I struggled initially to figure out a connection between these two articles, as there was much more material to comment on in the socialist realism one. However, after reading over a quote that I had written down when I first read them, I noticed the weird connection. McCarty said “’I’ve grown more angry and more outraged not at the theft but at the corruption of the message.’” In this article, there was art taken and transformed into propaganda, wrongfully given a message separate from the intention. In the second, there was propaganda taken and transformed into art, stripped of its message and separated from the intention. I did find it interesting that McCarty found this disruption of content more distressing than the theft of his work. I wonder if he would have still felt this drastic about the superimposed message if the message of the original work was not so directly contrasting it—if his work hadn’t been about experiences of war and promoting peace, but something separate from war, would he have had the same reaction?
Regretfully, we cannot see how the socialist realist artists feel about their work being put into these galleries, as (as far as I could tell from the article) they are no longer living. (That may not be true for every artist, but there was no mention of a living artist.) The article brought up the question of whether socialist realism is valuable art that came about in a time when it couldn’t be appreciated as art, or just propaganda that’s only worth its message. This was indirectly brought up again later, by collector Ananyev and critic Read. Ananyev, who grew up exposed to socialist realism, believes it is the way that art should be, because it shows emotion. (He argues that abstract art is “overintellectualized” and hyperrealism is soulless.) Then, Read argues that “’socialist realism is nothing but an attempt to stuff intellectual […] objectives into art’” which directly contradicts what Ananyev said about socialist realism being valuable because it is not overintellectualized. Read’s statement struck me oddly as I don’t understand how he would rather the art exist—does he feel that art should be unintellectual and that it is not academic at all? It’s just weird to me that someone should view intellectuality as something completely unrelated to art, and something that doesn’t belong in it. It’s also weird to me that Ananyev said “’Real art doesn’t require explanation’” when Read claims Ananyev’s beloved art is too intellectual. There were some weird contradictions in this section.
The final thing I would like to comment on is the changing perspective on the style of socialist realism. After its relevant era, it was seen as kitsch and useless, but now the work is expensive and displayed in big exhibitions in famous museums, both in and out of Russia. One reason suggested for its value is its nostalgic effect – I believe that people may see these idealized paintings of familiar times and be incited to purchase the art. Seeing your childhood through the lens of “Visiting my Grandmother” by Alexander Laktionov causes you to remember it in a more positive light, turning your memories into something more closely resembling the painting. That’s just my guess, but I think it makes sense for why the art has gained popularity amongst Russian audiences. For foreign audiences, the technical skill, individual style, and thoughtful compositions are intriguing. The article was careful to mention that socialist realism paintings are not just mechanical stale propaganda. Instead, the art is being separated from its message and being increasingly appreciated for its visual value.
Kristin Hines - Student artist at Maggie L. Walker Governor's School