Philosophy & Culture

Contributions from RCIT members

Contributions from supporters respectively correspondents of the RCIT on Philosophy & Culture

These contributions do not necessarily reflect the political positions of the RCIT but have been contributed either to stimulate discussions and exchange between revolutionary activists or to put light on cultures which are not (well) known nor understood by the imperialist world.

 

Contribution from Mobola Wahab (political and social activist from Nigeria) on the culture of her people, the Yorùbá

Gustave Courbet 1819-1877: Realist Painter Communard Revolutionary and the Revolutions of 1848

By Laurence Humphries, March 4, 2015


View the article including a number of pictures at https://humphries346.wordpress.com/2015/03/04/gustave-courbet-1819-1877-realist-painter-communard-revolutionary-and-the-revolutions-of-1848-by-laurence-humphries/


Gustave Courbet ,the founder of Realism lived and painted during the great revolutionary uphevals in 1848 in Europe. Born in the small rural village of Ornans ,Courbet would come to represent the great realist tradition of drawing and representing what he saw. Later he would join the French Commune and be instrumental in showing and describing revolutionary art in France. His scope was wider and more important than the Impressionism of Degas, Monet and others.

During in his early period Courbet concentrated on Self portraits as a means to establish the status of the artist. “Courbet’s self portraits reveal a Romantic painterliness combined with a compositional informality or even awkwardness “. [1].

As many commentators have remarked Courbet sought to represent the emerging world about him. “Amid the social transformations of the mid 19th century Courbet produced the most powerful artistic expression of the emerging modern world .Single mindedly    committed to his own experiences and thus disdainful of outworn traditions, the ambitious painter from  rural Ornans challenged Parisien authority with raw voice of honesty and authenticity”.  [2].

This new art of realism coincided with the industrial and political conflicts emerging in French society that Karl Marx was to write about in his book ‘The civil war in France’ and ‘the 18th Brumaire’.  “Thus the argument made below will be that the innovative technique of Gustave  Courbet -more than other artist of the day propelled political change by challenging the existing institutional changes between art and public. Like Jacques Louis David before him Courbet employed a technique alien to the established traditions and audiences for art”. [3].

In 1851 Courbet produced for the Salon three great pictures which would catapult Courbet into the limelight of Revolutionary art. “In the salon of 1851 he showed three huge pictures, the Stonebreakers, the Burial at Ornans and the Peasants of Flagey returning from the fair. He configured out of privacy out of the obscurity of a small town funeral an imagery which was public and political but images which undermined the Bourgeoise sense of what art was. If any artist came close to creating the conditions for Revolutionary art it was Courbet in 1851″. [4].

The burial at Ornans shows a cross section of class society by splitting the picture with the dog in the centre. “The burial at Ornans , it is the best image of the 1848 Revolution, the most complex picture of the Bourgeoise.no wonder when artists looked back to 1848 they could not escape from its spell”.  [5].

Courbet himself described his realism and how it related completely to his art. “I  have studied the art of the ancients and moderns, without any dogmatic or preconceived ideas , all I have tried to do is to derive from complete knowledge of tradition a reasoned sense of my own independence and individuality to record the manners , ideas and aspects of an age as I saw them”.  [6].

Courbet followed these great paintings with further allegorys. The Meeting Mr Courbet I presume and the Painters studio which is extremely allegorical. “Their status as artisans alluded to Courbet’s self image as worker artist or master painter”. [7].

Courbet’s Painters studio is a clear cross section of class Society. These were huge canvasses and what upset the bourgeoise so much is that they tried to represent History paints but history of the Poor and not of Rich grand aristocrats. ” In 1855 he composed the ‘The Painters studio a real allegory of seven years of my artistic life-Courbet’s painting seems to be a coded representation , possibly Fourerist possibly influenced by his anarchist friend the Philosopher Proudhon which depicts two sides of society”. [8].

Class differences are reflected in all of Courbet’s work ” The salient features of society Courbet wished to represent now included exacerbated economic differences between rich and poor and a heightened sense of class distinction”. [9].

Courbet many times asserted his sympathies lay with the working class and the rural poor. “Courbet turned to politics to the simple statement in his 1850 letter to Wey that my sympathies are with the people, I must speak to it directly draw my knowledge from it live by it”. [10].

Tim Clark in his Book on Courbet Image of the people shows how popular art and imagery is interwoven into the Burial at Ornans. “In other words the Burial at Ornans is carefully and subtly constructed.the repititive forms of popular art are imitated.” [11].

Referring to the Peasants of Flagey returning from the fair Clark asserts and demonstrates the class differences and how they are accentuated. “The peasant of Flagey returning from the fair in many ways it is a pendant to the rural proletariat of the stonebreakers and the Bourgeoise of the Burial”. [12].

In the meeting Courbet is treating everyone on an equal basis. “The greatness of the meeting is that it gives form to those hopes and their miseries the affection and the absurdity of their relationship .Courbet’s  picture is close to a parody of the whole iconography in it artists, patron and servant stand apart and equal”. [13].

Popular art which had been used in woodcuts and amongst artisans is reflected in Courbet’s art. “In embracing popular art and culture-its audience its subjects Courbet was explicitly rejecting the Hierarchism and personality cult fostered by the regime of President and then Emperor Louis Napoleon”. [14].

Camille Pissaro an artist friend of both Courbet and Cezanne painted a picture of Cezanne with a caricature of Courbet in the Background. Clark believes that this is a significant picture for the whole of French Art.  “The portrait stands at the end of an epoch in French art the time when political and popular art seemed feasible .For a moment in the years around 1848 it seemed as if the art of the ruling classes was threatened with collapse”. [15].

Courbet from the 1860’s onwards continued to travel and took pictures mainly landscapes and also was involved in painting  provocative pictures of nudes as well as paintings of his family.

In the 1870’s political unrest led to the Paris  Commune of 1871, Like David before him Courbet became an active participant in the Commune. At the Paris Commune of March 1871 Courbet said “Today when democracy must direct everything it would be illogical for art which heads the World to lag behind in the Revolution that is taking place in France at this moment”. [16].

The Commune was  defeated and Troops occupied the area where the commune had directed operations. Courbet who with others had advocated the smashing of the Vendome column which represented Imperial France. “Like many others who had not fled Paris Courbet was arrested on the 17th June”. [17]. Courbet eventually left France after his imprisonment and crossed the border into Switzerland. As one of his Biographers noted  “He is obviously the father of various brands of realism that have his own exemplify Lucien Freud  “and the Bridegroom”. [18].

Courbet died in 1877 . He was a Revolutionary painter who like Jacques Louis David changed the face of French Art. A participant in the Paris Commune he put his art into practice unlike many of the Impressionists who literally followed a petit bourgeoise middle class view of Art, only Courbet was able to truly represent the image of the people.

NOTES

1) 19TH CENTURY ART A CRITICAL HISTORY PG 228

2) COURBET JAMES RUBIN PG 4

3)  19TH CENTURY ART A CRITICAL HISTORY  PG 227

4)  THE ABSOLUTE BOURGEOIS ARTISTS AND POLITICS IN FRANCE 1848-1851PG180

5)  DITTO  PG 181

6)  ART IN THEORY 1800-1900 PG 372

7) COURBET JAMES RUBIN PG 130

8) THE CHALLENGE OF THE AVANT GARDE  PG 51

9)  DITTO PG 74

10) IMAGE OF THE PEOPLE TIM CLARK PG 113

11)  DITTO  PG 82

12)     DITTO PG 83

13)   DITTO PG 157

14) 19TH CENTURY ART  A CRITICAL HISTORY PG  233

15) IMAGE OF THE PEOPLE PG 160

16)  COURBET JAMES RUBIN PG 276

17)    DITTO  PG 280

18)  DITTO  PG 326

 

A Historical Review of English Art from 1900-1940

Thomas Spence (1750-1814): Utopian Communist and Radical Reformer

 

By Joseph Adams, August 2019, www.thecommunists.net

 

 

 

Spence’s Life

 

Thomas Spence was born in Newcastle before the emergence of trade unions and the working class movement. Spence advocated a revolutionary socialist society. His writings on land reform and a planned socialist society marked him out as a revolutionary who sought to transfer the wealth of society from the rich to the labouring poor.

 

Spence followed the traditions of Gerrard Winstanley’ Digger movement during the Cromwellian revolution of the 17th century. “Like Winstanley and the diggers Spence and his followers took radical ideology into the world of Socialism”. [1]

 

 

 

Spenceans and Spensonia

 

 

 

The Spenceans, as Spence’s followers were called, were active during the Napoleonic years in France. “Quite explicitly Spence saw himself as a spokesman for the common people. When speaking of them he referred to either the poor or the Labouring poor in particular”. [2]

 

In all his writings on common ownership of production and land reform Spence argued that “such land would all be taken into common ownership and let the real rent varying not only with the quality but also with the quality of land”. [3]

 

 

 

Spensonia

 

 

 

Spence’s philosophy was referred to as Spensonia. He advocated a form of parish self-government. “Providing educational and cultural facilities such as a library, school and assembly rooms”. [4]

 

Spence was opposed to private property and like Winstanley and Munzer before him advocated communal ownership of land and possessions. “Private property in the land was not only the fountainhead of tyranny but also the monstrous hydra of corruption”. [5]

 

In much of his writings Spence pushed for revolutionary action. “Spence envisaged a process of permanent revolutionary upheaval until society had been restructured on the right principles”. [6]

 

Spence and his followers echoing the views of Winstanley vehemently opposed any return to a Private property system of poor artisans and small businessman as the Levellers had argued for. For Spence and his followers on the other hand the private property system (established by conquest) was the cause of inequality and poverty”. [7]

 

 

 

Thomas Evans and the Spenceans

 

 

 

Edward Thompson in his book “The Making of the Working Class” identifies Spence and his followers with the growing protests amongst artisans and the labouring poor. Thomas Evans was the first to advocate Spence’s agrarian socialism. Evans was one of the secretaries of the growing London corresponding societies which were to be the germ of Trade Unions in the early 19th century.

 

Oppression in the 1800’s led to starvation and destitution for the Labouring poor. This was the period of the parish work house which Charles Dickens so eloquently described in his writings. The combination acts were introduced by government to prevent workers organising together to form societies in a common struggle against poverty and death.

 

Strike movements were developing in the working class mainly amongst cotton workers and Weavers who feared the introduction of the new machines leading to hardship for workers who were thrown out of work through recession and slump. This was when the Luddites formed secret societies and organised individual assassinations of employers. It was referred to as ‘Captain Swing’. These weavers and cotton workers fought to create disorder by arming themselves and forming insurrectionary movements against the ruling class.

 

“Spenceans were believed to have instigated bread riots in 1800 and 1801. In 1817 once again a secret committee of the House (of commons) detected a conspiracy by the society of Spencean Philanthropists”. [8]

 

“The Spencean advocates had won much support amongst the trade clubs especially amongst shoemakers that all feudality or lordship in the soil be abolished and the territory declared to be the people’s common farm”. [9]

 

The Spenceans after Spence’s death were more active amongst the local societies and trade clubs and were winning support amongst tradesman and artisans. Evans was now the acknowledged leader of the Spenceans. “Evans was without doubt a disciple of Spence and he and his son were pursued with exceptional vindictiveness by the authorities because he had the courage to advocate in print the expropriations of the Landowners”. [10]

 

The bourgeoisie was seriously worried about the Spenceans and their activities for the overthrow of Capitalism through some putsch. “A traitorous conspiracy has been formed in the metropolis for the purpose of overthrowing by means of a general insurrection the established government, laws and constitution of this Kingdom”. [11]

 

Many of the middle class reformers like Place and Cobbett capitulated and wanted to work with the government. This showed their opposition to real change and the weakness of these so called petit-bourgeois reformers.

 

 

 

Robert Owen

 

 

 

Robert Owen, a social reformer and joint owner of the enterprise New Lanark Mills in Scotland, was denounced by Evans and his comrades because Owen refused to engage in direct political activity leading to insurrection. Owen, a utopian socialist much admired by Frederick Engels and Karl Marx the founders of scientific socialism, wanted to practise his views with the cooperation of government. The Rochdale pioneers, the founders of the cooperative movement, would take as their inspiration both of Owen’s enterprises New Lanark Mills and New Harmony in the United States.

 

As Thompson comments. The Spenceans and radicals of 1817 proved to be wrong in their estimation of Owen and Spence’s and Evans’s preoccupation with agrarian socialism was inadequate for industrial England but the Spenceans were at least willing to pose the problems of ownership and class power”.[12].

 

The weakness of Spence and his followers was their reliance on Babeuf conspiratorial politics of secret societies and oath taking and the use of individual terror that both the Luddites and others used against capitalists. They were mainly fighting for the small artisan and shopkeeper. They failed to see what Robert Owen and the great chartist leaders saw that you needed to build a unified political working class movement and a revolutionary workers party. Both Engels and Marx knew this when they built the First International as a revolutionary international working class party. Many chartists were active in it like Brontere O’Brien and Feargus O’Connor. Owen in his later years would found the Grand Consolidated Trade Union.

 

Spence was the forerunner of trade unionism and the great working class movement of Chartism that would develop in the 1840’s and 1850’s. Robert Owen, Brontere O’Brien and Feargus O’Connor would dominate in this period. Both Karl Marx and Frederick Engels paid great attention to these developments in Britain. In future articles I will consider the contribution of Robert Owen and the Chartist movement.

 

 

 

Footnotes

 

1) Thomas Spence: Pigs Meat. Selected writings of Thomas Spence, Radical and Pioneer Land Reformer, edited by GI Gallop: Spokesman Books Socialist Classics No 2, p. 12

 

2) Ibid, p. 21

 

3) Ibid, p. 22

 

4) Ibid, p. 29

 

5) Ibid, p. 30

 

6) Ibid, p. 42

 

7) Ibid, p. 51

 

8) E.P. Thompson: The Making of the English Working Class: Vintage Books, p. 497

 

9) Ibid, p. 614

 

10) Ibid, p. 615

 

11) Ibid, p. 639

 

12) Ibid, p. 806

 

Robert Owen (1771-1858)

 

An Utopian Communist and Revolutionary Social Reformer

 

By Joseph Adams, August 2019, www.thecommunists.net

 

 

 

Robert Owen was born in Newtown Wales in 1771 to a prosperous middle class family. At an early age Owen was sent to London to learn a trade and he became a shop assistant. He stayed in London with a family called McGuffog who had a paternal interest in Robert.

 

“There thanks to McGuffog’s recommendation he was taken on as shop assistant with Flint and Palmer an old established and respectable firm of Haberdashers”. [1]

 

Robert was quick to learn and an avid reader. He had an apt head for figures and technical information and very soon he was to start his own business as a Mill manager and machine maker. This was the period of rapid development in industrial progress with several inventions in the cotton industry which Owen was to excel at as a leading industrialist and capitalist. Owen was to leave London in 1788 for Manchester, a growing town which would become a thriving city of workers and the oppressed. Frederick Engels, who together with Karl Marx was the founders of scientific socialism, wrote about the terrible degradation suffered by the working class in his book about the conditions of the working class.

 

Much of the town’s growth historically was explained by textiles, major innovations in spinning technology notably Hargreave’s spinning Jenny Arkwright’s water frame and Crompton’s mule , had already begun to demonstrate the potential for mass production , particularly where those inventions could be harnessed up to water wheels or steam engines”. [2]

 

 

 

Mill Manager and Machine Maker in Manchester

 

 

 

Owen easily with his technical knowledge and foresight recognised the possibilities and started to become a major capitalist and master in Cotton weaving which was the major industry in 18th century Britain at this time. Owen teamed up with a partner called Jones.

 

He and his partner agreed to rent a large machine workshop also containing some rooms for cotton spinners and specially constructed for them by a local builder. Soon they had 40 men at work. Their business was duly advertised in the issues of the Manchester Mercury for 18th and 25th January 1791”. [3]

 

Another opportunity opened up for the promising business man and Owen made the acquaintance of Drinkwater, a major Industrialist in Manchester. Owen made himself known to Drinkwater and discovered that there was a vacancy for a Superintendent for his factory. It meant of course that Owen would now have to give up his business if he wanted to become the new Superintendent.

 

A condition of Owen’s employment that he cease trading and devote all his time to managing Drinkwater’s Mill. But if he just happened to be in the right place at the right time it paid off and as he later observed the circumstances made a lasting impression because they led to important future consequences”. [4].

 

The importance of the position that Owen took at Drinkwater’s mill would show that Boulton, Arkwright and Watt’s inventions were all fitted at Drinkwater’s mill giving Owen further technical advantage over his competitors. Still only a young man, Robert Owen was establishing himself as a major force amongst the Manchester elite.

 

In 1794 Owen left Drinkwater and with other partners joined the Chorlton Twist Company. Owen was becoming known in literary circles and had started developing ideas about social questions particularly the hours and conditions of the workforce.

 

Nor is it surprising that the successful young factory manager with a nascent in social conditions and a questioning mind in the matter of religion should attract the attention of like-minded individuals who formed the intellectual core of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical society”. [5]

 

 

 

New Lanark

 

 

 

On a visit to Scotland on a business trip for the Chorlton twist company Owen met Caroline Dale, the daughter of David Dale who was the owner of the New Lanark Mill. He and his partners would buy New Lanark and Owen would marry Caroline. This is where his development as a social reformer would come into his own. It would be at New Lanark and at Harmony in the United States where Owen would practise his communist experiment.

 

“New Lanark came to play a vital role in Owen’s ambitious plans for a new system of society and had a significant impact on later community experiences and Owenite activities”. [6]

 

In 1814 Owen put his plan into operation at New Lanark to improve conditions at New Lanark establish a communist village with education, less hours of work, improved conditions with no child labour or long hours of work.

 

“At 7 o'clock at night children were not only taught reading and writing but also the polite accomplishments. Dale evidently employed singing masters and dancing masters to teach the factory girls and boys to dance. Apart from instituting day schools to accommodate children under 10 who were no longer employed in the mills”. [7]

 

Robert Owen published his new view of society for changes to how society was run especially the barbaric conditions of laizzez faire capitalism with its exploitation of workers, children and women in degrading and appalling situations, the eradication of the workhouse and all that entailed. His system as expounded in his essays was put into effect at New Lanark.

 

“But the new system now embraced character formation, popular education, poor relief and the community plan”. [8]

 

 

 

Owen’s Communist Experience

 

 

 

Frederick Engels in Anti-Duhring explains that Owen was a revolutionary who put forward plans for a future communist society within the orbit of capitalism.

 

“He saw in it the opportunity of putting into practice his favourite theory, and so of bringing order out of chaos. He had already tried it with success, as superintendent of more than five hundred men in a Manchester factory. From 1800 to 1829, he directed the great cotton-mill at New Lanark, in Scotland, as managing partner, along the same lines, but with greater freedom of action and with a success that made him a European reputation. A population, originally consisting of the most diverse and, for the most part, very demoralised elements, a population that gradually grew to 2,500, he turned into a model colony, in which drunkenness, police, magistrates, lawsuits, poor laws, charity, were unknown. And all this simply by placing the people in conditions worthy of human beings, and especially by carefully bringing up the rising generation. He was the founder of infant schools, and introduced them first at New Lanark. At the age of two the children came to school, where they enjoyed themselves so much that they could scarcely be got home again. Whilst his competitors worked their people thirteen or fourteen hours a day, in New Lanark the working-day was only ten and a half hours. When a crisis in cotton stopped work for four months, his workers received their full wages all the time. And with all this the business more than doubled in value, and to the last yielded large profits to its proprietors”. [9]

 

Owen’s communism was based upon this purely business foundation, the outcome, so to say, of commercial calculation. Throughout, it maintained this practical character His advance in the direction of communism was the turning-point in Owen’s life. As long as he was simply a philanthropist, he was rewarded with nothing but wealth, applause, honour, and glory. He was the most popular man in Europe. Not only men of his own class, but statesmen and princes listened to him approvingly. But when he came out with his communist theory that was quite another thing. Three great obstacles seemed to him especially to block the path to social reform: private property, religion, the present form of marriage. He knew what confronted him if he attacked these — outlawry, excommunication from official society, and the loss of his whole social position. But nothing of this prevented him from attacking them without fear of consequences, and what he had foreseen happened. Banished from official society, with a conspiracy of silence against him in the press, ruined by his unsuccessful communist experiments in America His advance in the direction of communism was the turning-point in Owen’s life. As long as he was simply a philanthropist, he was rewarded with nothing but wealth, applause, honour, and glory. He was the most popular man in Europe. Not only men of his own class, but statesmen and princes listened to him approvingly. But when he came out with his communist theory that was quite another thing. Three great obstacles seemed to him especially to block the path to social reform: private property, religion, the present form of marriage. He knew what confronted him if he attacked these — outlawry, excommunication from official society, and the loss of his whole social position. But nothing of this prevented him from attacking them without fear of consequences, and what he had foreseen happened”. [10]

 

As Engels had commented Owen’s communism was translated into the cooperative movement with the formation of the Rochdale Pioneers in 1844.

 

“However, the idea of the co-operative movement did not die completely, for in 1844 the Rochdale Pioneers started a co-operative venture in Lancashire which eventually grew into the modern Co-operative Movement”. [11].

 

In 1832 Robert Owen founded the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union. Owen’s turn to the working class proved that Owenism was the most important development for socialism before the great working class struggles of the 1850’s and the emergence of Chartism. Owen was a true revolutionary who developed socialism within the limits of a capitalist society. Without the emergence of a developed working class the true ideas of communism could not develop. It would be left to the founders of Marxism to put it on a proper materialist understanding.

 

“In 1832 he proposed that the unions should unite and in 1834 the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union was formed. Within a week it had over half a million members and the government were alarmed by this new mass labour movement”. [12]

 

Although it did not last it would lead to Chartism the big working class movement which Karl Marx and Frederick Engels had an enormous influence in promoting and fighting for Chartist revolutionary demands. I will consider this in a future article.

 

 

 

Footnotes

 

 

 

1) Ian Donnachie: Robert Owen Social Visionary: John Donald, p.30

 

2) Ibid Pg. 32

 

3) Ibid Pg.37

 

4) Ibid, p.43

 

5) Ibid, p.59

 

6) Ibid, p.113

 

7) Ibid, p. 108

 

8) Ibid, p.178

 

9) https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1877/anti-duhring/ch23.htm

 

10) Ibid

 

11) http://robert-owen-museum.org.uk/Robert_Owen_1771_1858/trade_union

 

12) Ibid

 

Socialist Realism, Soviet Art and Stalinism

A Marxist Critique by Laurence Humphries

January 18, 2015

 

View the article including a number of pictures at https://humphries346.wordpress.com/2015/01/18/socialist-realism-soviet-art-and-stalinism-a-marxist-critique-by-laurence-humphries/

 

 

 

Socialist Realism was an art movement that emerged in the Soviet Union in the 1930’s . It was greatly influenced by Stalinism , the bureaucratic caste which under the influence of Imperialism had developed a very reactionary and conservative role in the first Workers State. Under extreme adverse conditions the Soviet Union had to fight a series of Civil Wars against Imperialist encirclement and the consequence was that the best cadre of the Bolshevik Party were killed and a layer of petit bourgeois middle class elements were recruited into the Party. Many of them were ex mensheviks and counter revolutionaries but were trusted and given responsibilities by Stalin.

Socialist realism reflected the cultural backwardness of this caste, who believed that Modernist art , particularly abstraction and expressionism were to be destroyed and cast out. The only useful art was figurative art , glorifying Heroic tasks by workers , or showing examples of Stalin and collective farms. To go back to figurative art in this period was reactionary and backward.

 

 

The origin of Socialist Realism lay in the early 1920’s when some artists like Mayakovsky , Malevich and others had become involved in the Prolecult movement , which advocated only proletarian art and rejected  the mention of Bourgeois art . Lenin and Trotsky were opposed to this development of Proletarian culture as a dangerous development on the road to dogmatism.

“Marxism has won a historic significance as the ideology of the Revolutionary proletariat because far from reflecting the most valuable achievements of the Bourgeoise epoch it has on the contrary assimiliated  and refashioned everything of value in more than two thousand years of the development of human thought and culture” [1].

Lenin further went on to say “Achieving unswervingly to this stand of principle the all Russia Proletariat congress rejects in the most resolute manner as theoretically unsound and practically harmful all attempts to invent ones own  particular brand of culture, to remain isolated itself contained organisation to draw a line dividing the field of work of the peoples commissariat for Education and the Prolecult or to set up a Prolecult autonomy “. [2].

 

 

Trotsky , Breton and Riveria wrote a statement denouncing Socialist Realist art on the eve of the formation of the Fourth International in 1938. “Towards a free Revolutionary Art 1936″ . ” True art which is not content to play variations on ready made models but rather insists on expressing the inner needs of man and of mankind in its time True art is unable not to be revolutionary not to aspire to a complete and radical reconstruction of society. We reject all solidarity with the bureaucracy now in control of the Soviet union , its precisely because in our eyes it represents not Communism but its most treacherous and dangerous enemy. A twilight of filth and blood in which disguised as intellectuals and artists those men stoop to make a career of Lying . the Communist Revolution is not afraid of art it realises that the role of an artist in a decadent capitalist society is determined by the conflict between the individual and various social forms which are hostile to him”.  [3]. Trotsky , Breton and Riveria went on to say “We believe that aesthethic , philosophical and political tendencies of the most varied sort can find here a common ground. Marxists can march hand in hand with anarchists provided both parties uncompromisingly reject the reactionary police , patrol spies represented by Joseph Stalin”.[4].

 

 

What Stalinism forgot to recognise was imagination and emotions which could only be expressed through abstraction and expressionist art as practised by Paul Klee, a Revolutionary artist who taught at the Bahaus , both Klee and Kandinsky were experimenting with abstract forms , this could only be expressed through abstraction. To go backwards to a form of Realism was both reactionary and counter productive.

AK Voronsky , a cultural critic suffered for his beliefs under Stalin. He was sent to the Gulag perished and like many members and signatories in the Left Opposition were denounced suffered the Moscow Trials and were executed under Stalinism. This form of control and terror had nothing to do with Socialism or communism.

Voronsky agreeing with Trotsky made these comments “In order to recognise Society on a new Foundation , it must before anything else master the cultural heritage in Science and other Fields”. [5].

“Comrades Lenin and Trotsky state that the main task in the realm of mass cultural Education lies in the assmiliation of bourgeois culture by the masses”. [6].

Voronsky concluded “In short we have no proletarian art in the sense in which bourgeois art exists. The attempt to present contemporary art of the Writer proletarian and writer communist as proletarian art independent and opposed to bourgeois art is both naïve and based upon a misunderstanding”. [7].

 

 

George Luckacs was another cultural critic who had an ambivalent attitude to Socialist Realism. Luckacs born in Hungary and active in the Hungarian Revolution of 1919 , had written on Realism and had made major contribution when he had criticised  Expressionism  “It goes without saying that without abstraction there could be no art , for otherwise how could anything in art have representative value, but  like every moment abstraction must have a direction and it is on this everything depends”. [8].

Luckacs had contradictory and ambivalent attitudes to socialist realism  was grappling with the representation of realism and its relationship to Modernism and abstraction.

“And the truth about Socialist realism is that its content and form were seriously distorted during the Stalinist Period” [9].

Defending some aspects of Socialist realism Luckacs says”It would be slanderous to assert that during the Stalinist period Socialist democracy or the Socialist basis of economic construction were totally destroyed” . [9].

Lukacs adopting more critical vein says “But during the Stalinist period as we know many crucial Marxist doctrines were misrepresented”‘ [10].

Labour Review has correctly identified the role of Lukacs in his relationship with Stalinism  “Lukacs Has been in trouble with the Stalinist revisers of Marxism for the better part of his life. He has frequently been accused of Hegelian Idealism and of right wing deviationism. He owes his physical survival to his willingness to pay the price of repeated acts of diplomatic self criticism. He has always bent to the prevailing wind returning to his former path as soon as possible afterwards”.  [11].

It is true to say that as I have argued before Socialist realism’s origin lies with the prolecult movement “To a significant extent AKHRR also set the tone for what was eventually to become Socialist realism”. [12].

As one commentator has suggested “Socialist Realism  disguised as literary criticism represents a bureaucratic and administrative conception of literature , notable both for the exceptional vagueness and fuzziness of its notions and for the implacable rigor of its judgements”. [13].

“During those  dark days of Zhadonvism ( Zhadonov was the Cultural censor who was appointed by Stalin, in 1948 Shostakovich together with Prokoview and others were denounced for producing Music that was not pleasing to the Ear, I have commented on Shostakovich and his fight against Stalinism elsewhere on my blog) one of the very few Marxists to speak out against this propagandistic literature trapped in the stifling cage of an official political doctrines is Georg Luckacs “.[14].

“Moreover by the very fact that the cultural bureaucracy created by Stalinism and still faithful to its spirit remains unchallenged. The constraint excercised on writers ,artists and muscians is twofold. Firstly an enormous bureaucratic mechanism made up of study committees and investigatory Committees”.

I have tried in this assessment to show that Socialist realism , influenced by Stalin himself represented all that was backward and reactionary in Russian Society , appealing to the common denominator. Many artists like Voronsky ended up in the Gulag to suffer the fate of the Moscow Trials and eventually Death by Execution. what was their crime to compose music or paint or write a play that Stalin did not like, an extreme state of paranoia developed by a caste which had more in common with Medieval practices than twentieth century life. Not even under capitalist society did these strictures take place , the only other comparison would be Nazi Germany which also developed a Socialist realist culture.

 

NOTES

1) Art in theory pg 402

2)  Art in Theory  pg. 402

3)  Art in Theory pg. 532

4)  Art in Theory  pg. 532

5) Art as the cognition of Life by AK Voronsky  pg.148

6) Art as the cognition of Life  by AK Voronsky pg.153

7)  Art as the Cognition of Life  By AK Voronsky pg.160

8)  Aesthethics and politics  By Georg Luckacs  pg.38.

9)  Meaning of contemporary realism  Georg Luckacs pg. 133

10) Meaning of contemporary realism Georg Luckacs  pg.125

11) Labour review Volume no7 No 2 Summer 1962 pg.57

12) Realism Rationalism Surrealism art between the wars  Open University pg.275

13) Marxists Aesthethics  Henri Avron pg.83

14) Marxist Aesthethics    Henri Avron pg.84

 

Shostakovich. Socialism, Stalin & Symphonies

By Laurence Humphries, December 2014

 

View the article including a number of pictures at https://humphries346.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/shostakovich/

 

 

Behrman has written a fairly useful commentary on Dmitry Shostakovich the most influential Soviet composer from 1925-1972 and his relationship with Stalinism and the cultural theory referred to as ‘Social Realism’. Behrman who supports the ‘State Capitalist theory advanced by the Socialist Workers Party shows some weaknesses in his analysis of Shostakovich.

His negative approach is revealed in the introduction when he writes off the Soviet working class. “It was the creation of a revolution led and supported by ordinary people yet within 20 years it had become one of the  twentieth centuries bloodies dictatorships” [1].

Dmitry Shostakovich {1906-1975} was the foremost soviet composer and musical giant of the twentieth century. He epitomised the revolutionary period after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. Behrman recognises this fact.   “No other Soviet artist was the whole history of the Soviet Union from 1917 to the Stalinist counter revolution” [2]. Shostakovich unlike some Soviet Composers remained lived and worked in the Soviet Union during his lifetime. He used his music to combat and answer Stalinism and its formal attitude to music. During this period there were fresh developments in all of the arts, innovations which Shostakovich accepted and tried new forms frequently.

Behrman tries to separate Shostakovich’s music from the political developments that took place in Soviet Russia. Robert Stradling in his essay ‘Shostakovich and the Soviet System 1925-1975’ points out the fundamental connection and importance of Shostakovich’s music with the politics of the day. “The list reads like a syllabus for a course in modern political and social problems: war, revolutionary change, individual freedom, anti-Semitism, the role of women in society, dictatorship and disillusionment” [3].

 

Dmitry Shostakovich was born in 1906 in St.Petersburg. He showed incredible talent and had a musical background, his mother an accomplished pianist taught him to play the piano when he was only nine. Behrman comments “and by the age of just 16 he was already producing works of extraordinary quality” [4].

Shostakovich’s symphonic music fitted in with the revolutionary situation in Russia.  “Shostakovich’s life and music were shared by the historic events of 1917” [5]. His first symphony composed in 1925 while he was still a student at the Leningrad Conservatoire shows Shostakovich’s breadth celebrating the Bolshevik Revolution. Shostakovich was to compose 15 symphonies, concertos, chamber music, ballet scores, operas and film music during his Lifetime.

Shostakovich’s music had a recognisable style all of its own as Behrman states “What is undoubtedly the case is that he was able to communicate clearly to his audience about the turbulent social and political times in which he lived” [6].

Shostakovich’s 2nd Symphony subtitled {October} and the 3rd Symphony {The first of May} show how interconnected Shostakovich’s music was with the revolutionary period of the time. The 2nd symphony has a factory claxon used in the symphony the one and only time that was used in a symphonic work.  “So few composers have had the direct experience of Revolution even fewer the talent to express it as vividly as Shostakovich does in the 2nd Symphony”  [7].

 

Musicians writers and poets all worked together to express this new Avant garde in soviet cultural life Mayakovsky, Meyerhold and Shostakovich all worked together in films , Ballet scores and operas.

Behrman continually belittles Shostakovich’s belief in Communism and tries to portray him as a lone individual questioning his communist beliefs. “Whatever may have been the case later on his life, during the late 1920’s and early 1930’s Shostakovich   was clearly a believer in the communist ideal” [8].

Shostakovich did embrace Communism throughout his whole life and used his music to combat and fight the narrow strictures of Stalinism represented by ‘Social realism’. Leon Trotsky in his Art and Revolution argued that it was not possible to have a party line on art and culture “Trotsky argued that as, with philosophy and industrial techniques, so too the very best of what bourgeois society had produced should be appropriated for all” [9].

Behrman even admits that the emergence of Stalin as General Secretary of the Bolshevik Party in the 1930’s and the struggle conducted for inner party democracy against the bureaucratic caste by Trotsky and the Left opposition found an echo in Shostakovich’s music. This led Shostakovich to denounce certain aspects of Social realism “Shostakovich critised Socialist Realist artists for writing inorganic works that offered trite and crude messages” [10].

Shostakovich’s opera ‘The Lady Macbeth of Mtensk district (1932) was identified by Stalinism as not suitable and denounced by ‘Social realists’ as unsuitable. So began the attack by Stalin and his Henchman on Shostakovich and other composers including Kathchurian and Prokoviev . They singled out Shostakovich for special treatment. Shostakovich was dismissed from his position at the Leningrad Conservatoire and immediately withdrew the opera and his 4th Symphony. This was Shostakovich’s way of dealing with Stalinism. Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony was subtitled ‘A soviet artists reply to just criticism’.

Stalinism and its method of terror and counter revolution used a series of show trials witch-hunts and accusations of Trotskyists being Nazi or Fascist agents. Shostakovich was very careful in his response and used a signature in his music D-S-C-H (E flat, C and B) to answer and critise Stalinism and its methods. It is true to say that Shostakovich’s music retains its Revolutionary content. All around him Comrades were being arrested, shot and imprisoned.

It was a very difficult times for Shostakovich and his family   “Shostakovich’s brother in law, the Phycist   Vsevolod Fredericks was arrested and sent to Slave Labour camp. Shostakovich’s elder sister was sent into her exile, while his mother in law was arrested and sent to the camps” [11].

In 1941 when the Nazi’s invaded the Soviet Union Shostakovich composed his 7th Symphony (The Leningrad) in 7 days, artillery fire and bombs were falling as he was composing the music which was an account of the heroic defence of the Leningrad working class against the Fascist terror. Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony is heroic in its composition detailing the fight and the battle to repel the fascists.  “The image of Shostakovich as an emblem of Soviet resistance was cemented with his 7th Symphony” [12].

In 1953 Stalin died and Khrushchev became General Secretary, immediately with the revelations about the Stalinist lies and double talk a political thaw developed and Shostakovich was allowed to compose his music relatively safe from state interference. His 13th symphony (Babi Yar) composed of poems from Yevtushenko details the role of Anti-Semitism practised by Stalinism.

The 13th  Symphony together with the 11th Symphony (1905) and the 12th symphony (1917) dedicated to Lenin are three historical symphonies portraying 1905 , the unfinished Revolution , 1917 the successful  Bolshevik  Revolution and  Anti-Semitism represented by the Stalinist betrayal.

Behrman’s major weakness in his book is an inability to see the real struggle that Shostakovich conducted against Social realism and the cultural backwardness of Stalinism. “It is safe to say that no composer since Beethoven has been so central to the history of the time, or has consistently sought to express the sufferings and aspirations shared by millions of his contemporaries” [13].

ENDNOTES

  1. Behrman S   Shostakovich , Stalin , Socialism and Symphonies  p.9
  2. Behrman S Shostakovich, Stalin, Socialism and Symphonies p.10
  3.  Stradling R  Shostakovich  and the Soviet System 1925-1975 in  Shostakovich ‘the Man and his Music’ p 190
  4.  Behrman   S   Shostakovich , Stalin, Socialism and Symphonies p 23
  5.  Behrman    S   Shostakovich , Stalin , Socialism and Symphonies p 26
  6.  Behrman     S   Shostakovich , Stalin ,Socialism and Symphonies p 42
  7.  Behrman      S   Shostakovich  , Stalin, Socialism and Symphonies p 45
  8.  Behrman        S   Shostakovich, Stalin , Socialism and Symphonies p 51
  9.  Behrman         S    Shostakovich, Stalin, Socialism and Symphonies p 33
  10.  Behrman         S     Shostakovich, Stalin, Socialism and Symphonies  p 57
  11.  Behrman          S     Shostakovich, Stalin, Socialism and Symphonies p 70
  12.  Behrman          S     Shostakovich, Stalin, Socialism and Symphonies p 74
  13.  Stradling R       Shostakovich and the Soviet System 1925-1975 in Shostakovich ‘the man and his Music’. P 190

 

Soviet Constructivism – The Revolutionary Development Of Artists As Constructors Or Engineers

Vladimir Tatlin, Alexsandr Rodchenko, El Lissitsky, Alexi Gan,Varvara Stepanova, Olga Rosanova, Natalie Goncharova And Gustave Klucis – 1913-1922

By Laurence Humphries, February 16, 2015


View the article including a number of pictures at https://humphries346.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/soviet-constructivism/


Soviet Constructivism was very much an art movement influenced by the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 when the working class took power in Russia. Many of the revolutionary movements associated with Constructivists was how Art could be translated into practical help for the emerging Proletariat in Russia. Technology including many different materials like glass, iron and glass were used to reflect the new developments for the growing Industrial Economy and Artists were to be transformed into constructors or Engineers to aid the rapidly involving Industrial Revolution which was taking place in the Soviet Union.

Nicholas Tarabukin explains the role of the machine “But consciously ignoring themselves as painters, The Russian Constructivists have declared their approach against Art in its typical museum forms and have collaborated with Technology and Industry” .[1].

“The constructivists have remained figurative artists to a far greater degree than their predecessors ,The suprematists because their structure of Construction the plane of the canvass was nothing other than the representation of constructive system or building”.[2].

Vladimir Tatlin one of the early founders of Constructivism constructed  ‘A Monument to the Third International”. It was a revolutionary design composed of different materials. Tatlin’s report of the section for Materials Cultures and research work in 1924 reported “the Synthetic forming of new materials as a result of such a formation the constructive of standards for new experiences”. [3].

As Christina Lodder comments Tatlin was an inspirational leader “The emergence of a self styled constructivist movement in 1921 on the other hand owed more to the inspiration of Vladimir Tatlin and his work with real materials”.[4].

Commenting on Tatlin’s tower which composed and was to be used as a major communication device broadcasting important speeches and meetings and producing materials which would aid and help the revolution spread to other countries. “This extraordinary structure was exhibited in November 1920 in Petrograd and then in Moscow the following Month”.[5]. “The tower would combine the geometric quality of the new abstract art with Industrial materials and technology synthesing the principle of architecture ,sculpture and Painting”.[6].

Nicholas Punin in 1920 wrote about Tatlin’s tower explain its design and layout and showing what could be artistically achieving using glass and Iron .”The model of the monument is composed of three large glass spaces elevated by a complex system of vertical pivots and spirals”. This was to be the start of how constructivism could be used , rather than a concept of ‘Art for Art’s sake’ , this would be used to consolidate and win over elements who are not convinced by the Bolsheviks. Many of the peasants were not sure of the Revolution and had some doubts on whether to support it or not. Punin now describes the real task of Tatlin’s tower “Here Conferences of the  International would take place. The next space is the form of a pyramid revolves on its axis at a speed of one revolution per month and it is intended for executive commiserat of the International. finally the upper cyclinder  is intended for centres of information , newspapers , pamphlets and a manifesto , in short all the mass media for the International Proletariat”.[7[.

“Lenin himself suggested early in 1918 that towns should erect propaganda monuments to the World Heroes of the revolution”.[8]

Alexi Gan explained some of the fundamental programmatic ideas of Constructivism in 1922 “We should not reflect ,depict reality but should build practically and express the planned objectives of the new actively the working class-the proletariat which is building the foundation of future society”.[9].

Gan further commented on the specific role of the constructivists in alliance with the working class. “And further the Iron paths to a culture organised on the great plan of social production , that the master of colour ,line all must become constructors , that would fufill the demands of communist culture”.[10].

Boris Arbatov in Art and class of 1923 explains succinctly the role of constructivist art. “The constructivists have declared that the creative processing of practical materials is the basic even the sole aim of art”.[11].

Alexsandr Rodchenko was another Constructor who was responsible for revolutionary designs and together with Tatlin a major influence in the development of Soviet Art.  “Tatlin and the ardently communist Rodchenko insisted that the artist must become a technician , that he must learn to use the tools and materials of modern production in order to offer his energies directly for the benefit of the Proletariat”.[12].

Lodder  comments about how Rodchenko used mathematical and geometrical ideas to develop much of his art work. “More clearly mathematical in inspiration were Rodchenko’s hanging constructions which investigated the internal spatial structure and dynamic potential of the basic forms of Euclidean Geometry”.[13].

Camilla Gray shows how constructive art was a departure for many of these Constructivists, rather  than just Producing aesthetic art that is pleasing to the viewer they felt the need to be builders in a practical way to help the Revolution. “The intuitive need of these artists to be active builders, first indicated in Tatlin’s constructions in real materials and real space was now to be given an opportunity to be expressed”.[14].

Rodchenko developed a Workers club which was a practical way of showing workers how constructive art was a particular source of practical help for the proletariat. “Rodchenko’s conception of the objects he designed for the Workers Club as comrades embodying a desire for Communism that the constructor used commodity desire to produce objects for the benefit not of Capitalism but of the new communist culture”. [15].

Varvara Stepanova  and Lyubov Popova and others had ventured into Props and designs for the Soviet theatre and Cinema. They were expert in designs and much of the sets are influenced by Constructive designs, Tatlin and Rodchenko designed chairs and Coats. “By 1922 the artists had come to share the constructivists objectives .Popova and Stepanova convinced that a cotton print is as much a product of artistic culture as a painting”.[16].

Photomontage and posters came  to be recognised as a way of showing and depicting the Revolution and the immense gains that workers had achieved. Artists like Lissitsky and Klucis represented that tradition.

Commentators like Bucholh and Boris Groys have suggested that Constructivism was a contributive factor in the development of Socialist Realism under Stalin. There is no doubt as I have argued in my other article on Socialist realism that the Idea of Proletarian art was taken up by Stalinism to enforce its rigid dogma and control. Rodchenko , Gan , Tatlin and Klucis were Revolutionary artists who made a huge contribution to the development of Art in the Soviet Union. Their artistic endeavour was for Revolutionary Communism and not Counter Revolutionary Stalinism. They did not produce art to order or glorify the great leader as Stalin became known as. If you look at Rodchenko and Tatlin you see spatially and geometric designs, they have nothing to do with Socialist Realism.

The weakness of the Constructivist movement was that similar to other Art movements in the Prolecult and LEF they argued for a pure Proletarian art with the slogan ‘Death to Bourgeois Art’. This was a weakness that both Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky criticised for its one sided view of art.

Lenin submitted a resolution to the Prolecult conference on 8th October 1920  “The All Russian Prolecult congress rejects in the most resolute manner as theoretically unsound and practically harmful all attempts to invent own particular brand of culture to remain isolated in self contained organisations or to set up a Prolecult autonomy”.[17].

Leon Trotsky in Art and Revolution argued against  those Bolsheviks and Communists who argued for a Proletarian Culture “The formless talk about Proletarian Culture in antithesis to Bourgeois  culture feeds on the extremely uncritical identification of the Historic destinies of the Proletariat with those of the Bourgeois “. [18]. Further on Trotsky states there is no Revolutionary Art. “There is no Revolutionary art, there are the elements of this art. revolutionary art which inevitably reflects all the contradictions of a revolutionary Social system should not be confused with socialist art for which no basis has yet been made”.[19].

In this article on Soviet Constructivism I have sought to show the Revolutionary aspects of Constructivism  and how it was reflected in the early days of the Soviet State. Communism Offered Revolutionary Artists a role in the new social order that was being built in the emerging Soviet Union.

NOTES

1) MODERN ART AND MODERNISM NIKOLAI TARABUKIN PG.138

2) DITTO PG.138

3) ART IN THEORY 1900-2000 PG.352

4) CHRISTINA LODDER RUSSIAN PAINTING OF THE AVANT GARDE PG.19

5) DITTO PG.20

6) DITTO

7) NICHOLAS PUNIN TATLINS TOWER 1920 PG.15

8) CAMILLA GRAY THE RUSSIAN EXPERIMENT IN ART 1913-1922 PG.224

9) ALEXI GAN 1922 CONSTRUCTIVISM PG.38

10) DITTO  PG.39

11) BORIS ARBATOV ART AND CLASS 1923 PG.44

12)CAMILLA GRAY THE RUSSIAN EXPERIMENT IN ART 1913-1922 PG.247

13)AT OF THE AVANT GARDE OU TEXT BOOK CHRISTINA LODDER SOVIET CONSTRUCTIVISM PG.367

14)CAMILLA GRAY THE RUSSIAN EXPERIMENT IN ART1913-1922 PG.220

15) ART OF THE AVANT GARDE OU TEXT BOOK CHRISTINA LODDER SOVIET CONSTRUCTIVISM PG. 385

16) CHRISTINA LODDER RUSSIAN PAINTING OF THE AVANT GARDE PG.20

17) ART IN THEORY 1900-2000 PG.403

18) LEON TROTSKY ART AND REVOLUTION PG.45

19  DITTO PG. 63.

 

Sigmar Polke Exhibition

by Laurence Humphries, February 3, 2015

View the article including a number of pictures at https://humphries346.wordpress.com/2015/02/03/sigmar-polke-exhibition/

 

SIGMAR POLKE ALIBIS EXHIBITION 1963-2010

TATE MODERN BANKSIDE LONDON

9TH OCTOBER 2014-8TH FEBRUARY2015

REVIEWER:LAURENCE HUMPHRIES

 

 

Sigmar Polke was a Revolutionary artist who lived most of his life in Cologne in Germany. He was able to use and develop many different materials ranging from cloths Lattice work and even luminous materials used for Photocopying machines , he also used Dots which were scraped across a photograph like the image of Harvey Oswald.

His series of images referred in the first room of the Tate Exhibition was called Capitalist restoration. Polke was sceptical about Autuarky and ideas of looking  especially portrayal of authority and the Nazi Ideology of the past. The artist he worked closely with was Gerard Richter. “They showed their work together using the term Capitalism Realism to distinguish their approach from Pop and socialist Realism. in the drawing of lee Harvey Oswald Polke began to experiment with replicating half toned printed images by reproducing dots with a pencil eraser”.[1]. As you can see the dots are different from the dots used by Georges Seurat the post impressionist and the Benday  dots used by Roy Lichenstein the Pop artist.

In the 1960’s Polke painted different images for instance his Flying saucers 1966 and girlfriends 1965/6. He tended to parody Modern art by portraying Modern Abstract art by using stripe Painting and some of his ork can be compared to Mondrian’s Abstract pictures.

 

 

 

His Moderne Kunst Untitled was an attempt to parody many Conceptual artists by portraying Objects works and numbers , particularly Mathematics and Absurd solutions “Polke looked closely at pictures in Newspaers and magazines printed as Raster images made up of a row of dots”.[2]. “But the dots remain relatively messy when seen close up>He welcomed occasional spills of paint or a mistake in a field of dots”.[3].

 

 

“Polke seems to suggest that modernist abstraction-whether constructivist biomorphic expressionist or geometric was no longer available as a serious option for young artists but only fit for parody”.[4].

In the 1970’s he experimented with Hallucionic drugs and became associated with the Radical left he was also influenced by Joseph  Beuys and travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan To experience different cultures. He painted a picture of Mao-Tse-Tung, the Chinese Leader and Stalinist.

 

 

Mao painted in 1972 6.was painted on fabric and mounted on felt with a wooden dowell. This showed Polke attempting constantly to look for new materials and new ways to display his art. He wanted to break from his bourgeois past and started using pasted images collages and montages. “Polke experimented with photography during these years and Polke also explored transparency in his film work doubly and multiply exposing his reels.”.[5].

In the 1980’s Polke would use new materials adding colour and scale using purple and bronze pigments that would show visual changes.”Polke used pigments that would change from purple to bronze when burnished”‘[6].

 

 

His Pagannini 1981-3 showed how the soul had been claimed by the Devil , using dispersion paint ,aluminium paint and pencil on fabric Polke created revolutionary images for the 21st century. “Testing  out different pigments ,liquids and colours and researching pre-industrial techniques the studio became a site of material investigation”.[7].

from 1984-6 Polke started constructing and painting images of watchtowers , these were ambiguous structures which reflected Germany’s past particularly Nazi concentration camps and the Berlin Wall. For these images Polke used material and chromatic chemical solutions and transitional bubble wrap to create the right effect. “Polke created a large stencil of the watchtower, sometimes coupling his with images of hands gripping prison bars or holding out an identity pass”.[8].

 

 

In The Room labelled Spirits soot and snow there are materials used By Polke with mystical creation and white paint. “The stumato works were created by passing an antique oil lamp underneath glass panes so that swirls of soot formed abstract patterns”.[9]. A truly innovative and revolutionary use of material by Polke which shows how he stands out from the other artists of his generation.

 

 

Polke used Salamander stone with enamel on polyester adding photocopier prints. He mixed polyester with resin. polke was determined to see perception as always fallible to the eye. “In seeing things as they are he painted this phrase taken from a Newspaper headline To perceive the World as it truly is”.[10].

It could be argued that in a sense that Polke encapsulated the Realist Tradition.

 

 

 

By the 1990’s Polke was using computer generated images like Brittas Pig and Seasons Hottest trend, he was developing canvasses digitally printed with a Photocopier .He  was using modern technology to achieve his objective. Towards the end of his Life Polke wanted to use Matter and Illusion. In the final rooms of the Tate Exhibition you are able to see how Polke uses 3d lenses and Holograms adding Gel to rake over and create ridges in the image . He is philosophically questioning Materiality and immateriality by asking is there a materialist truth or an Idealist truth. I feel that this exhibition has been well curated by the Tate and by using 14 rooms the Whole and range of Polke’s work can be displayed. I would recommend this Exhibition and if you haven’t seen it yet there is time before the Exhibition closes on the 8th February 2015.

NOTES

1) TATE BOOKLET ROOM 1

2) DITTO  ROOM 2

3) DITTO  ROOM 3

4)  DITTO ROOM 4

5)  DITTO  ROOM 4

6)  DITTO  ROOM 6

7)   DITTO  ROOM 6

8)   DITTO   ROOM 7

9) DITTO     ROOM  8

10) DITTO   ROOMS 9, 10, 11,12,13 AND14

 

The Yorùbá people

By Mobola Wahab, political and social activist from Nigeria

 

The Yorùbá people are one of the largest ethno-linguistic groups in sub-Saharan Africa. While Yoruba can be found throughout the entirety of West Africa, even reaching into Benin, Ghana, and Togo, Sierra Leone, Gambia and Côte d'Ivoire. The greatest concentration of Yoruba is found between the area west of the Niger and the western border of Nigeria with over 50 millions speakers.

 

There is a Netflix documentary titled "Bigger Than Africa"*, that tells the audience how the Yoruba people transcended continents and connected the Black diaspora. There is a large population of the Afro-Cubans and Afro-Brazilians who are of Yoruba descent and speak the language. Even some can be found in Haiti, U.S., Puerto-Rico etc. 

 

The film, also features interviews, which narrates how the Yoruba culture survived slavery beyond imagination to remain alive to this day in the outside world.

 

Ilé-Ifẹ̀ is widely regarded as the ancestral homeland of the Yorùbá people and the head-quarters of their traditional spirituality known as ISESE/IFA.

 

The city symbolizes the genesis of the totality of Yorùbá ethnicity, and that is why the town is popularly referred to as Orísun or the source. 

 

The most underrated Yoruba civilisation is the Kingdom of Oyo. Alongside other Yoruba kingdoms, it had a major influence on the development of West African History. Oyo was one of the strongest kingdoms with the largest military and arguably the most politically elaborate system complete with democratic institutions having seperate powers. The Alaafin (the title for the king/queen of Oyo) was never the absolute monarch as Western narratives painted heads of African kingdoms or as it was in feudal Europe. Rather, his powers were checked by institutions which served as arms of government and the people. The beginning of the slave trade, eventually led to the decline of this great kingdom.

 

The Yoruba people are also known as: ‘’Omo Kaaro Ojiire” or “Iran Kuotu Ojiire”. These two statement are the same and they mean “The children of those who rise with best luck” / “The descendants of those who wake up with goodness”.

 

Yorubà people are beautifully made and intellectual. One thing about Yorubà people is that they are intentional about everything they do. Some peculiar things about them is the Praise Poetry/ Eulogy known as Oriki; Oriki in Yoruba land is a praise poetry of kin-identity based on the family ancestors. Every Yoruba person must know their Oriki as proof of the Household (Idi-ile) they are from. They also believe that the Oriki and knowledge of it has a spiritual essence.