[Malevich and the Russian Communism]
Undoubtedly, Malevich has risen to be one of the greatest Russian artists of his generation. At the beginning of his career, Malevich started developing his career around the Cubo-Futurism, a pictorial movement that adopted elements from the French Cubism and the Italian Futurism, creating a new form of expression that changed the rigid conventions of the cubism, adding movement to the paintings.
Kazimir Malevich The Knife Grinder (1912)
Hence, after this period of Cubist experimentation, Malevich starts exploring the pictorial mysticism, giving birth to a style he called Suprematism. The style abandoned figurative images and employed geometrical forms. According to Malevich’s 1915 manifesto From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism, “Color and texture are of the greatest value in painterly creation— they are the essence of painting, but this essence has always been killed by the subject” (Malevich 123). Coinciding with the beginning of the Russian revolution, Malevich’s work became part of the Russian communist rhetoric, employing his Suprematist ethics to support early communism. This essay shall address said relation, exploring how Suprematism and the Russian revolution were once intertwined and the relation the style had in the dawn of the Russian revolution.
Therefore, the painter considered that by intending to transmit the forms of the living, the artists were, in fact, destroying it, conveying an imperfect form of a motionless cadaver. Likewise, Malevich considered artists should have innovated, created. Instead, they just copied the motifs they found in nature. For that reason, he started experimenting with the pure forms, not the forms related to the intuition, but to those of reason, the geometric figures. “The square is not a subconscious form. It is the creation of intuitive reason. The face of the new art. The square is a living regal infant. The first step of pure creation in art. Before it, there were naïve distortions and copies of nature.” (Malevich 133). With those words, the artist rejects the body, freeing art from the feelings, devoiding it from the body’s expression, creating a cold work of the mind. For that reason, Malevich and his bold statement of suppressing the earthly references are a consequence of the modernist approach to feelings of early expressionist painting. Consequently, his revolutionary, avant-garde approach sees art as an absolute and as an instrument of the reason. With pure forms, Malevich even rejected abstraction as it reflected the ideas of the artist, as well as its provenance. Ultimately, Malevich wanted nothing but convert art into the supreme field of human existence. Nevertheless, Malevich art can be seen at a first glance, quite apathetic and show little to none engagement to a particular ideology as figurative, artistic manifestations would. Likewise, it seems impossible to link art with any political movement and convey a meaning to the people and change the world. In his 1921 essay, The Question of Imitative art, Malevich states that humanity is in a constant movement of continual attempts to perfect itself, creating and abandoning new artistic and socio-political and concepts. (Malevich 2). In those terms, communism could be seen as the necessary transition to something better, something perfect. Hence, Malevich realized that art should accompany life, moving toward perfection with the rest of the forms of life instead of attempting to create its path. On the other hand, Communism as a political system that endorse frugality sought in Malevich art images that although not supported, gave the regime a sense of purpose, an aesthetic that validated its philosophical groundwork. To Malevich, communism as the process of building a new society out of a corrupted one served his purposes as he saw Suprematism as the highest goal of men, embracing rationality and leaving behind the old conventions of art putting man on top of the spirit, creating an artistic rhetoric of the mind and the necessary transformations the world needed to undergone to make them possible. To Malevich, communism looked like the accompanying political system of the Suprematism given the simplification of form, richness and content that destroyed all the boundaries between individuals. The communist destruction of all the previous values that created differences between humans disappeared, achieving the highest amount of social unity (Dulguerova 2). Ultimately, by simplifying the complexities of life, it made it easier for people to embrace rationality.
Kazimir Malevich Black Square (1915)
To Malevich, the Russian Revolution proved to be an excellent occasion to showcase his ideal of a society rooted in the mind, instead of being subject to the body. For that reason, Malevich rose as a key supporter of the communist way of life, as it seemed to be the step society needed to achieve the goals of the Suprematism of overturning traditions and reshaping the world. The style became a tool at the service of a state, but since Malevich considered that art had to be part of the historical moment, but not to the culture, dutifully accepted. Conversely, despite Malevich’s attempts to show his art to the masses, communist aesthetics favored a form of art that came from the proletariat and their lives and interests. The art of a kind easily understood that showed reality as seen through the eyes of the simplest of the individuals. Rooting a series of rational explanations to his idea of how Suprematism could exist alongside the government, appealing to the individuals’ spiritual and aesthetic needs as a way of inner growth and self-assessing, rather than a mere visual entertainment that reflected something they saw every day. However, Malevich failed to assess and understand the possible political and social functions of the Suprematism as a philosophy in a Russia who needed art that justified their actions and praised the tough life conditions Russian lived, normalizing it and converting it into something of a regular occurrence. The communist vision emphasized reality and despite Malevich’s attempts of showing his style as the realest manifestation of the reason, it was deemed as idealistic by the Communist critics. In a strictly philosophical sense, Suprematism was much closer to the communist ideals than the social realism given its nature as the revolutionary construction of a utopic equality. While Malevich defended the postulates of the communism, he considered it something of the mind, a political system meant to improve the minds of its citizens, heightening the human condition (Aronov 4).
Ultimately, the affair of the Suprematist movement and the Communism lasted for a short time. In 1922, two years before Lenin’s death the all-powerful avant-garde presided by Malevich had lost all its drive, creating the social realism, a style that did not do much more than representing a way of life. At the end of the day, Malevich had to surrender his ideals to keep his life, proving that the world was not ready yet for an artistic style that emphasized the mind over matter (Kramer 1). From that moment, Malevich’s pieces became entirely different, painting images of realism that seems almost cynical and completely in context with the reality, becoming a silent critic of the system he helped building.
Kazimir Malevich Reapers (1929)
Aronov, I. “Social-Political Aspects of Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematism.” History and Theory, Bezalel 10 – The Left, the Right and the Holy Spirit (2008). Web. 16 Dec. 2015.
Dulguerova, E. “Objectless in Vitebsk: Reflections on Kazimir Malevich, Architecture, and Representation A Conversation with Elitza Dulguerova.” Scapegoat (2007). Web. 16 Dec. 2015.
Kramer, H. “Art, Revolution, and Kazimir Malevich.” Art, Revolution, and Kazimir Malevich by Hilton Kramer -. The New Criterion, 1 Nov. 1990. Web. 16 Dec. 2015. <http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/Art–revolution–and-Kazimir-Malevich-5230>.
Malevich, K. “From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism:.” The New Painterly Realis, 1915. Web. 16 Dec. 2015. <http://monoskop.org/images/b/bc/Malevich_Kazimir_1915_1976_From_Cubism_and_Futurism_to_Suprematism.pdf>.
Malevich, K. “The Question of Innovative Art.” 1921. Web. 16 Dec. 2015. <http://www.mariabuszek.com/kcai/ConstrBau/Readings/MlvchSupr.pdf>.