With the introduction of these principles into Soviet art, it became for lengthy decades, dominated by a generally enforced style and rigidly limited subject matter. In keeping with the vaguely formulated principles - which allowed their adjustment to changing political circumstances - the art of social realism should be characterized, first of all, by ideology. This was understood as engagement of the work of art on the side of the "struggle for socialism" as evidenced by the works subject matter and method of presentation. Connected with this principle was the rule of "typicality," that is, the presentation not of that which exists in reality as a single fact, but rather its generic sense. In addition the art of social realism was supposed to distinguish itself by its political consciousness, legibility and intelligibility, optimism, reference to "progressive" traditions and "national form."
The most fiercely combated enemy became "formalism" as a supreme example of "ideology-lessnes." In keeping of the principle of "typicality," reality had to be portrayed accurately, but without lapsing into naturalism which was actively repressed. All evidence of an artist's individual style were also striven against, it being understood as a "bourgeois relic." This gave rise to ideas collective, joint painting of canvases.
Obligatory themes were portraits (Izaak Brodski, Lenin in Smolny,1930, Portrait of Stalin,1937; Aleksander Gierasimow, Stalin and Voroshzhylov at the Kremlin, 1938; Gieorgij Riazski, The Delegate,1927, The Presiding Officer,1928) and groupings (Vasilii Svarog, Stalin and members of the Political Bureau among the childre in Gorky Park, 1939; Boris Joganson, Interrogation of the Communist, 1933). The required subject matter of the paintings changed depending on the requirements of concurrent propaganda.
Thus, during a period of particular emphasis on agriculture - the subject matter of the kolhoz (collective farm) predominated (Taras Gaponenko, To the mother, for the next feeding), during the war and after it - battles were the subject matter. Landscapes, still lives and nudes - as subjects devoid of ideological content - could not be undertaken.
In 1934, after the murder of Kirov, the head of the party in Leningrad, the period of the great purges began. Henceforth terror, fear and debasement reigned in all walks of life. It was then that the practical, situational principles for dealing with the cultured, writers, and artists who could always be condemned to non-existence for some incorrect detail discovered in their work. One of the foremost composers of the 20th century, Dimitri Shoshtakovich, left in his recollections a shocking account regarding the nature of the culture of social realism. "The artist who painted a poor likeness of the leader, disappeared forever." wrote Shoshtakovich. "The same happened to a writer who used the wrong words. No one discussed esthetics or asked for explanations. Someone knocked on the door in the middle of the night and that was it. These were not isolated occurrence or exceptions. (..) It no longer mattered how the public reacted to a composition or whether the critics liked it. All that was of no significance. A matter of life and death was whether the given composition pleased some petty functionary. I repeat - a matter of life or death, and we speak here of life in the literal sense, not as a figure of speech. It is this that has to be comprehended."

based on Sztuka a systemy totalitarne (Art and totalitarian systems) by Waldemar Baraniewski.

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Links:     Socrealism     Jones
English translation by Peter K. Gessner of Polish original posted by Liga Republicanska
© 2000 Polish Academic Information Center, University at Buffalo. All rights reserved.


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