Freedom and Art

The juxtaposition of two London exhibitions – one of Russian and one of American art from the early 20th Century – yields interesting contrasts:

Some of the similarities and differences between Russian and American art of their respective periods were, to me, surprising—none more so than the realization that the Russian artistic endeavor was not only more vigorous but also more varied than the American, despite the state’s monopoly as a patron from nearly the outset of Lenin’s regime. The new state brooked no opposition or even criticism, but at first it did not meddle much with the forms of artistic expression (civil war, economic collapse, and famine will distract even aspiring totalitarian regimes from the arcane disputes of aesthetic theory). I was reminded of Fidel Castro’s famous, or infamous, dictum, that within the revolution, everything was permitted, while outside it, nothing was. The more a totalitarian regime consolidates, the greater its control and the narrower its definition of what lies within the revolution; and this is precisely what happened in the Soviet Union, so that by the end of the period covered, only a single style of artistic expression—socialist realism—was permitted.

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