The Problem of ‘New’ Art Perception in the USSR: Case Study of Avant-Garde

Artjom A. Fomenkov

Lobachevsky State University of Nizhny Novgorod

Elizabeth A. Pakhomova

Volga state university of water transport

Volume 8, Number 1, 2016 I Full Text PDF


The article reveals the similarities in development of Soviet art in post-Revolutionary years and in the period of “defrosting” and “stagnation”. It was accepted, that this comparison is appropriate due to presence of similar aspects in the Soviet political system of the abovementioned chronological periods. The author demonstrates a great role of avant-garde art in the cultural life of the country in 1920-1930 and at the turn of 1950-1960. The specific character of Russian avant-garde, as the “Revolutionary” art, was revealed. It substantiated the idea about possible approval of the Soviet leadership in the sphere of “new” art (including rock-music) in the whole world in post-Stalin period due to competitive advantages, as compared to the USA and Great Britain. There were important factors—given the specificity of Soviet cultural policy that prevented the USSR from becoming the global leader in the sphere of new art. The negative aspects of Soviet socialist realism were denoted, even though partially, especially in advancement of the USSR’s positive image in the world. The conclusion is that there needs to be certain amount of freedom under the cultural policy of the state as a required condition for participation in cultural sphere.

 Keywords: art, culture, avant-garde, leadership, rock music, the left, the USSR, “defrosting”


The Soviet art is traditionally associated with the style that got the name “socialist realism”. The coinage appeared for the first time only in 1923 in the editorial of “the Literary Paper” (its author was I.M. Gronsky). I.V. Stalin approved this term in the course of meeting with writers in M.Gorky’s house on October 26 of the same year (Revyakina, 2002). In other words, the socialist realism is not “the age mate” of the Soviet power; moreover, this cultural style had a competitor for some time, with many reasons to identify itself with the Revolution (in all appearances, even more than the socialist realism had).


Our work is based on the principles of dialectics, historicism and scientific objectiveness. We deny the understanding of history as “the politics, upset to the past” and we use the problematic/ chronological and comparative methods.


Makarevich writes, “In the beginning of the XX century, avant-garde was the art of Revolution and the art of industrialization” (Makarevich, 2015). At that, some Russian theorists fairly noted, that Russian avant-garde was not simply developed “with the times” (Troitsky, 2012), “in Russia … [avant-garde] was especially expected, as the opinion about the significance of definitely educating role of art and the importance of content of pieces of art always prevailed here” (Smirnova, 2009). This part of Russian art “…in political meaning was a part of general ideology, worldview, whereas European abstract art presented a pure art movement” (Borisova, 2006). It is not for nothing, that there is an opinion, that

“… the Revolution in whole was organized not only and not just politically, but aesthetically – by means of avant-garde activity. It is the avant-garde, that moved along all other European movements of that time in negation of nature and naturality in favor of creation of absolutely artificial society, where is no and cannot be the place for the old world. The negation of everything old in favor of new right structure, not infected with old diseases, excellently characterized the Soviet government. Negating and denying old ideals, it could be supported only by future achievements in its ideology” (Mikhasenko, 2014).

Thus, it is obvious, that avant-garde was actually not only the art that turned to future (Zaytseva, 2009), but also the art, the essence of which was determined by the cultural crisis of modernity (Shukurov, 2008), being in many ways the anti-religious art (Tsvetayeva, 2006). The connection of outstanding representatives of Western avant-garde with the Left political ideas is widely known.Full Text PDF

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