"The masses demand of an artist honesty, truthfulness, and a revolutionary, socialist realism in the representation of the proletarian revolution."
- (Literary Gazette, May 1932.)
Socialist Realism is the officially sponsored Marxist artistic and literary aesthetic of the Communist countries. It came into existence after the Russian revolution in 1917: initial ideas were explored throughout the 1920s when Socialist Realism was still known as Heroic Realism.
Maksim Gorky is one of the founders of social realism as it was proclaimed in the 1934 decree 'On the Reconstruction of Literary and Art Organizations'. In 1933 he published an important article, talking of "a new direction essential to us - socialist realism, which can be created only from the data of socialist experience." His ideas were adopted by the Russian artistic movement and formed the main source of Russian artistic doctrine.
From 1932 every artist had to join the Union of Soviet Artists. Artists were forced to meet certain artistic rules: the techniques they were required to use were obtained from realistic and naturalistic traditions. Art had to project reality in strict harmony with the objective of socialism. It had to be attractive and comprehensible to the masses: people had to be inspired with admiration for the working man and his task of building Communism.
In its early days there were four types of Socialist Realist paintings: domestic scenes, portraits of Soviet leaders, industrial and urban landscapes, and scenes on collective farms. During World War II, patriotic scenes from Russian history were added to the list. Some outstanding works were made in this early period, notably the paintings of Alexander Deineka (1899-1969), who portrayed collective farms, sports and scenes of Word War II, and Arkady Plastoc (1893-1972), who specialized in farm scenes. Isaak Brodsky (1883-1939) was possibly the most influential painter of his generation. Brodsky, a Jew, eventually became director of the Union of Soviet Artists. His old apartment in St. Petersburg has been a memorial museum since 1949 (though it's currently closed for reconstruction). Other famous artists that belonged to the school of Socialist Realism are Grigori Shpolyanski (1899-1980), Karel Stehlik (1912-1987), Karp Trokhimenko (1885-1980), Ivan Vladimirov (1869-1947), Boris Vladimirski (1878-1950) and Sergei Grigorev (1910-1980). Their works are displayed at The Russian Museum in St. Petersburg (Russia), Museum of Fine Arts in Bishkek (Russia), and Fleischer Museum in Scottsdale, Arizona (U.S.), amongst other museums.
An important representative of literary Socialist Realism is Aleksei Peshkov. He was a Russian writer who helped development of socialist realism as the officially accepted literary aesthetic. His works include The Life of Klim Samgin, an unfinished cycle of novels.
Even though Socialist Realism started out as a creative and refreshing art style, the style soon became overly academic and dull, resulting in numerous uninspired works of art.
After the death of Josef Stalin in 1953 some relaxation of strictures was evident and censorship gradually toned down throughout the following decades. Initiated by the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev, socialist realism died a slow death in the late 1980s.