marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

Art in the Soviet Union

Art in the Soviet Union:  Painting Sculpture Graphic Arts by Oleg Sopotsinsky

I picked this book up to get a look at Socialist Realism.  If you're curious about that, I recommend it.  Lots and lots of plates showing all sorts of paintings and sculptures and posters.  A wide variety of styles, though all were representational enough that I didn't go what the #$*^%#$ is that supposed to be for any of them.  Varying quality, too.  Some clearly Communist through iconography, some Communists only through their titles, some Communist if you knew what they were trying to invoke, and some just plain art that happened to be done in the Soviet Union, which could be pressed to ideological purposes, but clearly didn't have to, as art like that could be -- and was -- perpetrated elsewhere.

And then there is the text.  This was first published in Leningrad in 1977, and is -- written as you would expect.  "Soviet art came to be what it is today because immediately after the October Revolution the country's cultural workers were given the unprecedented task of reflecting in their art the life and soul of the people, their newly won freedom and revolutionary achievements, their struggle for a radiant future."

It is interesting to note that Lenin's charge against the Modernist painters were not just that most people neither understood nor liked their work, and its ineffectiveness as propaganda, but that it failed to draw on the rich cultural traditions of realist art.  Apparently you had to build on the capitalist era in everything.

And, of course, the failure of Socialist Realism to reach its full potential was owing to the personality cult; once they stopped that, it flowered in its utter excellence.

This book's text is not secondary source for Soviet painting.  It's primary source for What the Official Line was about Art.  There are points where I wonder:  does he believe it?  did he write it for propaganda purposes?  Or was this what Theodore Dalrymple observed, "the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better."? 

With the Soviet Union dissolved the text does have its amusing aspects.
Tags: non-historical non-fiction reviews, primary source review

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