Russian Constructivism in Art: A Marriage of Beauty and Practicality

Primarily an art and architecture movement, Constructivism dismissed the idea of autonomous art -- that is, "art for art's sake." For the founders of this movement, art had to be taken from the hands of the wealthy few and reconstructed from level zero to serve a social purpose.

A Revolution

In order to understand the drive for this drastic change, we need to go back to the early 1900s in Russia. Ordinary people — laborers and peasants — were already weary of the oppressive and unjust rule of the Tsarist regime. The country was ravaged by war — first with the Japanese, then World War I — and the citizens were demoralized. Their growing desire to break away from their misery sparked the series of revolutions, the culmination of which came in the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Illustration by Alexander Rodchenko, one of the best known Constructivist artists. Image via Design Obsession.

These ordinary people succeeded in seizing control from the imperial government, but it was under the influence of Vladimir Lenin and the Russian intelligentsia that the country realized that they wanted change. They craved for a world that would serve as a paradise for everyone, where everyone would benefit, and even art would be something that everyone could enjoy and take part in.

Art with a Social Purpose

In essence, Constructivism was the product of this idealogy, and later became known as the Russian version of Modernism. It broke away from the idea of “art for art’s sake” and instead promoted the notion of a new, reconstructed art: that which served a social purpose, which creates for the benefit of even the ordinary people, and was therefore practical in nature.

Perhaps, because it was conceived to be something that is easily understood and appreciated, Constructivist Art is characterized by simplicity, orderliness, and minimalism artworks. They possess geometric elements, basic forms, abstract details, and at times appear experimental but still stripped of emotional qualities.

In order: Illustrations by Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova, Georgi and Vladimar Stenberg, and El Lissitzky. Images via Russian Constructivist Graphic Design by Alki1 on Flickr and Modern Art with Professor Blanchard on Blogspot.

While a lot of what can be tagged as Constructivist Art came in the form of graphic design, the concept also extended to sculpture-making and even architecture. But, Constructivism in these aspects did not work on showcasing beauty or expressing the artist’s views. Rather, the goal was to figure out how to incorporate art forms into designing functional objects, so they are not only beautiful, but also functional (and perhaps even vice versa). Therefore, it was often the materials that dictated what can be made and how they would look like, instead of the artist transforming these materials into something entirely different and appealing.

Model for Vladimir Tatlin’s proposed Monument to the Third International (1919-20), later called Tatlin’s Tower, a large scale monument that was supposed to be built in Petrograd (present-day St. Petersburg) after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, but was never built. Some consider it to be the definitive expression of constructivism in architecture rather than an actual buildable project. Photo via Modern Art with Professor Blanchard on Blogspot.
Sculptures by Constructivist Art pioneer Naum Gabo, in order: Constructive Head No. 1, 1915 (plywood), Constructive Head No. 2, 1916 (galvanized iron, painted yellow ochre), and Linear Construction No. 2, 1970-1. Photos via Midcenturia.com, Adam's Memory on Blogspot, and Tate.org.uk.

Watch the clip below to find out more about the origins, theories, and concepts surrounding Constructivist Art:

Drawing inspiration from this monumental art movement, Lomography introduces a new film camera that allows you to put together an analogue beauty that is both charming and functional. Called the Konstruktor, the latest addition to Lomography’s roster of cameras is a 35mm SLR camera that you build from scratch and customize to your liking afterwards. Head over to the articles below to find out more about the Konstruktor:

The Konstruktor is the world’s first Do-It-Yourself 35mm SLR camera. With it, you can easily build your very own camera from scratch. It’s the perfect tool for having fun whilst learning the exciting mechanics behind how analogue photography works. Get yours from the Online Shop or Lomography Gallery Stores Worldwide. Find out more about the camera on the Konstruktor Site.

All information for this article were sourced from DesignHistory.com, Art History Archive, Museum of Modern Art, The Art Story, Constructivism (Art) on Wikipedia, and Russian Revolution of 1917 on Wikipedia.

written by plasticpopsicle on 2013-06-18 in #lifestyle

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