Progress Rooted in Past Art

"Peasants Dancing" Goncharova (1911)

“Peasants Dancing” Goncharova (1911)

The end of the nineteenth century ushered in new movements in Russian poetry, art, dance, and music, which continued to grow throughout the early twentieth century. The movement sought to unify all forms of art and promoted collaboration amongst artists. Companies such as the Ballets Russes merged artists of all disciplines, from painters to musicians, in their shows. As this new wave of Russian art progressed, the past was often rejected in favor of a belief in progress through the unification of the Russian people. Though the past was often rejected, once the Russian Socialist Revolution occurred, Bolshevik politicians such as Lenin and Lunacharskii failed to recognize the value of the past in the proletariat movement.

In The Proletariat and Art, Alexander Bogdanov stated the important role of art in the organization and unification of a strong proletariat. (( However, he argued that the proletariat should critique past art rather than reject it in its entirety. Instead, traditional Russian art provided an opportunity for the working class to find new interpretations of the artworks in order to learn from it through a proletarian lens. According to Bogdanov, if the proletariat could find new meaning in these pieces of art to advance their own agenda of unity and collectivization, then past artwork would work as a tool to strengthen the proletariat. Further, critiquing traditional artwork would allow the proletariat to understand the past and ensure that it would not repeat itself.

In contrast to Bogdanov’s work, Lenin and Lunacharskii completely rejected artworks and effigies of the Tsarist regime in The Monuments Policy. (( The document maintains that the removal of monuments built under the Tsarist regime was necessary because they were of no artistic value. The statement that these monuments had no artistic value ignored Boganov’s idea that they had a potential purpose in the overall progress of the proletariat.

Elements of the past were often present in Russian art, such is in Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” and in Goncharova’s Primitivist paintings. (( ; These artists believed in the progress of a unified Russian society, but they used symbols of the past in their works to demonstrate its role in inciting this progress. Though the music of “Rite of Spring” employs modern techniques, it is juxtaposed with traditional tribal dancing and costumes in the ballet. Further, Goncharova’s Primitivism was a modern art technique, but it focused on artistic styles and methods of the past. Lenin and the Bolsheviks failed to recognize the importance of the past in art and in a successful proletariat society as a whole.

Concerning the Spiritual in Art

Author: Born in Moscow in 1866, Kandinsky was fascinated with colors and color symbolism throughout his youth. Kandinsky studied law and economics at the University of Moscow and was later offered a teaching position at Derpt University in Tartu. Being more interested in art, Kandinsky decided to move to Munich to study and perfect his painting skills. Kandinsky went on to become a famous painter and art theorist. During the years of WWI and WWII, he moved between Germany, Russia, and France. Kandinsky died in 1944 in France.

Context: Published in 1912, two years before the outbreak of WWI, Kandinsky was writing in what was still considered to be the Belle Époque period in Europe: the optimistic and progressive time before the horrors of WWI.

Language: The language of Kandinsky’s work is fairly simple and does not contain any complex speech or phrasing. His introduction, in its entirety, is structured in a logical fashion.

Audience: Given that the language is not difficult to understand, Kandinsky wrote to the middle and upper classes. He also may have directed his ideas toward the lower class since art does not require the observer to be literate.

Intent: Kandinsky’s intent was to call attention to the impurities and soullessness of current art in general, artists, and observers. He craved a purification of art’s spirituality.

Message: Kandinsky explained that all art is a child of its age and its preceding generation is unable to be truly recreated. He believed the current cultural mindset was awakening from an era of stark materialism, but emphasized that materialism is still prevalent in most art. Kandinsky explained that observers of art, who neglect the artist’s inner meanings and colors, are left unchanged after viewing a painting. Kandinsky disapproved this wasteful “art for art’s sake.” He also denounced artists for their greed and lust for material reward from their paintings. Kandinsky ultimately believed that the current phase of art is barren and cannot progress until someone, who is capable of leading art to its true potential, emerges from the fray of the materialistic and spiritless current form of art.

Soviet Union ideologies in a post WWII era.

In post World War II Soviet society, the Party’s power seized the reigns on cultural movements including arts and sciences. Through his prior connections with Stalin, Zhdanov ascended to power in an autocratic, post war environment, where he would constrict ideological parameters. Zhdanov’s imposition in the scientific sphere ultimately led to the repression of Soviet genetics research, which remained postponed until the 1960’s. This was because Stalin and other Party officials saw Lysenkoism, a farming method in which the seed is conditioned with cold water in order to maximize production, as more important than genetics research, despite the method’s lack of evidence. This had a disastrous long-term effect on the progress of genetics research and the biological discipline as a whole. Zhdanov’s suppression of cultural progress manifested itself in the form of vehement anti-cosmopolitanism, which simultaneously pressured artists into creating more ideologically friendly pieces and in turn diminishing potential artistic transcendence. Another method Zhdanov used to perpetuate his strict ideologies was his creation of “Cominform”, a propaganda machine that used periodicals as the means to further the Party’s influence. Zhdanov’s abrupt death in 1948 led to instability in the political ring. The Leaders of Leningrad and Russian Federation executed a mass purge of thousands of Party officials as a result of the insecurity in the political atmosphere.

I imagine that this would create drag for the Soviet Union in the competition that emerged between the USSR and the United States after World War II, where they were the two remaining super powers, and ultimately had an impact on the Cold War down the stretch. It also portrays the lack of inner stability and further fear in the Soviet Union, which was most likely a residual effect, left by Stalin and mixed with Zhdanov’s fervor.



Both the Surrealist Manifesto and the Futurist Manifesto revolve around the intention of bringing about an artistic revolution through shattering conventional creative barriers by releasing the creative potential of the unconscious. Each manifesto longs for a revolution—to uproot and destroy contemporary understandings and criticisms of artwork with an explosion of abstract aggression.
The Futurist Manifesto was written in 1909, and opposes established teachings and forms of knowledge. It starts with a very long story of various sequences with a nonsensical plot which has no chronological importance. It reminds me of the type of disjointed puzzle which comprises our every night dream sequences, which I believe to be the purpose.  It describes teachers as being “gangrenous” and glorifies the destruction of libraries and museums, a blatant rebellion against public and popular learning establishments. F.T. Marinetti exclaims that war is the only cure for the world, and the essence of art is violence and injustice.
Does Marinetti think that violent artwork can be the only true way to properly express yourself, due to the fact that the human mind is violent by design?
The Surrealist Manifesto claims that surrealism exists and it is the foundation of a revolution. The liberation of the mind itself, a difficult concept to understand, is the basis for surrealism. The unlocking of the creative elements of the unconscious mind and “detached” nature is what surrealism revolves around.
Is the revolt described in the Surrealist Manifesto similar to the one described in the Futurist Manifesto? What does it mean in the Surrealist Manifesto when it states, “It is a cry of the mind turning back on itself, and it is determined to break apart its fetters, even if it must be by material hammers!”?