
значения. M.: Новости, 1991, С.416.
By a notion of Nonconformist artists Russian critics usually refer to all underground and alternative
movements, societies, individuals of Soviet artists who in the period of 1950 -1980ss were officially
unaccepted and neglected by the State’s censorchip and were prohibited to take part in official
social exhibitions and events. See Михнов
-Войтенко, Евгений. M.: Новый музей, 2010; Андреева, Е.Ю.
век, 2012, C.21-25.
Oskar Rabin, Valery Klever from St. Petersburg, Lev Kropivnitsky, Lydia Masterkova,
Vladimir Nemukhin, Nikolai Vechtomov, together with the following poets: Genrikh
Sapgir, Vladimir Nekrasov and Igor Kholin. The artists mostly lived and worked in the
small village at the outskirts of Moscow; traditionally on Sundays they used to
organize exhibitions where everybody could exhibit their art pieces. At those shows
public discussed art, used to read poetry. Poets, literature critics, cinema producers
took part in the discussions. Those meetings faced an aggressive criticism in the
official periodicals. In 1963 E. Kropivnitsky was fired from the Moscow Artist’s Union
being condemned for formalism in his works, but the true reason was an
organization of Liantsevo group. It happened after the official Khrushiov’s visit of the
Moscow artistic show in Maneg
E. Kropivnitsky, Expulsion from paradise, 1956, oil on canvas, 80 x 67.
I. Kabakov, Rank, 1969, oil on canvas, 56 x 76.
A shared search for a new sociocultural identity united artists and poets of
Lianozovskaya school, however it was not linked to aesthetic concerns, but rather to
general worldview, which was far from being politicized. Curiously, the Lyantsovo’s
group members were not attracted by social problems. As to poets – they were
interested in issues concerning only poetics. In 1959 appeared an independent
magazine Syntacsis, its authors had previously agreed not to treat political problems
and issues. Meanwhile the censorship regarded their activities as a political action,
since its members aimed to escape the state’s control. Analysing their works, a
public will not find any hint on social criticism. Their main subject of interest was
Талочкин, Л.П., Алпатова, И.Г. Другое искусство: Москва 1956—1976. Московская коллекция,
Сост. Т.1, М.: Художественная галерея 1991, С.28-32.
aesthetics and anti-aesthetics. As to the chosen issues of their creative work – they
did not correspond to the official culture. In poet’s Cholin book Barrack’s residents
we find the whole epos of a marginal life
Generally artists of the Lianozovskaya School worked in abstract style. Grace to a
slight liberalization in Thaw period of 1960s new Soviet artists rediscovered historical
Russian and international avant-garde traditions. Officially artists belonged to the
Moscow Union of Artists, working in the applied and graphic arts. None of public
open exhibitions could be hold if it was not organized by the State’s Artist’s Union. No
wonder that unofficial exhibitions and so called literary salons were hold in private
apartments. Every time it gathered more and more participants and visitors.
Meanwhile Soviet officials made everything possible to harass the artists and poets.
In response to the brave artistic gesture of the Lyantsovskaya school members, who
organized an open air exhibition in 1974, offering participation to all nonconformist
artists despite of the law’s contradiction; - State’s administration demolished the
show by bulldozers and water cannons. This historical event remained known as the
Krasikov Street, 1977, oil on canvas, 150 x 200.
M. Shemiakin, Peter the I, 1970s, bronze.
Холин, Игорь. Жители барака. М.: Прометей, 1989, C.38-72.
Лианозовская группа. Истоки и судьбы. М.: Сборник материалов и каталог выставки в
Государственной Третьяковской галерее, 1998, C.7-19.
In the end of 1960s a number of Moscovian artists that had studios in the district of
Sretensky Boulevard decided to create a like-minded artistic group which they
called the Sretensky Boulevard. Following artists took part in this association: Ilya
Kabakov, Erik Bulatov, Viktor Pivovarov, Ülo Sooster, Eduard Shteinberg, Oleg
Vassiliev, Vladimir Yankilevsky, and Ernst Neizvestny. As it became traditional in the
Soviet reality nonconformist artists used their studios as unofficial venues of
exhibitions and artistic discussions. The Union of Moscow Graphic Artists was an
official representative institution to which belonged Sretensky Boulevard’s artists and
which provided them with studios and work commissions in a field of book illustration
and graphic design. Besides a range of the commissioned works, the artists had
enough of free time to create works based on their personal creative searches
The Sretensky Boulevard group had in common the same geographical proximity
rather than similar artistic principles or styles. The main trait which united them
besides the studio’s proximity was an opposition to the official art and a hard work
on a conceptual and abstract art, hold in secret from the official institutions
The majority of artistic groups, associations of the nonconformist art were closely
interwoven one with each other. So, no wonder that many of the artists of the
Sretensky Boulevard also belonged to the Moscow Conceptualist School. The
opposition to the government was the principle idea of this movement’s
appearance in the 1970s. Russian artists urged to express their proper creative
identity which differed from the officially imposed.
Contemporary Russian artists suffered to be able and create works on subjects
which were especially interesting to them such as the quotidian, an everyday life.
Accordingly, in our days the late Soviet reality is sincerely and most fully mirrored in
artworks of conceptualists, elaborated in a proper aesthetic language. Viewer
discovers different moods in their works which without purpose criticize a surrounding
reality: nostalgic, sad, disinterested, quietness.
The Moscow Conceptualist School and group consisted mostly of Ilya Kabakov,
Komar, Erik Bulatov, Oleg Vassiliev and Melamid, Andrei Monastyrsky; however it also
The Irony Tower. Советские художники во времена гласности. M.: Art marginum
press, 2013, pp.35-57.
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