Russian Avant-Garde

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Russian Avant-Garde was born at the start of the 20th century out of intellectual and cultural turmoil. Through the analysis of artworks by Aleksandr Rodchenko and El Lissitzky this essay attempts to explore the freedom experienced by artists after the Russian Revolution in 1917. This avant-garde movement was among the boldest and most advanced in Europe. It signified for many artists an end to the past academic conventions as they began to experiment with the notions of space, following the basic elements of colour, shape and line. They strove for a utopian existence for all benefited by and inspired through the art they created. They worked with, for and alongside the politics of the time. The equality for all that they sought would eventually take from them the freedom of their own artistic individuality.

The Russian Revolution energized the artists to expand their social influence to produce statements that could inspire human aspirations. Rodchenko and El Lissitzky approached their avant-garde art practice in visually similar ways, but theoretically they varied considerably. Victor Margolin (1997) explored the two artists’ principal approaches to building their art and their commitment to the political influences of the time within his first essay in The Struggle for Utopia. Rodchenko felt the objects produced should ‘both facilitate change in people, making them more ideally Soviet, as well as represent Soviet ideals through their materials and construction’. Both artists sought to design architectural structures. Rodchenko was a Constructivist who strove to produce new, functional, material objects. His designs were not constructed around aesthetics; they were intended to be a catalyst for social change. Works like The Fut...

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...sts will be remembered for the mastery in which they applied the principles of Constructivism and Suprematism within their graphic design rather than the political ideologies they were required by the regime to promote.

It is difficult to ascertain the political commitment among the Russian Avant-garde artists. Rodchenko and El Lissitzky were both sympathetic to the socialist cause. The Bolsheviks continued to consolidate their authority, increasingly dictated artistic policy and freedom to think and act independently was substantially curtailed during the 1920’s (Mayakovsky 2000). In 1934 Joseph Stalin decreed the end to the practice of Socialist Realism and the period of avant-garde experimentation and innovation ceased. Rodchenko and El Lissitzky would both become disillusioned, as their utopian vision became a struggle to maintain their own individual identity.
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