“The Conflicted Origins of Soviet Visual Media: Painting, Photography, and Communication in Russia, 1925-1932,”
In the cultural sphere, the period between the October Revolution and the initiation of the first five‑year plan was marked by a series of heated public debates about the function of visual art and media in the new socialist society. Prominent theorists, including the Commissar of Enlightenment, Anatolii Lunacharskii, and writers associated with the journal Lef, such as Boris Arvatov and Sergei Tret´iakov, participated in these debates, as did modernist artists and realist painters. Photography was a central theme, and by 1925 the question of how the advances in photographic and other forms of mechanical reproduction were changing the nature of the visual had emerged as the debates’ most pressing problem. While all of the debates’ contending factions recognized the significance of photography, they also agreed that the material components of painting—particularly color and surface texture—remained essential to the development of comradely socialist relations. This article brings to light for the first time the aspects of early Soviet thought on aesthetics and communication that led to the firm establishment of painting as a visual medium essential to socialism. It demonstrates in particular that the materiality of painting and its traces were linked to the activation and transmission of the sensations of the body, which were considered necessary for the formation of socialist connections.