22 thoughts on “Lecture 3: Historic Avant-grade: Russian Revolution

  1. Nanako Senda

    Both Futurism and the Russian avant-garde had the repulsion towards the existing regime and the motivation to break it. What is interesting to me is that people at that time challenged the concept of art first in order to overturn the political system. However, this is understandable given the fact that how art was a privilege only for a limited number of wealthy people at that time. Thus, people at that time challenged the concept of art by denying individual authorship and replacing it with collective authorship. And I see that this replacement of authorship was directly connected to the replacement of the initiative, leadership, and hegemony in the society.
    For example, Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square overturn the power balance between art and viewers. What is drawn is just a square and it has no object to be seen. This painting completely eliminates the meaning of painting because usually, paintings have objects. If there is an object, then the viewer can evaluate it as good or bad, like or dislike. Thus, the viewer has power. However, in this case, Black Square itself takes an initiative. The viewers cannot evaluate the painting because there is no object. Instead, they are forced to think what it means.
    I feel that this transformation of the power between art and viewer is the theme of Russian avant-garde. The proletariat gained the initiative by becoming “art,” and eventually gained the initiative in the society. I also would like to apply this idea to the reenactments of the historical event. It is an opportunity to switch the authorship of the event: who is responsible and who takes control of it. Instead of forcefully being involved with the situation, one could take an initiative. In this respect, all past can be a history if one tries to inspect who is responsible and challenge it.

  2. German Rodriguez

    It’s interesting to see the working class rising up in the Russian revolution and seeing capitalism as an evil political system. Their interpretations and propaganda formed in these works involved the common people to rise up against their current political system and burry their past with it. I think it was even more influential that the uses of avant-garde art considered the viewer when creating work that will push the boundaries of participatory art.

  3. Kalia Gooding loadholt

    I think that it is good that the working class wanted to rise up in power. This means that saw power in being up in the top. They want trin the system around. The art back was simple simplicity , but speak very loud. Insist they had this revolution, the artist when they had to make a change. They artist want to make a in pack working in factories. As a art it’s you should always be involved. You would need to review the Creative of art in the participatory art.

  4. Sanzida Islam

    I find it very interesting the the revolution and civil war is part of the Russian history. When it came to an art point of view I was really intrigued of how the artist participate in the revolution. With the Russian cartoon being created it shows the different levels of status each person had and it suprised me alot how the people on the bottom thought they where the most powerful since they kept everything together. But that is true and they also have the most confidence! Than when it actually came to the artist itself majority of them where either impressionist or post impressionist. What really interest me was they weren’t your typical artist who just create works and like to show it off for recognition but instead they where doing it to what they believe was against the bourgeois. With there being many diffrrent type of art such as sculptors, painters, etc they try to do everything different. One artist such as Vladimir Tatlin is an excellent example combing sculptor and painting but trying to make it seem very industrial creating one of his art call “corner reliefs”. And something to know was his materials where working class materials. Another revolutionary was called productivism and being able to actually work in factories. Overall it was how was art going to contribute in the new society that base on collectivity and equality within the working class. And I really appreciate that no matter what art is always involved.

  5. Lauren Hynd

    While I don’t want to reduce the Proletkult theater and later mass spectacles to just propaganda, I am struggling to place them more outside of that than in. This is because the goal of those projects was to empower and bring solidarity between fellow working class people, and to do this, focus was placed on repetitive political reenactments which do more for constructing a collective memory than it does in cultivating class consciousness. If there was this popular demand for theater like that, perhaps it did serve their needs to elevate the lower class world to a higher status worthy of being the subject of art, but did these works really examine the struggles of everyday life for people crippled by poverty? The workers that were the subject of Sergei Tretyakov’s Gas Masks found the performance to be annoying. So while efforts might’ve been admirable, was the art really changing their culture as envisioned? The dominant mood that the theatrical events conveyed was revolutionary fervor, and as we saw with the Futurists, this is something that can be harnessed by those in power for good or immoral ends. And considering that their revolution had just happened, the mass spectacle performances strike me as a culture trying to construct their own mythology by using recent historical events, and arranging them to their preference before entering into collective memory, what would become their history. Bugdanov’s view was that there is no room for individual experience in art, its stigma tied to a history of bourgeois narrative, but Trotsky also has a point that class struggles do speak through individuals and their stories. Would we not learn more of the psychological hardships of proletariat life through the aesthetic lens focused on quality? Can we have aesthetic quality without the complete sacrifice of social equality? Can we use a lens that explores subjective aspects of experience like emotions and mood, but in service of the collective? Wouldn’t a variety of personal illustrations validate the complexity and power of an entire class more than a story of directed revolt? I understand the desire to prevent mystification through illusory elements, but I’m not convinced mass spectacle escapes that either. The strict political program of these works is also what could make them potentially dangerous given that the participants involved were at times actual armed military and public from the original revolts being staged.

    1. Arnaud Gerspacher Post author

      Lauren, you raise a really interesting point here: I think it’s very likely that aesthetic quality is needed for properly conveying individuals and their stories, which after all make up the collective…what we mean by “quality” remains somewhat elusive, but that’s something we might be unpacking throughout the semester…maybe it’s tied to a certain distance from political dogma?

  6. Hsin Liang

    I keep thinking the differences between the past and history. People in the time period did not try to reflect the history in order to construct their own history. The “history” they rejected at that time was built by those people in higher class such as bourgeois. The past of proletarians could not be the part of bourgeois’s history, so they challenged the situation to create their own story. I kind of agree that the history is alway written by the winner. And, the winner will be those people who are privileged and have power to rule workers. However, when the proletarian is able to stand up to free themselves from the hierarchy, the system which confines them ends up collapsing and they has power to produce the history in their perspectives. The main issue will be that when many people gather together to become a mass, people sometimes will turn out being blind and forget the reason why they start the movement, which I have seen in many demonstrations nowadays.

    1. Arnaud Gerspacher Post author

      Great, Hsin, thanks for your comment–what seems to be missing, however, is very much discussion of the art and cultural productions for this week. You should have taken more time to compare today’s demonstrations you bring up at the end of your comment and the Russian mass spectacles…I bet a number of illuminating differences would have come out of this…

  7. Elizabeth Schatz

    Both Futurism and the Russian [Revolution’s] Avant-garde are inspired by major aspirations (and in the case of the latter- successes) for political upheaval. I still believe that a rise in populist sentiment has some part in politics interweaving with participatory art, however, I am surprised that the default goals of these two historic avant-gardes were to be political. I feel like we don’t interpret other mediums of art this way (though one could argue that we should), and that this returns us to the spiral of interpreting participatory art through its results that Bishop is weary of in Artificial Hells. Do we insist that participatory art have tangible results or does the art cite these results as a goal and we judge it as such? This recalls the precarious state that participatory art is in; on one hand, art should be allowed to exist without being useful. On the other hand, can art exist without any remnants of itself in the world? Additionally, is effectiveness the only way we should interpret whether or not art has imprinted on the world?
    This is interesting to discuss in relation to the art of the Russian Revolution because the masses contemporary to the movement were generally disinterested in it. Furthermore, in greater opposition to our [general] class consensus, (noting this comparison equates two distinct populations of people) the public was more receptive to a morally-perverted Futurism than the art movement inciting proletariat revolution. If we were to evaluate the Russian Avant-garde as a valuable political tool, we cannot consider it good work. This conclusion is fairly incorrect though, which begs to question: what criteria can we use to capture the full value of the art of the Russian Revolution? The answer to this question could probably lead us into ways to interpret contemporary participatory art.
    This line of though seems to be the direction that the text is moving in. Bishop doesn’t seem to like this era of participatory art, and the criteria that can be used to mark against its value is a criteria she is vehemently opposed to. Because of this, we should expect some vague criteria to qualify from the text soon.

  8. Jose Zacarias

    As some of the comments have already stated, it’s very clear that there are similarities between the Futurists and the Russian Prolekult. In seeking to establish themselves as a new culture for the masses, Futurists were very forward with their ideas of completely rejecting the past, however the Bolsheviks had different ideas of how to establish a new proletariat culture. On the one hand, Bogdanov was following a similar approach by rejecting all things that related to the Bourgeois, and as Bishop stated, “he was the most outspoken advocate of suppressing bourgeois culture of the past in favour of a new proletarian culture that made no reference to cultural heritage.” On the other hand, Lenin wanted to build upon the existing Bourgeois structure rather than completely reject it. This struggle within the political realm, I think, is what eventually makes many the performances in the theater into forms of propaganda, and ones that don’t quite resonate with the actual workers. As we saw in the lecture, some of these performances, such as Tretyakov’s Gas Mask “play”, were meant to engage the workers and expand on the notion of combing artistry with labor. While the setting of an actual factory provides the performance with a sense of legitimacy, it actually failed to resonate with the workers in the factory, as they saw this performance as a nuisance. That begs the question: How do you promote this sense of collectivity amongst the working class if the working class does not share your ideologies or does not understand your performances?

    1. Talisa Velazquez Grossman

      The ideas, the concepts for the people, for the collective, are thought/created mostly by one person?

      My first thoughts when reading the chapter and listening about, in particularly Bogdanov, was that he was not an artist. So how could a non artists per se, create a whole ideology of the role of art in society, of what artists should be focusing on? To me, in someway it diminished the importance of the role of artists in society. When we do see the power of art, why not rely on artists to help understand and utilize its role. Throughout the chapter, we see how the art that was created, was boring, uninteresting, repetitive, and predictable because perhaps trying to achieve its goal, lost all its power.

      I connected the readings to my study of Theatre for Children. The best theatre for children is not the theater that lowers their quality of theatre because its for children, or who simplifies their objective. The best theatre for children is the theatre that strives for artistic quality, which leads to better theatre.
      When you take out for the importance for artistic quality in the theatre, as I understood in the the Russian Avant-Garde theatre, you lose something that can help get your message across. Instead of focusing on creating political theatre, create good theatre that has political ideas and your message will come across.

      I think also the problem was that they did not believe or trust the public. They had a stereotypical idea of what the masses were like, they simplified a lot of artistic realms, without the possibility that the “mass man” could appreciate, value, and interact with art.

  9. Jackeline Sanchez

    I found it super interesting the image of the capitalist society. In fact, I feel we can relate to this in today’s modern world. Everything is a cycle and often repeated throughout time. With this in mind, the term proletariat goes back to Ancient Rome. They referred to its people as the lowest class, and it was being reused in 20th century Russia. Looking back at the image, the Pyramid of the Capitalist System is broken into different classes… at the upper top we have the banking system, followed by the government, religion, military, upper class society and at the bottom, the poor. On the whole, this image reminds me of Nathan Rothschild’s famous quote, “Give me control of a nation’s money and I care not who makes its laws.” In this case, the poor and middle class are the value of the capital influence and once they realize their worth, many rebel against it. I believe this is why many people in today’s society “use the system”. Again going back, this movement was very successful because people worked together to make a difference and the (Russian Revolution/ Bolshevik Revolution/ October Revolution) was radically just as equal. The people are a large collection that keeps society going and once they realize that power and how the system functioned, many Russians stood up and this led to a civil war between the years 1918-1920.

  10. Justin Gordon

    Art basically forms a combination from working non working class. I feel like this is much like what today is. Where as artist they can classify themselves as a working class. And art is a form of self expression. This also allows more inclusive world where art is more of a common ground.

    I can see how the revolution relates to Futurism and even Dada. But to just talk about how the idea of combining the working class and empowering them to create. Even if they weren’t professionals is something that is really powerful. In the sense that it not only shows the working class that they are just as good as the elites because this is something they pay a lot of money for. But they also work with their hands. Something that upperclassmen didn’t do.

    Out of most of the movements I would say I agree with this one the most. I like more of their ideals and what they focus on. I don’t believe in embracing chaos, war, and things of that matter but I understand that during those times change is the most likely to happen.

    Also to talk about the topic you stated with group vs individual (Bogdanov vs Trosky). While I do agree that collective is better. Just like the saying 2 heads are better than 1. This goes along with writing as a form of art. It also agrees with design and asking for opinions. But Trosky thoughts of oneself and everyone has their own perspective and way they perceive things is also correct. It could tarnish/hurt a piece of work at times if there is too much intervention. So oneself, ones expression, and how someone perceives it can be completely different than another’s. I guess I’m in the middle ground with this debate.

  11. Tamara Collazo

    This lecture gave me such a wave of nostalgia when I would read Animal Farm from George Orwall in regards to the Russian Revolution. It’s never a dull moment when it comes to artists involving themselves into political matters because its been that way for several years. I do, however, like the idea that instead of it being just the artists, its a collective of everyone. The debate on constructivism and productivism has its negatives and its positives (in this time period): with constructivism, the art that was being produced appears to be made by the working class materials, but can be viewed disengenuous because the artist could be using it for his/her own alterior motive out of the suffrage of a particular part of civilization; with productivism, its progressive in a sense that the artist is working with the society in factories to understand their lives and break the barriers that are interfearing, but it can also come off as ignorant because they’re trying to empathize a life that they may not have lived. Its a slippery slope on both ends and its actually quite prevalent in today’s modern society.

  12. Ahanaf Tashin

    Participatory art during the revolution focused heavily on self-awareness and exposing the government. For example, Vladimir Tatlin’s piece wherein he used iron glass and asphalt to identify the oppressed working class. This art focused on exploiting societal/governmental expectations of the working class by showing the realities of their nature. In some sort of way through this art people can reclaim their identities. During that time the Russian government, led people to believe that the only thing that mattered was god and spirituality and they were not convinced that they were being used by the same people laborers. So, seeing these art pieces by Tatlin or the pieces painted on the trains promotes senses of self-awareness. These pieces allowed people to see that they were being exploited for their labor on a wide and public scale. It is interesting to see how public art influenced the revolution and was able to impact the minds of the working class so that they realize that they are collectively able to cause change.

  13. Andalif Syed

    If we are to consider history, it can be seen in a very unfair spectrum. History will always be remembered fondly by those who found victory or impact in the infrastructure of its cause or the people it is trying to impact. But to eradicate the past as willed by so many futurists and many communist proletariats. While Marx will consider the mending of reality as a means of projecting realization into exploited workers. If we are to elaborate this into art, the general perception of bourgeoisie tradition and art is perceived as a reality for which so many can be fooled by. The mending of reality even as simple as art can bend perception enough to make others realize their place in society especially when considering from whom or what class that art was coming from. Proletariat art will be seen as a breaking of reality to ultimately destroy capital and as a result, feed to understanding of the reality behind what may seem like an illusion. In the end, Proletariats are keen to return reality in a history to the mass public from what may seem like an illusion casted by the bourgeoisie.

  14. Seth E Valestrand

    Artists during the Russian Revolution sought to develop alongside the growing proletariat as well as serve the revolution by undoing the oppressive structures on which western art were founded. Central to this theme was the idea of self-reflection on the part of the artist, as one could not serve the revolution as well as the oppressive power structures which were so prevalent in the pre-revolution art world. As a result, most artwork produced was to express the struggle of the worker against the bourgeois. This served as a means to (hopefully) alert workers as to their condition and thus recruit them to the proletariat. Perhaps the easiest way to absorb the general sentiment is the conductorless orchestra, which seems to exemplify the essence of art during the Russian Revolution; completely decentralized and focused on awareness of one’s standing in all actions.

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