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Spotlight Artist: Kazimir Malevich

Kasimir Malevich

Red Square (Painterly Realism of a Peasant Woman in Two Dimensions), 1915


Political Art Topic : Censorship


Kazimir Malevich was the founder of the artistic and philosophical school of Suprematism, and his ideas about forms and meaning in art would eventually constitute the theoretical underpinnings of non-objective, or abstract, art. Malevich worked in a variety of styles, but his most important and famous works concentrated on the exploration of pure geometric forms (squares, triangles, and circles) and their relationships to each other and within the pictorial space. Because of his contacts in the West, Malevich was able to transmit his ideas about painting to his fellow artists in Europe and the United States, thus profoundly influencing the evolution of modern art.

Key Ideas

  • Malevich worked in a variety of styles, but he is mostly known for his contribution to the formation of a true Russian avant-garde post-World War I through his own unique philosophy of perception and painting, which he termed Suprematism. He invented this term because, ultimately, he believed that art should transcend subject matter -- the truth of shape and color should reign 'supreme' over the image or narrative.

  • More radical than the Cubists or Futurists, at the same time that his Suprematist compositions proclaimed that paintings were composed of flat, abstract areas of paint, they also served up powerful and multi-layered symbols and mystical feelings of time and space.

  • Malevich was also a prolific writer. His treatises on the philosophy of art addressed a broad spectrum of theoretical problems conceiving of a comprehensive abstract art and its ability to lead us to our feelings and even to a new spirituality.

  • With the rise of Socialist realism as the official style of art in the Soviet Union, his work was forced to change. Socialist realism is a style of idealized realistic art that was developed in the Soviet Union and was imposed as the official style in that country between 1932 and 1988. Socialist realism is characterized by the glorified depiction of communist values, such as the emancipation of the proletariat, by means of realistic imagery. Socialist realism was the predominant form of approved art in the Soviet Union from its development in the early 1920s to its eventual fall from official status beginning in the late 1960s until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.While other countries have employed a prescribed canon of art, socialist realism in the Soviet Union persisted longer and was more restrictive than elsewhere in Europe.

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Essential Questions

  • What does it mean to be avant-garde?

  • Do you think Malevich might be more well known if he were not from Russia?

  • Can a shape or a color be more truthful than a realistically depicted image?

  • What does "truth" mean in artwork?

  • Should a government have the authority to restrict the kind of artwork that is created?

  • What are some ways that artwork is "suppressed"?

  • Do you ever engage in self-censorship in your artwork? If so, why?

  • When is it appropriate to challenge the beliefs or values of society?

  • What are the consequences of censorship?


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