Artistic Method

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Method, Artistic


the system of principles that guide the creation of works of literature and art. The category of artistic method was introduced into aesthetics in the late 1920’s and has become one of the basic concepts in the Marxist theory of artistic creativity.

Rejecting all irrational interpretations of the creative act, such as the religious and mystical, the intuitive, and the psychoanalytical, Marxist science proceeds from the fact that, no matter how important the role of intuitive and unconscious moments in the artist’s activity, the foundation of creative work is conscious and purposeful. This is shown by the internal logic of works of art and by a variety of indirect evidence, including theoretical treatises, prefaces, manifestos, and letters by artists, their conversations, and their advice to their students, all of which indicate the need and capacity of the writer, painter, composer, and director to grasp, formulate, and publicize the principles of his creative practice. The concept “artistic method,” whose foundation is the philosophical category of method, emphasizes this consciousness of the basic drives of artistic thought, imagination, and talent.

Because it develops in a concrete social and cultural milieu, an artist’s method, despite its unique qualities, exhibits a more or less profound similarity to the methods of other artists of the same period and the same intellectual and aesthetic orientation. The historian of artistic culture is, therefore, justified in abstracting the general structure of the artistic method of artistic schools and styles. Thus, for example, scholars refer to the artistic method of classicism, romanticism, critical realism, and symbolism.

Each artist develops his own artistic method as his creative approach takes shape. The method evolves under the influence of the artist’s entire world view—that is, the system of his aesthetic, ethical, religious, philosophical, and political convictions. Of course, serious changes in an artist’s world view lead to changes in his method. Thus, for example, A. S. Pushkin passed from a romantic to a realistic method, and M. V. Nesterov abandoned symbolism for socialist realism. In addition, the existence of more or less critical contradictions within an artist’s world view leads to internal contradictions in his artistic method. This was shown by F. Engels in his study of Balzac and by V. I. Lenin in his analysis of the views and works of L. Tolstoy.

Even today, Soviet scholars disagree strongly over a more concrete definition of artistic method, which would include its basic elements, the character of their relationship, and the correlation between method and style. Artistic method, which is sometimes called creative method or the method of artistic creativity, has been defined as “the principle of the reflection of life in images” (G. N. Pospelov), “the principle by which a writer selects and evaluates the phenomena of reality” (L. I. Timofeev), and “a specific method of thinking in images” (lu. B. Borev). But it has also been described as the totality of “the principles of artistic selection,” “methods of artistic generalization,” “principles of aesthetic evaluation,” and “principles of embodying reality in the images of art” (O. V. Larmin) and as “a system of principles underlying the artist’s practical activity,” the system that is isomorphic to the structure of the work of art being created (M. S. Kagan).

Since the structure of art arises from the relationship of four basic components—the experience, evaluation, and transformation of life and the symbolic expression of the artistic information thus obtained—artistic method must include four corresponding elements. Its cognitive element determines the spheres of being toward which the energy of artistic cognition is directed (for example, the social or the biological) and defines how artistic cognition combines in its images the general and the particular. The evaluative element determines the nature of the system of values (religious or secular, civic or apolitical) affirmed by the artist (or school) and the means of affirmation (openly tendentious or covert, overtly emotional or contemplative). The creative element establishes the principles by which experiential data are transformed into artistic images that either preserve or destroy verisimilitude, as well as the principles underlying the material construction of the artistic form. Finally, the semiotic element indicates the means by which a given construct is transformed into a system of image-producing symbols, or a unique “artistic language.” It is necessary to bear in mind that artistic method is a dynamic system capable of changing in response to changes in the relationship of its elements. For example, in the method of critical realism, the cognitive element becomes dominant.

One of the most basic features of socialist realism is the equilibration of the four elements of artistic method (the principle of the unity of partymindedness and truthfulness, the unity of mirroring and artistically transforming reality, the unity of content and form, and the unity of poetic meaning and artistic language). However, owing to the special features of different kinds and genres of art, this is a dynamic equilibrium that permits each type and genre to preserve and develop its specific aesthetic characteristics within the framework of a single artistic method.


Gel’fand, M., and A. Zonin. “K diskussii o tvorcheskom metode.” Pechat’ i revoliutsiia, 1930, no. 4.
Matsa, I. L. Tvorcheskii metod i khudozhestvennoe nasledie. Moscow, 1933.
V sporakh o metode (collection of articles). Leningrad, 1934.
Tvorcheskii metod (collection of articles). Moscow, 1960.
Dneprov, V. Problemy realizma. Leningrad, 1960.
Realizm i ego sootnosheniia s drugimi tvorcheskimi metodami. [Collection of articles.] Moscow, 1962.
Skvoznikov, V. D. “Tvorcheskii metod i obraz.” In Teoriia literatury. Moscow, 1962.
Khudozhestvennyi metod i tvorcheskaia individual’nost’ pisatelia. [Collection of articles.] Moscow, 1964.
Larmin, O. V. Khudozhestvennyi metod i stil’ Moscow, 1964.
Timofeev, L. I. Osnovy teorii literatury, 3rd ed. Moscow, 1966.
Borev, lu. B. Estetika. Moscow, 1969.
Kagan, M. S. Lektsii po marksistsko-leninskoi estetike, 2nd ed. Leningrad, 1971.
Pospelov, G. N. Problemy istoricheskogo razvitiia literatury. Moscow, 1972.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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