an artistic movement in the Soviet Union in the 1920’s. During the first years of its existence (1918–21), production art was closely associated with “leftist” trends in painting and sculpture. Participants in the movement set before them the task of merging art, which had been divorced from craftmanship by capitalism, with material production based on a highly developed industrial technology. Ignoring the practical reality of socialist transformations, they mistakenly saw production art—an art concerned with the creation of utilitarian things—as a universal means of transforming the entire material environment along principles of social purposefulness, thereby establishing socialist forms of human communication. For the proizvodstvenniki (the members of the movement) new architecture (new types of dwellings and public buildings), furniture, equipment, and clothing were to serve as instruments for the liquidation of the bourgeois and philistine views, traditions, and habits inherited by Soviet society from the old, defeated political order and reinforced in man’s material surroundings: in objects, in the home, in the entire material milieu.
The principles of production art took root most firmly in construct vist architecture and design. During the first years of its power, the Soviet government implemented certain measures in harmony with the goals of production art to bring artistic creation and industrial production closer together. Under the sponsorship of the Department of Fine Arts of the People’s Commissariat for Education (1918–21), the Art and Production Council was established, as were subdepartments of art production and artistic labor, which organized art workshops at factories. In 1919 the Art and Production Commission of the Supreme Council on the National Economy (VSNKh) was created. The following year Vkhutemas (State Higher Arts and Technical Studios) was established, with its introductory course based on a theory of form formation developed by the proizvodstvenniki.
The artists maintained a romantic Utopian illusion regarding the possibility of the rapid creation of a new life with the help of production art. The theory of form formation supported by such proizvodstvenniki as B. I. Arvatov, O. M. Brik, A. M. Gan, B. A. Kushner, V. F. Pletnev, N. M. Tarabukin, S. M. Tret’iakov, and N. F. Chuzhak converged with the ideas of the Proletkul’t (Proletarian Cultural and Educational Organization) in its erroneous understanding of the culture of the proletariat. The proizvodstvenniki denied the continuity of culture, the ideological functions and specifics of studio art forms, and art’s traditionally image-centered approach to the perception of reality. In the most extreme forms, they rejected art itself (the theory of “art dissolving in life”). These aspects of production art contradicted the real practical experience of Soviet artistic culture. They also contradicted the general principles of the artistic policy of the Soviet government, aimed at enabling the broad masses of people to assimilate the cultural heritage of the past and at fostering the creation of an art that bore within itself the entire wealth of the emotional content of existence.
The theoretical unsoundness of the social ideas of the production art movement brought it to a crisis in the late 1920’s. However, the principals in the movement, after breaking with abstract formalism in 1921, became involved in industrial design. Their experience was utilized in the design of modern furniture (Gan, V. E. Tatlin, A. M. Rodchenko), typography (Gan, L. M. Lisitskii, Rodchenko), and textiles and clothing (L. S. Popova, V. F. Stepanova, Tatlin). The artists also organized new types of exhibitions (G. G. Klutsis, Lisitskii, Rodchenko, and the Sternberg brothers). The work of the proizvodstvenniki played a major role in the development of Soviet and foreign industrial design.
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Lenin, V. I. “O proletkul’takh: Pis’mo TsK RKP.” Ibid. Moscow, 1969.
Lunacharskii, A. V. “Osnovy khudozhestvennogo obrazovaniia.” In his book V mire muzyki: Stat’i i rechi, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1971. Pages 178–79 and 189–94.
Iskusstvo i proizvodstvo (collection). Moscow, 1921.
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