Art is a form of reflection of reality in artistic images in the mind of man. Reflecting the surrounding world, art helps people to understand it and serves as a powerful instrument of political, moral and artistic education.
The diversity of phenomena and events and also the different methods of reflecting them in works of art have given rise to diverse kinds of art: poetry and fiction, theatre, music, the cinema, architecture, painting, sculpture.
The cardinal feature of art is that, in contrast to science, it reflects reality not in concepts, but in a concrete form perceivable by the senses, in the form of typical artistic images. The artist creates an artistic image, reveals common, essential features of reality and conveys these features through individual, often inimitable characters, through concrete phenomena of nature and social life. The more vivid, the more tangible the individual traits of the artistic character, the greater its attraction and influence.
Art appeared at the dawn of human society, it arose in the process of labour, in the course of man’s practical activity. Initially art was directly intertwined with labour. To this day it has preserved this connection, though in a more mediated way. Truthful art has always been a real aid to people in their life and work. It has helped them fight the forces of nature, brought them joy and inspired them to feats of labour and exploits in battle.
Aesthetic tastes and requirements, appreciation of beauty in life and in art developed in the process of labour. One of the primary distinctions and tasks of art is to seek out the beautiful in life, to generalise it, typify it, mirror it in artistic images and bring it to man, satisfying his aesthetic requirements and developing his aesthetic emotions.
In a class society art bears a class character, it is partisan. There is no “pure” art, no “art for art’s sake”, nor can there be any. The accessibility, the great power of conviction and emotional impact of art make it an important weapon of the class struggle. That is why classes exploit art as a vehicle of their political, moral and other ideas.
Art is part of the superstructure and it serves the basis on which it develops. Contemporary bourgeois art, for example, serves the reactionary imperialist forces. It seeks to divert the working people from struggle against the exploiters, fosters in people immoral traits, contempt for other peoples and countries and for the forces of peace and progress. Bourgeois art is employed to glorify the capitalist order of things and slander communism and the communist movement. Defending the interests of obsolescent classes, this art departs from the truth of life and becomes formalistic and devoid of content. Among contemporary artists in capitalist countries there are also realists who reflect life truthfully and profoundly, but they are often hounded by the ruling imperialist circles.
Each class creates an art that corresponds to its class interests and aesthetic requirements. But among works of art there are many which have survived their class and age. These are works which vividly and truthfully reflect lasting, general traits inherent in people of the most diverse eras, and also works which make it possible to understand the essence of an era or a class. Among them are the finest sculptures of ancient Greek masters, paintings of the Renaissance, the works of 19th century Russian composers-, and many other works of art which long ago became the possession of all mankind. From this follows another distinction of art, continuity of its development. The art of each new era preserves all that was progressive and good in the art of the preceding eras.
Socialist Art and Its Role in Communist Construction
A qualitatively new, socialist art has arisen on the basis of the revolutionary struggle of the working class and its advance to communism. Socialist art assimilates the best from progressive art of the past and constitutes a higher stage in the development of art corresponding to the new historical conditions.
Socialist realism is a creative method of this art. The main content of our age, the movement of society to communism must be reflected truthfully, in a historically concrete and highly artistic way. The art of socialist realism does not stand still but is constantly developed and enriched.
The basic principles of the art of socialist realism are truthfulness and profundity in the reflection of reality, close bonds with the people, partisanship and bold pioneering in the artistic portrayal of life, combined with the use and development of all the progressive traditions of world culture. Socialist realism is conspicuous for its profound socialist content and diversity of vivid national forms. The method of socialist realism affords writers, painters and other artists vast scope to display their creative initiative and high mastery, and to develop numerous creative forms, styles and genres.
Truly realistic art has always been linked with the people, rooted in them, but the organic ties of socialist art with the people, with their life and work are unprecedented. Pointing out the popular character of socialist art, Lenin once said: “Art belongs to the people. Its roots should be deeply implanted in the very thick of the labouring masses. It should be understood and loved by these masses. It must unite and elevate their feelings, thoughts and will. It must stir to activity and develop the art instincts within them.”
1) V.I. Lenin, On Literature and Art