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2017/18 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

ARTF3016 Soviet Socialist Realism

20 creditsClass Size: 18

Module manager: Professor David Jackson

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2017/18

Pre-requisite qualifications

At least 20 credits from any ARTF-coded module or appropriate equivalent in a relevant discipline. In the latter case, students are advised to get in touch with the module leader to discuss eligibility prior to enrolment

This module is approved as a discovery module

Module summary

This module will examine the Soviet Union as reflected in its distinctive visual legacy and seek to provide a record of a political utopia seen through the eyes of its would-be builders.Through lectures, video and discussion the module will examine the rise and implementation of Soviet Realism, from the avant-garde experiments of the 1920s to the grandiose cult of Stalin in the 1930s-50s, as the state sought to define an 'art for the people'.


1. To provide a broad and comprehensible introduction to the study of Soviet art.
2. To stimulate and develop an involvement in this specific period of art history, and in so doing give participants sufficient understanding to expand and further develop their own interests.
3. To assist students to develop critical and analytical skills in the study of art history.

Learning outcomes
On completion of this module students will be able to engage in a critical and analytical manner in giving an assessment of the visual culture of the Soviet Union, cited within a cultural and historical context, particularly with regard to the following:

1. Identify the key concerns that informed the development and implementation of Soviet Socialist Realism as an ideological concept.
2. Explain in critical and analytical modes how Soviet art was socially and politically moulded.
3. Identify and comment on some of the key works of Soviet Socialist Realism.
4. Approach a Soviet painting with a context for analysing its content.


The early 1920s in Russia saw a spontaneous resurgence of a realist style and narrative content as the legitimate means to depict the developing revolutionary scene. But what began idealistically, with open and frank discussions on the problem of defining Socialist Realism, was subverted in the early 1930s by a series of state decrees which set the scene for political, centralised control of the arts. Whilst a tendentious content, seen from a Bolshevik perspective, was regarded as a prerequisite, surprisingly no guidelines were issued as to style.

This module will look at how the search for that style was debated, emended and reinterpreted, adapting itself to evolving requirements of a rigid state manipulation of the arts, the reactions and fortunes of artists working within such tight constraints, and the type of art which resulted when artists surrendered independence of thought and expression to the common good, to the party, and to its generous patronage.

Week 1: Introduction. Realism - Art under the Bolsheviks
Week 2: Soviet Socialist Realism as Theory: April Decree 1932 and First Writers’ Congress 1934
Week 3: The Purges on Formalism
Week 4: Art Under Stalin. The 1930s - a thematic survey
Week 5: Internationalism to Nationalism: Art and the Great Patriotic War 1941-45
Week 6: Reading Week
Week 7: The cult of the leader: Lenin
Week 8: The cult of the leader: Stalin
Week 9: Stalinism Triumphant. 1945-53 - a thematic survey
Week 10: Zhdanovshchina: the purges on Cosmopolitanism and Impressionism
Week 11: Soviet Socialist Realism in theory and practice: discussion.

Students’ formative and progressive needs will be addressed and furthered by the addition of a one-hour essay tutorial class, to be arranged with the class shortly after the Reading Week (ideally around weeks 7-8).

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours180.00
Total Contact hours20.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Private study time will be dedicated to the module readings, engagement with additional art historical resources, essay preparation, exam revision and writing.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Attendance monitoring and seminar discussions will ensure that students follow the module and keep up with readings.

The essay tutorial in Week 7 or 8 will be structured to cover key aspects of essay planning and writing (e.g. archive, bibliography, core questions, use of Soviet sources) but will also provide an open forum to which students may bring questions or seek guidance, ensuring adequate time ahead of essay submission to give advice, response and opinion on issues of essay writing generally, or in relation to the specifics of the module content.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay3,000 words50.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)50.00

Essay submission date at the end of Semester 2.

Exam typeExam duration% of formal assessment
Standard exam (closed essays, MCQs etc)1 hr 00 mins50.00
Total percentage (Assessment Exams)50.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 26/04/2017


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