Socialist realism

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					      Ilya Repin, Bargehaulers on the Volga (1870-73)

Repin’s painting was a precursor of socialist realism. It not only
  interpreted the scene in a realist style, but it conveyed a
  message about the inhumanity of Tsarist Russia, revealing a
  deeper reality.
            Socialist Realism
The most famous definition for socialist realism is
Aleksandr Gerasimov's (1881–1963) explanation:
"Realistic in form, Socialist in content."

According to Maxim Gorky (1868-1936), Socialist Realism
employed theory to portray the importance of social activity
in shaping humans. Socialist Realism is primarily optimistic
about life, Gorky explained, and is cognizant of the
educational role of art, whether portraying information
through images, sounds or text.
Aleksander Gerasimov
combined techniques of
academic realism with an
Impressionistic light touch,
and favored ―heroic realism,‖
which featured images of
Revolutionary leaders such
as Lenin as larger-than-life
heroes. However, as Stalin
tightened his grip on the
country, Gerasimov's work
descended into pompous
official portraits, such as
"Stalin and Voroshilov at the
Kremlin Wall," for which he
won a Stalin Prize in 1934.

                           Gerasimov, Lenin on the Tribune (1929 – 1930)
  Aleksander Deineka (Deyneka),
  Battle at Sevastapol

The ―Great Patriotic War‖ (WWII) figured extensively in
  socialist realist painting. The restrictions on style did not
  prevent talented artists from creating dynamic and
  strongly composed works of art.
        Wassilij Satischenko, Return of the Winners, 1953

Although Marxism rejections nationalism in favor of the unity of
   mankind, it was easier to motivate people to respond as Russians to
   a German invasion, than as socialists to a national socialist
   invasion. And the returning heroes were feted as saviors of Russia
   rather than saviors of socialism.
Rural Idyllism & Agriculture
The First
Tractor .

As discussed in class, socialist realism differed from Nazi
  realism in that it did not look backwards, but forwards.
  Industrialization, and advancing technology—such as
  bringing mechanization to agriculture—was seen as a
  socialist achievement.
    Boris Wladimirskij,
    Female Worker .

Although the Soviets’ claims
   of gender-equality were
   largely false, women as
   productive members of society did figure prominently in
   socialist art. The figure here, if not heroic, is at least meant
   to be stoic.
                                           T. S. Naumova,
                                           (1950s) .

Because the peasantry had been the oppressed class in
  Russian feudalism (rather than a true laboring class
  proletariat), images of happy peasants under
  communism were inherently propagandistic.
Aleksie Vasilev,
They Are
Writing About
Us in Pravda
(1951) .

Rural idyillism was strong in socialist realist painting, but this
  may have had more to do with Russian culture than with
  Marxism. Nevertheless, the title reveals the ideological
   Vladimir Firsov,
   Convoy (1984) .

Although much later than the Stalinist era, at a time when
   food production had diminished as a problem, agriculture
   still appeared as a subject.
V. Malagis,
Steel Workers

 At the time of the October Revolution, Russia was an
    underdeveloped agrarian society. In part because they
    needed industrial production, and in part to help fulfill the
    Marxist outline (whereby feudalism gave way to capitalism,
    rather than directly to communism), the Soviet government
    rapidly industrialized. Consequently, favorable
    representations of industry promoted the official viewpoint.
Ivan Bevzenko, Young Steel Workers (1951) .

Communism emphasized social unity, rather than individual
  striving. In paintings like this one, the very composition of the
  work is the message, as all the figures around the sheet of
  steel are clearly working as one. This also highlights that the
  ―realism‖ of this style was meant to reflect the real truth about
  the world, when properly understood.
Socialist realism’s focus on industrial development continued
  into the late stages of the Soviet Union’s existence. Here,
  a subject unlikely to be treated positively by, say, an
  American artist,
  is given the full
  ―glory to socialism‖
  treatment, including
  prominent use of
  the color red.

         S. G.
         Atom Electric
         Plant (1982)
The Cult of Personality
                                                     Stalin as an
                                                     Organizer of the

When Stalin assumed power, he created a ―cult of personality‖
  (that contradicts Marxism’s anti-individualist approach), and
  great effort was put into exaggerating the significance of his
  role in the October Revolution.
Aleksander Gerasimov – Stalin at the
  Sixteenth Party Congress of the Russian
  Communist Party (1929-30)
Michail Boschij,
Stalin in the Civil
War (ca. 1950)

Although Stalin is shown here as a front-line commander in the Civil War,
   he actually never was near the front. But in totalitarian ideology,
   historical truth is no more than what the government says it is.
   ―Realism‖ refers to the visual style—not to the content’s historical
                                                         Boris Vladimirski,
                                                         Roses for Stalin

This image of Stalin as hero to children blissfully obscures his
   responsibility for the death of tens of millions, including countless
   children who starved to death as a consequence of his ill-conceived 5
   year plans.
   Arkadi Rusin,
   Lenin’s Arrival at
   the Finland-
   Station in
   Petrograd in
   Spring 1917

Lenin also remained a predominant subject of socialist realism.
  While many prominent early members of the party were
  purged, and their existence stricken from the official records
  (including being ―photoshopped‖ out of pictures), Lenin
  remained a hero on the order of George Washington.
  Although Lenin was long-dead by the time this was painted,
     the message needed no narrative for Russians. Lenin’s
     presence, his posture, and the fact that he is listening,
     contrasts sharply with the how the feudal nobility of
     Tsarist Russia had treated the peasants.

E. G. Usikova,
Lenin with
Villagers (1959)
Other Aspects…
Olexij Schowkunenko,
Sun of Communism

Although the state tightly controlled the arts, they didn’t demand
   complete uniformity. Here ―realism‖ is allowed a fuzzier, less crisp,
   appearance. But close inspection reveals that the human forms are
   still idealized, unlike, for example, the German Expressionists.
Because Marxist-Leninist
  ideas reviled the past and
  predicted a glorious future,
  socialist painters
  developed visual cues to
  convey that message,
  particularly the ―forward
  and upward‖ look of the
Communism’s modernist
  outlook is also revealed by
  the train and the electrical
  towers, which the
  characters are building to
  bring electricity across the
Despite the pretense to
  realism, most of these
  projects were built by
  forced labor.             Serafima Ryangina, Higher, ever Higher (1934)
     Black Ravens

Black Ravens (also called
  Black Marias) were the
  cars used to arrest
  dissidents (note the
  prison in the
  background). They
  created intense fear
  among the population
  during Stalin’s reign. It
  is unclear how this
  painting passed the
The Chinese communists also supported a style of social
  realism. And like the Soviets, they liked to highlight the
  mutual love between the leader (Mao) and the peasants.
The use of socialist realism often
  became excessively sloganistic.
  In this example from Lao, the
  poster reads ―The Popular
  Democratic System Under the
  Leadership of the Party is the
  Path to Successful
The End