National Realism

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National realism was a politically-oriented style of 20th century art intended to glorify the blessings of the Russian and Slavic nations. It was particularly promoted in the Russian Empire, and, after the Second Great War, in several other countries in Eastern Europe and Asia that found themselves within the Russian sphere of influence. National realism is closely related to the ideology of the SNOR.

It was officially adopted in 1934 at the Congress of Russian Writers. National realism, designed by culture minister Andrei Mariupolsky, held that successful art depicts and glorifies the struggle of the entire Slavic world towards a strong, glorious and unified nation. The art produced under national realism is realistic, optimistic, and heroic.

The purpose of national realism was to elevate every single Slav, whatever his social status was, by presenting his life, work, and recreation as admirable. In other words, its goal was to educate the people in the goals and meaning of SNORism. In practice, national realism demanded close adherence to party doctrine, and has often been criticized as detrimental to the creation of true, unfettered art. In effect, it often functioned as little more than a means to censor artistic self-expression, sacrificing the individual for the good of nation and state. Indeed, painting subjects were limited to the glorification of SNORist ideals and in particular of SNORist leaders, especially Iosif Vissarionov. Western critics sometimes wryly encapsulate the principles of national realism as 'Girl meets Eagle'.

As a result of the rigid precepts of this school of art, many artists and authors found their works censored, ignored, or rejected. Mikhail Bulgakov, for instance, was forced to write his masterwork, The Master and Margarita, in secret, despite earlier successes such as White Guard. Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich found themselves essentially unable to compose music during this period. Both were often accused of "formalism" (the counterpart of national realism), although their international fame prevented them from being imprisoned or killed.

National realism as an official school of art dominated Russia and Eastern Europe until the late 1980s. Its doctrines were most strongly enforced in the period immediately following the Second Great War, but were somewhat relaxed after Vissarionov's death in 1958.