Changes in Russian Art

The fall of communism was both good and bad for Russian art. For one thing, art was no longer censored by the government and artists could now paint whatever subject matter they wished. On the other hand, under Socialism, the government had given artists the noble cause of uplifting the masses. After the fall of communism, artists could no longer rely on the government for their well-being and had to produce whatever they thought could sell. In the cases of older artists, their art remained much the same. They had been trained in Socialist Realism and their art was appreciated and loved. Many younger artists, on the other hand, began to reject Socialist Realism as a style that had been forced on them for so many years and they began producing art very different from Socialist Realism - in a way, trying to catch up with the West. Russian art had missed out on many artistic movements the West had undergone. True, the artists were aware of some of the things the Western world was doing in art, but they were not allowed by their government to follow these trends.

While Russian art has undergone some changes stylistically since the fall of communism in Russia, the lives of the artists have changed much more than the art itself. In the Socialist system, artists had high standing in society and were upheld as glorifying the People. They were sustained by the government, which commissioned countless works to glorify itself, its leaders, and the people. Members of the Artists’ Union of the USSR were also given studios, dachas (summer cottages in the country where they could paint the countryside), materials to work with, and stipends to live on.

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marked the beginning of the downward spiral of communism in the world. After the Communist Party gave up its power in February of 1990 and the Soviet Union was finally dissolved in December of 1991, Soviet artists found themselves virtually out of work. Under the new Capitalist system, the artists must make their own ways in the world by selling their art, whereas they never had had to sell it under Socialism – they painted for the government and for the betterment of society. Society always wanted more art – for the workers of this new factory or that new Union building – and under Capitalism, artists were guaranteed no such security of work. Life became much more difficult for artists.

Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, Soviet art was virtually unknown in the Western world, having been created solely for the Russian people. The vast quantity of this art that was in a sense “locked” in the country under Socialism is just now coming to light to the rest of the world.