Posts tagged art
The Brilliance and Design of Soviet Propaganda

There's something stark about Soviet design and propaganda art. The harsh lines. Limited colors. Lenin lurking ominously in the background. There's also something very intriguing in it. Those same harsh lines speak of a reality that I have no experience in. They draw me in to a world that still exists, just in a different fashion. Sure the fall of the U.S.S.R in 1989-90 put an end to a lot of the feelings that Westerners had about the Russian motherland but a lot of the harsh lines in those posters from the late 1910's to early 1970's still hold significance.

I'm a big fan of Wassily Kandinsky and his geometric style of modern art. My favorite Kandinksy work is his Yellow – red – blue (1925) that ultimately broke with the constructivism and suprematism that came to be the hallmark of Soviet propaganda posters, showcasing freedom from organization and order. It was his own way of rebelling against the revolution occurring around him in his homeland, shortly before moving to Germany and then Paris.

My first formal introduction to Soviet propaganda art was at London's Tate Modern where in the late 2000's they had an exhibit featuring great examples from that era. I was blown away by the intricacy of these pieces that were meant to inform, and ultimately model, a new society. Constructivism pushed using art for social purposes, a natural extension after the Russian revolution and the forming of the Soviet persona under Lenin. Art as a way to serve the political and cultural means of a country sounds completely counterintuitive to the art I think of now, which seems to be more countercultural than ever, pushing boundaries and holding governments to accountability.

Nowhere else but Mosselprom - 1925
Nowhere else but Mosselprom - 1925

One of my favorite examples is 1925's  "Nowhere else but Mosselprom." It's almost an exercise in branding for a communist department store. Part of the appeal is the Russian alphabet and the otherworldly nature that it gives the composition. It's almost what you're used to, but not quite. I think this went a long way in shaping how Americans saw Russians. We didn't understand the letters in their language, immediately throwing their culture into a far off category.

The arrows point to the building in way that signifies 'this is the only place a true Russian would shop.' It's a powerful symbol. Also, notice the utilitarian design of the building, stark and made for a purpose that could easily change to a defensive stronghold at any moment. The use of red in the propaganda posters also made them stand out. The black and white backgrounds that usually accompanied the red accents played into the juxtaposition of the pieces. These weren't merely artworks, but advertisements from the government, not far off from a tweet from the White House today.

Feminism in Soviet Design and Art

Liberated woman – build up socialism! - 1926
Liberated woman – build up socialism! - 1926

One thing that struck me was the inclusion of women in Soviet art. For a movement that was marked by macho-male figures, and still is to an extent, the female population was readily included in the worker's movement. In 1926's "Liberated woman – build up socialism!" you see a very strong portrayal of a female worker that contributed to society in the factories and fields alongside the men. This piece also highlights the use of red for declaring a message and black and white for the scene. The poster leaves what the women is holding in her hands a mystery. Is it a gun, broom or tool? That's up to the viewer, leaving room for any woman to see herself as part of the worker's movement.

For its part that it played in shaping how the common person saw the communist Soviet movement, it has to be hailed as one of the greatest ad campaigns ever executed. It rallied people behind a common cause and belief and allowed the government to use graphical representations to push its message. If that's not modern marketing, I'm not sure what is.

You can read more about Soviet design and propaganda art here.

Glen Hansard on Art, Creativity and Voice

Glen Hansard has been one of my favorite artists for a very long time. From his time as founder of The Frames to The Swell Season, his lyrics connect with me in a way that most others just don't. Most people in America know him as the "guy" in the movie Once, which was an amazing film that featured some really great songs. His first solo album, Rhythm and Repose was one of my favorite albums of 2012 and his latest solo effort, Didn't He Ramble is quickly becoming one of my all-time top albums. In the video below, Myles O'Reilly followed Glen as he made Ramble and you get a unique insight into his views on creativity and voice. I love this quote from his producer on the record; "we all know you're great and all, we just don't know if you're any good." It's at that point that you know he's surrounded himself with the right people to make music, people who aren't afraid to push back and make you second guess yourself.

Art as a Career

The career of an artist is a funny thing. In the documentary below, Glen talks about music sometimes being so personal that it has no actual value to other people. "Why am I asking the public to take part in it, if it's just about exercising my own demons," says Hansard. "Surely you can do that at home."

I think that's something that every artist, no matter what medium, struggles with. Is this just a passion or is there an avenue to invite the greater world into that same feeling? Am I connecting or just dragging the audience along?

Grace Beneath the Pines

My favorite song on the record is the opening track, "Grace Beneath The Pines." There's something haunting and real about the whole song, it just seems to sit with you long after the headphones come off. The way that he sings "I'll get through this," voice quivering and full of anguish, just drags you into this song of redemption and hope.

Every time I hear it, I picture myself walking along the Thames in 2009, a chill March wind blowing swiftly. The pines turn into buildings and street lamps as I try to find an open Tube station. It was a pivotal moment in my life, on a short holiday from my time in Paris. I was struggling to find my own way in life, an identity that I'm still not sure stuck well. There was lots of late nights and walking, but those lights brought some kind of grace to my life, even if just temporary. Sometimes that's all you need.

The documentary below is definitely worth a watch, but if you want to skip ahead to where Glen Hansard talks about creativity just go to the 9:00 minute mark and the 14:30 minute mark. It's definitely a great look into the mind of a wonderful artist and the creative process behind making a record. The video above is my wife's favorite track from the record, "McCormack's Wall," which is based on a true story from Glen's past. I'm pretty sure it's because of the beautiful Irish ballad undertones and violins at the end. I really need to take her to Ireland soon. A small cottage by the water, that sounds about right. Soon.