I have lived and worked in Communist and Socialist countries (China and Vietnam). It has always been fascinating to me how Communism and creative art do not always go hand-in-hand.
Communism is not usually suitable for art; living under Communism is difficult for many artists. Art in a communist society should usually have a purpose and way to help further the communist ideals and ideology. In a Communist society, many artists are labeled as dissidents; others are forced to use their talents to create propaganda art.
Communism And Art
Under Communism, artists, poets, and others were always stifled unless they turned their art and artistic endeavors to what the communist state wanted to see. Artists usually do not have creative freedom as in other countries.
Many artists under Communism refuse to create the art that the communist state wants. If the artists create art the communist state sees as against the state, the artists could be jailed or labeled as “an enemy to the state,”
If you ask the communist leaders, they would tell you that artists have complete and total freedom with their art with the exception ”except it goes against the communist state or government.” The problem is that ”what goes against the communist state or government” is subjective.
The attitude of many Communists is that art is good as long as it helps to further their purpose or work, but the minute it does not, they have no use for it. It was Lenin who famously summed it up by saying this:
Lenin stated what many communist societies believe – art needs to have a purpose and be a way to bring society toward the communist ideals.
Communism And Free Speech
One of the critical aspects of Communism is the aspect of freedom of speech. In a Communist society, the individual’s best interests should align with the communist society.
The idea of individual freedom is not compatible with Communist thinking and ideology. Under Communism, the reason to have freedom of speech and personal freedoms would be to bring forth the communist ideals and ideology.
Even though this is the practice, it is interesting to note that under Communism, one of the tenets or beliefs is that under Communism, each individual’s rights are as necessary as the other person’s. That is why in many communist constitutions, you may find that ”freedom of speech” and ”expression” are listed as guiding principles ”except it goes against the state.”
In other words, under Communism, you are said to have freedom as long as it follows the Communist ideology and thought.
This is where it becomes messy and complex for artists who are living under a Communist state. Artistic freedom is about the freedom to express yourself, but under Communism, your creative freedom could be viewed as going against the state and, therefore, anti-Communist.
In many Communist countries, artists that believed in free expression are jailed and labeled as dissidents as the state felt their art went against the ideology of Communism or a Communist state. The problem is that “what goes against the Communist state” is very subjective under Communism. Some artists may be jailed just for being artists, whereas others were jailed as their art had hidden meanings or was dissident art.
The reality is that under Communism, there is no free speech. As such, artists are one group of people traditionally targeted in a Communist regime as dissidents. The Communist state desires to silence the artist, even sending them to jail.
Propaganda Art And Communism
The one kind of art that has consistently thrived under Communism is propaganda art. Even today, on the streets of Hanoi, you can see these famous propaganda art posters all over the country.
The purpose of the propaganda art was for the communist state to use art to communicate to the population. This art was readily accepted as art that had a purpose and was viewed as actively furthering the Communist ideology.
Under Communism, all art was a form of propaganda. This includes literature, visual arts, and even performing arts.
The purpose of the art was to show the unambiguous meaning of how Communism was the ideal. Art for creating art was not the purpose here, but it was an art to give a message of the glories of the Communist ideology and objectives.
For the artist, the art was not for them to create or even show off their artistic skills, but more for them to show the population the ideals and ideology of a communist society. That is why some of the art may be ill-executed when you look at this propaganda art from a purely artistic view.
Under Communism, the artist’s talent did not matter as much as the artist using that talent, whatever they had to further the Communist ideals. It was not about the artist having to create anything unique or new but instead being able to follow the directives given to them when they produced the art.
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