Course Title:  01:082:357  Art and Literature of the Soviet Period and the Varieties of Nonconformism

Academic Credits:  3 credits


Mode of Instruction:  Lecture

Course Prerequisites:  Permission of department

Core Curriculum: None

Course Description:

Official and unofficial literature and art; literary and art institutions; alternative venues.

Russian art of the Soviet era affords a unique vantage point from which to explore the intersection of art and politics, the changing dynamics of Soviet power, and artists’ responses to—and reactions against—the notion of art as an instrument of political propaganda.

Roughly twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, the art produced in Russia from 1917 to 1953 is still widely regarded as the paradigm of radical political art. The years surrounding the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 witnessed an astonishing array of avant-garde art movements—Suprematism, Constructivism, and Productivism, among others. The mid- to late 1920s and 1930s saw the rise of so-called “Heroic Realism” and the Soviet government’s increasing control over artistic production, culminating in the announcement in 1934 of Socialist Realism as the official style of Soviet art. Art and Power will address the interplay between changing cultural policy and the shifts in the styles, imagery, and messages of Russian/Soviet art during this landmark period.

Following Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953, the monolith of totalitarian culture began to erode—a process that ultimately led to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Starting in the mid-1950s, artists began exploring alternate forms of self-expression in opposition to Socialist Realism, incorporating subjects and art forms banned during the Stalin era. The course will address the breathtaking range of these alternate forms of artistic expression—which collectively came to be known as “unofficial” or “nonconformist art”—as well as their relationship to official art.

In its exploration of these issues, Art and Power will touch on the broad spectrum of artistic media, including painting, sculpture, posters, children’s book design and illustration, architecture, mass festivals, theater, and film.

Learning Goals:

You will become familiar with a specific body of creative work, produced in Russia from the period immediately after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.  We will consider issues such as the cult of personality, art-world debates on realism versus abstraction, and developments like Lenin’s Plan for Monumental Propaganda. Emphasis will be placed on the historical, ideological, and aesthetic contexts of the artworks examined.

Required and Recommended Course Materials:



You are expected to be present at all meetings, including all museum sessions. More than three absences will count against your grade. In order to understand the lectures and to prepare for the discussions, it is essential that you complete all the reading listed for each topic before coming to class. You will be also expected to explore the Riabov Collection of Russian art and the Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union; some classes may be taught in the galleries of the Zimmerli Art Museum.

No knowledge of Russian is required.

Your grade will be based on your attendance, your participation in class discussions, as well as on the “reading response paper” (5 pages) and final paper (10-15 pages, typed and double-spaced; due after the end of the semester) on a topic discussed with the Professor. Additional guidelines for the essay will be distributed separately.




Disclaimer:  These course descriptions/synopses pages have been provided as samples and the information should not be considered accurate or current.  For actual course information, refer to the course site hosted by a Rutgers Learning Management System (Sakai, Canvas, etc.) as of first day of class.