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A Brief Examination Of The Relationship Between The Russian Avant-Garde And The October Revolution
The Russian Avant Garde began in Russia in about 1915 It was the year that Malevich revealed his Suprematist compositions that reduced painting to total abstraction. and rid the pictures of any reference whatsoever to the visual world. He is credited with being the first artist to do this; that is, forsake the visual world for a world of pure feeling and sensation. This was the first movement originated by Russians and the birth of several other Avant Garde movements. Probably the most popular piece at his 1915 exhibition was “BLACK SQUARE” (real name “suprematist composition”. It’s basically a black square on a slightly larger white square that forms a border around it. It was hung in the exhibition in the way an icon would be hung in a peasant’s home; ie top corner of the room. Malevich saw Suprematism as representing a yearning for space, an impulse to break free from the globe of the earth. It a spirit, a spirituality that went beyond anything before it.
Among Malevich’s students and contemporaries were such names as El Lissitzsky, Alexsandr Rodchenko and Vladimir Tatlin who were, of course, to lead the Constructivist movement which started in the same year as Malevich’s exhibition. Tatlin had returned from studying art in Paris in 1913 where he had seen a series of relief constructions by Picasso. Tatlin became very interested in form and message rather than representation and so he himself made a series of constructions. They were in the same vein as Picasso, but they were framed within a space and jutted out of the picture plane into the space of the observer. They created a lot of interest and he coined the term Constructivism. Tatlin and Malevich, who had been friends up until this point started to be competitors over art ideology and this continued for a long time after the Bolshevik Revolution in October, 1917.
There had been a smaller Capitalist revolution in February that year but the October Revolution completely usurped it. After the October Revolution both Tatlin and Malevich opened up art schools. Malevich’s Suprematist school was similar in style but not ideology to the De Stijl movement in Holland, while the Constructivist school of Tatlin’s had links to the German Bauhaus. The October revolution had been a primarily proletariat revolution and proletarians have proven to be somewhat negative in their attitude to new, radical confronting art styles and this was no exception. Both schools realised they had to prove their worth, so to speak. The new communist government saw artists as elite. A few things transpired to change the soviet government’s ideas about these artists.
Rodchenko was proud of the fact that the leftist artists had been the first to come to work with the Bolshevik comrades. There was a Constructivist manifesto released in 1922,( when Constructivism had reached its Zenith and had started ever so slowly to decline,) stating that the movement as a whole was “trying to build the intellectual material production of Communist culture”. The general mood among the Avant Garde was one of completely embracing the Bolshevik ideal. Perhaps this is why they were given so much freedom. From all accounts, the leftist artists felt very supported by the government. According to a letter written at the time by a friend of several of the artists, all of the young artists, no matter how innovative or experimental were taken seriously. They spoke about being able to realise their dreams, and they were grateful that neither politics nor power intruded into their work. They felt it was the first time most of them had been given the opportunity to do everything they wanted in their own field. A boyish dream, perhaps, but it must have been extremely liberating. They ran with their new ideas for a while and then got down to the work of helping the revolution through art.
The Suprematist and Constructivist schools tried different approaches. Malevich’s Suprematists were trying to create a whole new vision, a new world, breaking all tradition and rejecting the old culture. Tatlin’s school, however, rejected easel painting. They said it was bourgeois and should be discounted completely. They adopted a very mathematical, utilitarian approach to art. They studied engineering and architecture. They started designing artistic, functional but also utilitarian equipment for the new society. Their approach worked. More and more they were noticed to be making art for the masses. To a new government who were wrestling with such questions as how to shape the new Soviet society and what people needed to be taught (so as to become proper soviet citizens), these artists looked like they had the ability and intelligence to fulfil the government dreams. They were looking for the official proletarian art and, although suprematism had some ideas they could use, Constructivism was looking better and better. Trotsky, Bukharin, Lunacharsky and others were against government control of the arts; so they must have been delighted to have the artists themselves so willing to help with the propaganda campaign, seen as so necessary for the education of the masses.
Trotsky felt art should be left alone but the government needed to turn the working classes into a conscious collective, both politically and technologically.
The fact that most of the population was unable to read a political pamphlet created some problems. Posters with pictorial messages became essential to the mass communication system. By the 1920s, Constructivism became the dominant art primarily because they were able to fuse poster art with fine art and make it accessible to the masses. The Suprematists did print a few abstract posters like El Lissitsky’s 1919 poster. .BEAT THE WHITES WITH THE RED WEDGE but they had n.............
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