Lesson 35: Socialist Realism

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What You Will Learn:

  • Explore All Art Movements and Periods

    You will learn about all the leading art movements and periods, such as primitive art, ancient Greek art, the Renaissance, Romanticism, Impressionism, Modernism, and contemporary art. There is also a lot of attention to non-Western art, such as Islamic Art, Hindu Art, Chinese Art, Oceanic Art and African Art, and the globalization of the art world.

  • All Famous Artists and Their Masterpieces

    The course covers important artists like Sultan Muhammad, Fan Kuan, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Utagawa Hiroshige, Vincent van Gogh, Ilya Repin, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Banksy and many more, and discusses their most influential works.

  • Cultural and Historical Context

    Our courses also focus on the study of the cultural, social, political, and economic contexts in which artworks are created.

  • Various Media and Techniques

    You will explore different art forms and techniques, such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, and digital art.

Introduction to this course:


The foundation for Socialist Realism was laid by the German economist and philosopher Karl Marx. In his book “Das Kapital,” published in 1867, he formulated the principles of Marxism. According to Marx, the working class had to revolt against the bourgeoisie, the owning class. He believed that this could only be achieved through a revolution against the ruling authorities.
From the moment Vladimir Lenin introduced communism in Russia after the revolution in 1917, the communist government began to promote art that had to be understandable to everyone.

Een bronzen beeld van Vladimir Iljitsj Lenin (1870-1924), de eerste premier van de Sovjet-Unie. Het beeld is in Sint-Petersburg vervaardigd en is een goed voorbeeld van de beeldhouwkunst tijdens het socialistisch realisme.Image: A statue of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1870-1924), the first Premier of the Soviet Union. The statue was created in St. Petersburg and serves as a good example of sculpture during the Socialist Realist era.
Location: This statue of Lenin is from the Russian city of St. Petersburg and is part of the collection of the Gooise Galerie, an online gallery in the Netherlands. ©Ronnie Rokebrand.

However, the Georgian Joseph Stalin had his own interpretation of this definition. Not long after Stalin came to power in the Soviet Union in 1920, there was no longer any encouragement but rather dictation. In 1934, Andrei Zhdanov, a prominent member of the Communist Party, gave a speech stating that Socialist Realism was the only suitable art form for the Soviet Union. From that moment on, abstract art was banned, and Socialist Realism became the only permitted art form in Russia. Ordinary art had turned into propaganda art. The strict rules that artists had to adhere to applied not only to painters and sculptors but also to writers, poets, composers, and architects. If you disregarded these rules, you ran the risk of being sent to a penal or labor camp.

Socialistisch realistisch portret van Jozef Stalin in 1934, van de Oekraïens-Russische kunstschilder Isaak BrodskyImage: Socialist Realist state portrait of Joseph Stalin from 1934, created by Ukrainian-Russian artist Isaak Brodsky. It marked the beginning of the cult of personality that was part of Socialist Realism. Stalin is centrally depicted with a red background, the color of socialism. Isaak Brodsky painted many iconic portraits of Soviet government leaders from the early days of the Russian Revolution.
Location: The portrait of Stalin is in the possession of the State Museum and Exhibition Centre ROSIZO, an institution of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation. This institution is located in the Turgenev-Botkin estate, situated at 37 Ostozhenka Street in Moscow. Copies of this state portrait hung in schools, barracks, offices, public buildings, and state farms.

The purpose of Socialist Realism was to allow ordinary people, such as workers, farmers, and sailors, to recognize themselves in art. Many of them couldn’t read or write, so it was crucial to portray the ideals of socialism in a positive way to the people. In practice, this meant using art to show the people the ideal socialist state, the desired situation that they would quickly achieve through hard work.

Meisje op een tabaksplantage, uit 1930 van Ilya Mashkov
Image: Girl on a tobacco plantation from 1930, painted by artist Ilya Mashkov (1881-1944). A healthy woman working hard on a tobacco plantation, an example of the desired art in Socialist Realism.
Location: This oil painting by Ilya Mashkov is displayed in the Mashkov Museum of Fine Arts, formerly the Museum of Fine Arts of Volgograd, located at 21, VI Lenin Avenue in the Russian city of Volgograd.

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