Socialist Realism


Komar and Melamid: The Origin of Socialist Realism (1982)

Socialist Realism was the name of the game in Soviet Russia. It was art with a purpose. The goal of this state-sponsored art form, according to Lenin, was to create an entirely new type of human being: The New Soviet Man. Artists and authors that pioneered this new cause were dubbed “engineers of the human soul.”

Socialist Realism first came into being during the First Congress of Soviet Writers meeting of August 8, 1934 and sponsored by the Union of Soviet Writers. At its head was Maxim Gorky, who coined the term Socialist Realism Gorky declared at literature and art should depict the ‘New Soviet Man,’ which is as follows: “A new type of man is springing up in the Soviet Union. He possesses a faith in the organizing power of reason….He is conscious of being the builder of a new world, and although his conditions of life are still arduous, he knows that it is his arm and the purpose of his rational will to create different conditions and he has no grounds for pessimism.”

Socialist-Realist sculpture in Vilnius

Socialist-Realist sculpture in Vilnius

During the First Congress meeting, four rules were established that defined what was to be considered Socialist realist art. The work had to be:

  1. Proletarian: art relevant to the workers and understandable to them.
  2. Typical: scenes of every day life of the people.
  3. Realistic: in the representational sense.
  4. Partisan: supportive of the aims of the State and the Party.

The aim of the Union of Soviet Writers was to gain government control in the field of literature. For those wishing to publish anything, membership into the Union was virtually required, as opportunities for publication was much more limited for non-members. In Soviet Russia, the only patron of the arts was the State itself; artists and authors became state employees, promoting socialism and communism in their works. Artists who were members of the Union were well provided. They were given high-end clothing, foreign delicacies, and even country houses, or dachas. However, artists who strayed from the socialist realism movement were cut off from publication and best and severely punished at worst.

Aleksandr Kuprin: Baku Oil Rigs (1931)

Aleksandr Kuprin: Baku Oil Rigs (1931)

Soviet art at this time was often positive and optimistic. Sculptures and paintings depicted happy, muscular peasants working in factories and farms. Industrial and agricultural landscapes were also common, honoring the achievements of the Soviet economy. There were very little that was abstract in Soviet art. Many paintings and sculptures focus on the simple peasant carrying his tools. In literature, the common peasant was often glorified as a ‘hero of labor.’ Literature was more heroic and romantic, reflecting the ideal rather than the realistic.



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1 Response to Socialist Realism

  1. court18 says:

    Be sure to stay tuned for more on Socialist Realism when we get to the USSR under Khrushchev later in the course!

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