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A real guide to modern Russian art and culture

Fake news isn’t limited to politics. It impacts on art and culture too. Here’s the truth about modern Russian art and culture.

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London’s Royal Academy of Arts is currently presenting an exhibition of Russian and Soviet art from 1917-1932.

Although some fine works are on display, much of the press around the exhibition has been full of ‘fake art news’ regarding the history of modern Russian art.

This is no surprise seeing as the Royal Academy has its own dubious relationship with one of the Soviet Union’s global antagonists, the CIA.  For anyone planning on going to the exhibition, here are some helpful real facts about modern Russian art and culture.

When Ivan IV proclaimed himself Tsar of All the Russians 1547, Russia began to emerge as one of the world’s most powerful states.  Some foreign observers characterise pre-Soviet Russia by Nikolai I’s mid-19th century policy of Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nation(Правосла́вие, самодержа́вие, наро́дность), but this difficult to translate phrase belies the  reality of a  Russian society which has always been amongst the most multicultural in the world.

The Russian state has at various times encompassed cultures ranging from the Muslim lands of central Asia to the Roman Catholic and Protestant lands of central and eastern Europe. Russia’s geographic immensity has in turn created a culture that is uniquely Eurasian, blending visual, musical, intellectual and spiritual traditions from the many cultures within the Russian state. At no time in Russian history was this cacophony of cultures more explosive than in the 20th century.

(1) 1900-1917(When Future Met Past)

Prior to the October Revolution of 1917, Russian art was at its most cosmopolitan, but rarely did Russian artists sever ties to their culture which was often far removed from prevailing European trends. In the visual arts, the realism associated with the Peredvizhniki(Передви́жники) group continued to captivate imaginations with scenes portraying a wide array of Russian lifestyles and landscapes.

Simultaneously, many Russians began looking to the future as the turn of the 20th century brought new technological and philosophical ideas into Russian minds.

Composer Alexander Scriabin (Алекса́ндр Скря́бин) typified this new outlook. At the turn of the 20th century, Scriabin became regarded as Russia’s most important composer since Tchaikovsky, combining romantic tendencies with radically new concepts concerning polyphony and dissonance.

Like many of his contemporaries, Scriabin was informed equally by the post-Enlightenment thought of Europeans like Nietzsche and Freud as he was by ancient Russian mysticism. The ecumenical spiritualist Helena Blavatsky(Еле́на Блава́тская) proved to be one of the most lasting influences on Scriabin’s philosophical outlook. Scriabin’s own theory on the relation of colour to sound likewise resonated across the culture.

The age of Scriabin was also the age of Kandinsky (Канди́нский) and the abandonment by Kandinsky of traditional realistic forms paralleled Scriabin’s abandonment of traditional romantic idioms.

(2) 1917-1930 (Innovation And Revolution)

The decade after The October Revolution and subsequent civil and foreign wars, saw Russian culture explode with highly original concepts. Against the backdrop of the abolition of the pre-1917 social order, liberalised laws on birth control and homosexuality, and a new emphasis on mass education, artists from all fields began to experiment. Constructivist architecture emphasised the unity of material and shape whilst experiments with conductorless orchestras spoke to a more egalitarian age.

The technology which had captivated many earlier thinkers was now becoming the reality of everyday life across Russia. Lenin’s GOELRO Plan (план ГОЭЛРО) reflected the Communist leader’s desire to bring electricity to every Soviet street and village. With the gradual growth of electricity came film, a medium embraced both by Russian artists and the Communist Party.

Sergei Eisenstein’s use of light and shadow to communicate themes of fraternity and struggles against oppression became the cinematic inspiration for European and American innovators such as Leni Riefenstahl and Orson Welles. Avant-garde painting also reached its zenith after 1917 as artists ranging from Pavel Filonov (Па́вел Фило́нов) to Russian Pole Kazimir Malevich challenged previous conceptions about the nature of painting.  Vladimir Mayakovsky (Влади́мир Маяко́вский) became the literary champion of the post-Revolutionary zeitgeist, writing poems that continue to resonate across the Russian speaking world. Not only was art changing rapidly in the 1920s, but so too was the background of artists.

In pre-Soviet times, the fine arts were largely the reserve of the aristocratic whilst after 1917 all Soviet citizens were given increasing opportunities to receive artistic training. Whilst many eyes were on the future in the 1920s, one must remember that even the most futuristic Russian artists retained a measure of influence from Russian spiritual traditions ranging from the mystical to the Orthodox. Thus even in the age where Communism broke Orthodoxy’s union with the state, Russians continued to be deeply informed by prior traditions.

(3) 1930-1947 (The Triumph of Realism and Patriotism).

Soviet society changed profoundly after Stalin consolidated his leadership in the 1930s.  Many socially liberal laws of the 1920s were quickly repealed to reflect a new, more centralised leadership.

In architecture, constructivism gave way to what is retrospectively called Stalinist architecture, a uniquely Soviet style which combined neo-classical grandeur with Soviet iconography on an erstwhile unprecedented scale. At this time many so-called avant-garde artists left Soviet soil to continue their work in Europe and North America.

As avant-garde painting declined a new school of art arose which would dominate the Soviet Union till the 1990s. Socialist Realism looked back to previous realistic traditions, whilst making use of contemporary painting techniques. Crucially unlike previous styles of realism, Socialist Realism imparted a clearly defined didacticism.

Socialist Realism ranged from inspirational historical paintings and paintings of Soviet leaders, to scenes from everyday life. In the 1930s Socialist Realist sculptors began pioneering a style of Soviet sculpture that can be seen on monuments and edifices throughout the world to this day.

The sound-films of the 1930s allowed Soviet composers to write scores to films which were increasingly produced during Stalin’s reign. The most prominent Soviet composers Shostakovich (Шостакович), Prokofiev (Прокофьев) and Khachaturian (Хачатурян/ Խաչատրյան) each provided numerous film scores during this time. The outbreak of the Great Patriotic War saw artists contributing greatly to the war effort. Shostakovich’s most enduring orchestral work, his 7th symphony was dedicated to the heroes of the siege of Leningrad.

Socialist realist painters were enlisted to keep moral high by painting triumphalist portraits of soldiers whilst denouncing the fascist enemy. Some of Socialist Realisms most enduring sculptures were erected after 1945 in the form of war memorials which were erected in the Soviet Union and in countries where the Red Army won decisive battles.

(4) 1947-1964 (From Zhdanov to Khrushchev)

No man shaped post-war cultural policy more than Andrei Zhdanov (Андре́й  Жда́нов).

Zhdanov took a hard line against all forms of avant-garde and abstract art. Zhdanov condemned ‘formalism’ in the arts; this is to say, art where the form or methodology is perceived as eclipsing a socially pertinent meaning. Zhdanov’s theories whilst very much a product of Stalin’s age, continue to speak to the controversy over whether highly abstract art possesses the ability to resonate with the masses.

Interestingly, this was a time when the CIA was actively promoting obscure and abstract arts to try and feign a western superiority vis-a-vis the USSR, when in the Soviet Union, art that was considered meaningful and moving to ordinary citizens remained favoured by the artistic establishment.

Even artists who had contributed to the war effort were not immune as the infamous Zhdanov decree of 1947 which simultaneously proscribed  Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Khachaturian, the last of whom was an enthusiastic Communist.

Although Zhdanov died in 1948, his policies remained mostly unchanged until the death of Stalin in 1953.

The post-war era was a fruitful time for architects as mass building projects were inaugurated, particularly in the ‘hero cities’ (город-герой) that bore the brunt of destruction during the war.  Whilst Stalinism remained a dominant form of architecture in the late 40s and early 50s, eventually many Soviet architects began pioneering brutalism.

Brutalism became a dominant feature in Soviet cityscapes in the decades after the Great Patriotic War. The so-called ‘Khrushchev Thaw’ reached into the arts as many of the individuals proscribed under Stalin were publically rehabilitated. This included those proscribed in 1947 by Zhdanov.

The thaw saw the emergence of new avant-garde and abstract artists although their numbers were far lower than those working in the area of Socialist Realism. In spite of this, one event from this era remains emblematic of the disconnect between avant-garde artists and the government of the day. The incident took place in 1962 where Khrushchev viewed an exhibition of artists at the Moscow Manege. Upon seeing the avant-garde works, Khrushchev condemned the art as ‘horse shit’.

Just two years later Khrushchev was out of power, but his condemnation relegated much avant-garde art to the periphery of society where it would remain until the mid-1980s.

Today, Russian culture, like Russian society reflects a combination of comfort, curiosity and healthy criticism of the past. Contemporary composers, painters, sculptors and architects in Russia are as comfortable with international styles as they are with paying homage to Russia’s rich cultural heritage.

Whilst the 1990s was a time when Russia’s depressed economy meant that many individuals from outside Russia were able to purchase Russian masterworks for insanely low prices. Today, Russian art collectors are preserving and buying back much of Russia’s cultural heritage.

Russia’s art scene is commercially healthy. One can hope that with all of Russia’s young talent, a new great revolution in art may yet again be born in cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg.

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Zuckerberg Clings To Power While Sandberg Claims Ignorance After Damaging NYT Report

The New York Times reported that Facebook hired GOP PR firm, Defenders, to smear liberal detractors as Soros operatives. 

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Facebook executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg are battling backlash over an explosive investigation by the New York Times into Facebook’s mercenary damage control tactics in the wake of several major scandals.

Despite fresh calls from investors for Zuckerberg to step down in his dual role as CEO and chairman and appoint an independent director to oversee the board, the 34-year-old tech titan brushed off the suggestion during a Thursday call with journalists.

“A company with Facebook’s massive reach and influence requires robust oversight and that can only be achieved through an independent chair who is empowered to provide critical checks on company leadership,” said New York City comptroller, Scott Stringer.

Zuckerberg disagrees. “I don’t think that that specific proposal is the right way to go,” said the Facebook CEO when asked if he would consider stepping down, adding that other initiatives had been launched to “get more independence into our systems.”

The measures include creating an independent body to advise the company on decisions over whether controversial content should remain on the site.

Ultimately, he said Facebook is never going to eradicate mistakes. “We’re never going to get to the point where there are no errors,” he told reporters. “I’m trying to set up the company so that way we have our board, and we report on our financial results and do a call every quarter, but that also we have this independent oversight that is just focused on the community.” –Business Insider

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, meanwhile, is claiming ignorance – telling CBS This Morning co-host Norah O’Donnell “we absolutely did not pay anyone to create fake news – that they have assured me was not happening.”

In their Wednesday exposé – the culmination of interviews with over 50 current and former company executives, lawmakers, government officials, lobbyists and congressional staff members,the New York Times reported that Facebook had hired GOP PR firm, Defenders, which smeared liberal detractors as Soros operatives – and worked with a sister company to create negative propaganda about competitors Google and Apple.

Mr. Kaplan prevailed on Ms. Sandberg to promote Kevin Martin, a former Federal Communications Commission chairman and fellow Bush administration veteran, to lead the company’s American lobbying efforts. Facebook also expanded its work with Definers.

On a conservative news site called the NTK Network, dozens of articles blasted Google and Apple for unsavory business practices. One story called Mr. Cook hypocritical for chiding Facebook over privacy, noting that Apple also collects reams of data from users. Another played down the impact of the Russians’ use of Facebook.

The rash of news coverage was no accident: NTK is an affiliate of Definers, sharing offices and staff with the public relations firm in Arlington, Va. Many NTK Network stories are written by staff members at Definers or America Rising, the company’s political opposition-research arm, to attack their clients’ enemies. –NYT

Meanwhile, Sandberg stressed that Facebook was undertaking new security measures, telling O’Donnell: “Our strategy was to shore up the security on Facebook and make major investments there,” and that the company had made significant investments in combatting fake news and foreign influence.

“It was not what I was doing nor was it the company’s strategy to deflect, to deny or to hire PR firms to do things. That’s not the strategy. And I was part of none of that. We’ve taken great steps, we’ve made huge investments. We’ve invested a ton in AI and technology and if you were following us before the election you saw those efforts pay off. We were able to take down lots of stuff over and over, over and over because we were now focused on this,” said Sandberg.

When asked if rank-and-file employees are confident in her, Sandberg replied: “Yes, I believe so.

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Hillary Clinton Ordered To Answer Additional Questions Under Oath About Private Email Server

A federal court ordered Hillary Clinton to answer more questions about her illicit email system.

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Via Zerohedge


A federal judge has ordered Hillary Clinton to respond to further questions, under oath, about her private email server.

Following a lengthy Wednesday court hearing, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan (who is also presiding over fmr. National Security adviser Michael Flynn’s case), ruled that Clinton has 30 days to answer two additional questions about her controversial email system in response to a lawsuit from Judicial Watch.

Hillary must answer the following questions by December 17 (via Judicial Watch)

  • Describe the creation of the clintonemail.com system, including who decided to create the system, the date it was decided to create the system, why it was created, who set it up, and when it became operational.
  • During your October 22, 2015 appearance before the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Benghazi, you testified that 90 to 95 percent of your emails “were in the State’s system” and “if they wanted to see them, they would certainly have been able to do so.” Identify the basis for this statement, including all facts on which you relied in support of the statement, how and when you became aware of these facts, and, if you were made aware of these facts by or through another person, identify the person who made you aware of these facts.

Sillivan rejected Clinton’s assertion of attorney-client privilege on the question over emails “in the State’s system,” however he did give Clinton a few victories:

The court refused Judicial Watch’s and media’s requests to unseal the deposition videos of Huma Abedin, Cheryl Mills and other Clinton State Department officials. And it upheld Clinton’s objections to answering a question about why she refused to stop using her Blackberry despite warnings from State Department security personnel. Justice Department lawyers for the State Department defended Clinton’s refusal to answer certain questions and argued for the continued secrecy of the deposition videos. –Judicial Watch

Wednesday’s decision is the latest twist in a Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit targeting former Clinton deputy chief of staff, Huma Abedin. The case seeks records which authorized Abedin to conduct outside employment while also employed by the Department of State.

“A federal court ordered Hillary Clinton to answer more questions about her illicit email system – which is good news,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “It is shameful that Judicial Watch attorneys must continue to battle the State and Justice Departments, which still defend Hillary Clinton, for basic answers to our questions about Clinton’s email misconduct.”

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May Forces Brexit Betrayal to its Crisis Point

We’re 29 months later and the U.K. is no closer to being out of the EU than the day of the vote. 

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Authored by Tom Luongo:


The only words that were left out of Theresa May’s announcement of achieving Cabinet approval over her Brexit deal were Mission Accomplished.

Theresa May was put in charge of the U.K. to betray Brexit from the beginning.  She always represented the interests of the European Union and those in British Parliament that backed remaining in the EU.

No one in British ‘high society’ wanted Brexit to pass.   No. One.

No one in Europe’s power elite wanted Brexit to pass.  No. One.

No one in the U.S.’s power elite wanted Brexit to pass.  No. One.

When it did pass The Davos Crowd began the process of sabotaging it.  The fear mongering has done nothing but intensify.  And May has done nothing but waffle back and forth, walking the political tight rope to remain in power while trying to sell EU slavery to the both sides in British Parliament.

We’re 29 months later and the U.K. is no closer to being out of the EU than the day of the vote.  Why?

Because Theresa May’s 585 page ‘deal’ is the worst of all possible outcomes.  If it passes it will leave the EU with near full control over British trade and tax policy while the British people and government have no say or vote in the matter.

It’s punishment for the people getting uppity about their future and wanting something different than what had been planned for them.

Mr. Juncker and his replacement will never have to suffer another one of Nigel Farage’s vicious farragoes detailing their venality ever again.  YouTube will get a whole lot less interesting.

It’s almost like this whole charade was designed this way.

Because it was.

May has tried to run out the clock and scare everyone into accepting a deal that is worse than the situation pre-Brexit because somehow a terrible deal is better than no deal.  But, that’s the opposite of the truth.

And she knows it.  She’s always known it but she’s gone into these negotiations like the fragile wisp of a thing she truly is.

There’s a reason I call her “The Gypsum Lady.” She’s simply the opposite of Margaret Thatcher who always knew what the EU was about and fought to her last political breath to avoid the trap the U.K. is now caught in.

The U.K. has had all of the leverage in Brexit talks but May has gone out of her way to not use any of it while the feckless and evil vampires in Europe purposefully complicate issues which are the height of irrelevancy.

She has caved on every issue to the point of further eroding what’s left of British sovereignty.  This deal leaves the U.K. at the mercy of Latvia or Greece in negotiating any trade agreement with Canada.  Because for a deal between member states to be approved, all members have to approve of it.

So, yeah, great job Mrs. May.  Mission Accomplished.  They are popping champagne corks in Brussels now.

But, this is a Brexit people can be proud of.

Orwell would be proud of Theresa May for this one.

You people are leaving.  Let the EU worry about controlling their borders.  And if Ireland doesn’t like the diktats coming from Brussels than they can decide for themselves if staying in the EU is worth the trouble.

The entire Irish border issue is simply not May’s problem to solve.  Neither is the customs union or any of the other stuff.  These are the EU’s problems.   They are the ones who don’t want the Brits to leave.

Let them figure out how they are going to trade with the U.K.  It is so obvious that this entire Brexit ‘negotiation’ is about protecting the European project as a proxy for the right of German automakers to export their cars at advantageous exchange rates to the U.K. at everyone’s expense.

Same as it was in the days of The Iron Lady.

If all of this wasn’t so predictable it would be comical.

Because the only people more useless than Theresa May are the Tories who care only about keeping their current level of the perks of office.

The biggest takeaway from this Brexit fiasco is that even more people will check out of the political system. They will see it even more clearly for what it is, an irredeemable miasma of pelf and privilege that has zero interest in protecting the rights of its citizens or the value of their labor.

It doesn’t matter if it’s voter fraud in the U.S. or a drawn out betrayal of a binding referendum. There comes a point where those not at the political fringes look behind the veil and realize changing the nameplate above the door doesn’t change the policy.

And once they realize that confidence fails and systems collapse.

Brexit was the last gasp of a dying empire to assert its national relevancy.  Even if this deal is rejected by parliament the process has sown deep divisions which will lead to the next trap and the next and the next and the next.

By then Theresa May will be a distant memory, being properly rewarded by her masters for a job very well done.


Please support the production of independent and alternative political and financial commentary by joining my Patreon and subscribing to the Gold Goats ‘n Guns Investment Newsletter for just $12/month.

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