An overview of two Russian art movements: Suprematism, and Constructivism.
Hello, I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell, and today's lesson is about Suprematism and Constructivism. As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. As soon as you're ready, we can begin.
Today's objectives are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you'll be able to identify and define today's key terms, describe influences on the development of Suprematism and Constructivism, and identify examples of Suprematist and Constructivist artwork.
Key terms for today are, as always, listed in yellow. First key term is Suprematism, 20th century Russian art movement that is characterized by its focus on sensed feelings through expressions of pure forms, for example, circles, rectangles, lines, and colors. Constructivism, an avant-garde movement from 1913 to 1940 characterized by abstractions, geometric forms, and themes that commend machines and technology. Abstraction, in the arts, the simplification of form down to its most basic elements. Utopia, idealized states of perfection. And distanciation, a technique that is used to produce a feeling of disassociation.
Big idea for today is that Suprematism was created with the intention of trumping all previous art-forms. Constructivism had an original utopian function of serving the needs of the Russian or Soviet Revolution. Now the art that we'll see today dates from between 1916 and 1957. And we'll be traveling to Saint Petersburg or Leningrad Russia, home of Kazimir Malevich, Bryansk, Russia, where Naum Gabo was born in 1819, Moscow, Russia, where Vladimir Tatlin lived and where Alexander Rodchenko died in 1956.
The basic concept of Suprematism was the creation of the Russian artist Kazimir Malevich. Now the name comes from the idea that this new art would be superior to the arts that came before and would create supremacy of pure feeling or emotion in the visual arts. It would not be linked to specific objects, which created an extremely minimalistic visual style in the similar spirit as the De Stijl movement that arose around the same time in the Netherlands.
Malevich's approach to the reduction of form with the elevation of feeling and emotion was to emphasize basic geometric shapes and colors. Now the elevation of his art form above those that preceded it was closely tied to the universality of its form. It wasn't tied to anything in particular. And this allowed the meaning to be constructed within each viewer, with each individual connecting to the piece in unique ways that weren't dictated by any specific form.
Now throughout his career, Malevich continued to work towards achieving what he called a zero point in his artwork. That is, to reduce his compositions down to the most basic elements in order to come to the point where art was its most essential. To proceed any further would cause the art to cease being art.
Now examples of this, such as a black circle on a white background, or this canvas with squares painted in two shades of white that are almost imperceptible, depict this threshold. If you take away the slightly askew square, you're basically left with a frame and little else.
Now where Suprematism was confined to the visual arts, the development of Constructivism by Russian artists like Vladimir Tatlin extended abstraction into all of the arts, including sculpture design and architecture. Now the connection between constructivism in the early Soviet Union is important, as the latter was quite influential on the former.
Originally, Constructivism has a utopian function of serving the needs of the revolution. And this monument to the Third International was a model built by Tatlin for a structure that was to eclipse the Eiffel Tower in terms of size and modernity-- parallels to the formation of a new world order taking place in Russia.
Now however, the project never left the concept stage. There are number reasons, but the availability of steel was very scarce in post-war revolutionary Russia. And second, the movement was eventually abandoned by the state as being too radical.
So if you're a fan of the band Franz Ferdinand, you may be familiar with this image as it inspired the cover art on their second major release. Now the construct photographer, Alexander Rodchenko, a student of Tatlin, was another pioneer in the art of photo montage. And inspired countless photographers in the decades to come with his unique approach to photography.
Now by taking images from unique angles such as from ankles below or above the central figure, he created a sense of dissociation with the viewer. A technique that came to be known as distanciation, essentially making the familiar, unfamiliar.
There's an interesting underlying dichotomy to his work. His work was limited in scope in many ways by the state, but at the same time it was a government which simultaneously afforded him the ability to reach a huge number of people that he might have been able to reach without the help the state. Now there's also the apparent irony of using capitalistic style advertising like you see here to extend the socialist agenda of the government.
Naum Gabo was another constructivist whose artistic vision changed over time as he exposed himself to more and more of the collective knowledge existing outside of his native Russia. Now he pioneered such areas as kinetic art, or art that moves, and looked to the influence of Kandinsky, for example, in his approach to abstract art-- trying to find or evoke the spiritual in his creations and explore a sense of space by actually reducing the amount of mass in his objects. An example, which can be seen here in the stylized flower sculpture from 1957.
Now Gabo attended academic lectures, becoming familiar with the ideas of Einstein such as space, time, and relativity, which likely influences his ever refining artistic style-- a style that transcended the three dimensions of conventional art, incorporating the fourth dimension of time itself.
So that brings us to the end of our lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives again to see if we met them. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms, can you describe influences on the development of Suprematism and Constructivism, and can you identify examples of Suprematist and Constructivist artwork?
And the big idea for today is that Suprematism was created with the intention of trumping all previous art forms. Constructivism had an original utopian function of serving the needs of the Russian or Soviet Revolution. And that's it. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.
Malevich, Suprematist Composition, Public Domain, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Suprematist_Composition_-_Kazimir_Malevich.jpg White on White; Public Domain: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kazimir_Malevich_-_%27Suprematist_Composition-_White_on_White%27,_oil_on_canvas,_1918,_Museum_of_Modern_Art.jpg; Tatlin's Tower; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tatlin%27s_Tower_maket_1919_year.jpg Rodchenko, Advertisement for the State Press of Leningrad, Creative Commons, http://www.flickr.com/photos/centralasian/3299286859/
In the arts, the simplification of form down to its most basic elements.
An avant-garde art movement (1913-1940) characterized by abstractions, geometric forms, and themes that commend machines and technology.
A technique that is used to produce a feeling of dissociation.
A 20th-century Russian art movement that is characterized by its focus on sensed feelings through expressions of pure forms, for example circles, rectangles, lines, and colors.
Idealized states of perfection.