Russian Avant-Garde

The Russian avant-garde movement represented the struggle between the past and the future. The explosion of Russian artistry from 1907 to 1917 turned away from the realism that appeared to have dominated the end of the nineteenth century (like that reflected in the work of the Wanderers) and presented an even greater level of experimentation. In contrast to realism, there was an increased focus on beauty and emotion, particularly in dance. An example of beauty “for beauty’s sake” can be seen in Diaghilev’s “Ballet Russes”, which included elaborate and colorful set design and costumes as a vital component of dance performances. In theater too, there was a break from “excessive realism”, as seen in the development of the Dramatic Theater, which heavily focused on aesthetics, and The Studio, an experimental theater formed by previous actors of Moscow Art Theater. One point I continue to struggle with is if this period (the avant-garde movement between 1907-1917) was more “Western” or less “Western” than before. On one hand, there were obvious efforts to distinguish Russian art and culture from Western Europe, but, on the other hand, there were also efforts to depart from the focus of Russian art being to reestablish Russia’s national identity. Also, while the Ballet Russes toured Europe and obviously established Russia as a unique, innovative art force, such contact with Western Europe must have also contributed to a “westernization” of Russia. As a result, I am unsure if Russia was more or less westernized in 1917, as the avant-garde period began to end and the war began. Also, if Russia was such a huge and vital force in establishing the culture of the early twentieth century, then what happened once the war began (and also once it ended)? How could this huge wave of artistry and creativity end so abruptly?

2 thoughts on “Russian Avant-Garde

  1. Your question concerning whether or not Russia was more or less Western after this movement is a very good one, and one that I, frankly, cannot answer. However, with concern to the ballet “Rite of Spring”, I felt that it was very Russian, but also non-traditional, which led it to being criticized in the West after being preformed there. The dichotomy of the ballet certainly does not lend itself to either side of the spectrum.

  2. I agree with both the posts above me that the relationship between Western culture and Russia during the avant garde movement is unclear. It is evident that art during the period grew to function as a catalyst for European artists’ work in the future. Russian artists, such as Diaghilev, exposed their unique art to many Western countries such as France and England. The way in which groups such as the Futurists approached their work; with vividness, creativity, and freedom of expression, reflects Western culture because the concept of free thought was gaining prominence and importance in European Western countries during the time. But, some to the ideas that are represented in the work of some Russian artists, such as the Futurists, do not necessarily reflect Western culture. The work of the Futurists in theaters targeted social and political issues in a satirical manor. This makes me question the intent of the play: as a means of political and social change (a sign of a brewing revolution) or purely as an evolution of artistic expression. Does Western art have the same social and political revolutionary intent as the Russian Futurists? This is where I believe that the connection between Western art and Russian art is blurry.

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