Social realism

Social realism

Social Realism, also known as Socio-Realism, is an artistic movement, expressed in the visual and other realist arts, which depicts working class activities.

Many artists who subscribed to Social Realism were painters with socialist (but not necessarily Marxist) political views. The movement therefore has some commonalities with the Socialist Realism used in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, but the two are not identical - Social Realism is not an official art, and allows space for subjectivity. In certain contexts, Socialist Realism has been described as a specific branch of Social Realism.

Social Realism has been summarized as follows:

Social Realism developed as a reaction against idealism and the exaggerated ego encouraged by Romanticism. Consequences of the Industrial Revolution became apparent; urban centers grew, slums proliferated on a new scale contrasting with the display of wealth of the upper classes. With a new sense of social consciousness, the Social Realists pledged to “fight the beautiful art”, any style which appealed to the eye or emotions. They focused on the ugly realities of contemporary life and sympathized with working-class people, particularly the poor. They recorded what they saw (“as it existed”) in a dispassionate manner. The public was outraged by Social Realism, in part, because they didn't know how to look at it or what to do with it (George Shi, University of Fine Arts, Valencia) [cite web |url= |title=Social Realism |accessdate=2008-05-04 |format= |work= ]

In France and the Soviet Union

Realism, a style of painting that depicts the actuality of what the eyes can see, was a very popular art form in France around the mid to late 1800’s. It came about with the introduction of photography - a new visual source that created a desire for people to produce things that look “objectively real” . Realism was heavily against romanticism, a genre dominating French literature and artwork in the mid 19th century. Undistorted by personal bias, Realism believed in the ideology of external reality and revolted against exaggerated emotionalism. Truth and accuracy became the goals of many Realists. From that important trend of Realism in France, came the development of Socialist Realism, which was to dominate Soviet culture and artistic expression for over 60 years. Socialist Realism, representing socialist ideologies, was an art movement that represented social and political contemporary life in the 1930’s, from a left-wing standpoint. It depicted subjects of social concern; the proletariat struggle - hardships of every day life that the working class had to put up with, and heroically emphasized the values of the loyal communist workers. Social Realism was critical of the social environment that caused the conditions pictured, and denounced the “evil” Tsarist period. Ilya Repin, a famous Social Realist said that his art work was aimed “To criticize all the monstrosities of our vile society” of the Tsarist period. The Ideology behind Social Realism by depicting the heroism of the working class was to promote and spark revolutionary actions and to spread the image of optimism and the importance of productiveness. Keeping people optimistic meant creating a strong sense of nationalism and patriotism, which would prove very important in the struggle to produce a successful socialist nation. The Unions Newspaper, the Literary Gazette, described Social Realism as “the representation of the proletarian revolution”. During Stalin’s reign it was most important to use socialist Realism as a form of propaganda in posters, as it kept people optimistic and encourage greater productive effort, a necessity in his aim of developing Russia into an industrialised nation.

Lenin believed that art should belong to the people and should stand on the side of the proletariat, “Art should be based on their feelings, thoughts and demands, and should grow along with them”, said Lenin. He believed that all soviet art forms should “expose crimes of capitalism and praise socialism...created to inspire readers and viewers to stand up for the revolution”. After the revolution of 1917 leaders of the newly formed communist party were encouraging experimentation of different art types. Lenin believed that the style of art the USSR should endorse would have to be easy to understand (ruling out abstract art such as suprematism and constructivism) in relating to the masses of illiterate people of Russia. A wide ranging debate on Art took place, the main disagreement was between those who believed in "Proletarian Art" which should have no connections with past art coming out of bourgeois society, and those (most vociferously Trotsky) who believed that Art in a society dominated by working class values had to absorb all the lessons of bourgeois Art before it could move forward at all.

The taking of power by Stalin's faction had its corollary in the establishment of an official art: on 23 April 1932, headed by Stalin, an organisation formed by the central committee of the Communist Party developed the Union of Soviet Writers. This organisation endorsed the newly designated ideology of social realism.

By 1934 all other independent art groups were abolished, making it nearly impossible for someone not involved in the Union of Soviet Writers to get work published. Any literary piece or painting that did not endorse the ideology of social realism was censored and/or banned. This new art movement, introduced under Joseph Stalin, was one of the most practical and durable artistic approaches of the twentieth century; with the communist revolution came also a cultural revolution. It also gave Stalin and his Communist Party greater control over Soviet culture; restricting people from expressing alternative geopolitical ideologies that differed to those represented in Socialist Realism. The decline of Social Realism came with fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

ee also

*Naturalism (art)
*Kitchen sink realism


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