“Only in Russia poetry is respected – it gets people killed.”
― Osip Mandelstam
This quote sounds straightforward and easy to grasp. Unexpectable truths can be deduced when you start to analyse it. The quote refers to regime when the poetry was really respected – and feared of. There were poets who had to use unusual skills to express the desire for true values, justice, freedom in the form of poetry. Metaphor was essential here – the straightforward expression was VIP ticket to prison camp in Siberia.
Hunters of Poetry – drawing, Michal Splho 2013
On the other side there was the regime. To secure the power it had to maintain the control over people and their work, particularly artwork. To keep the control people were limited in possibilities. The fewer possibilities the better for the regime. An extraordinary effort was exerted by functionaries to search through the artworks of – at that time – contemporary writers and artists. All suspicious references or passages had to be recorded and referred to higher posts.
What was the result? Extraordinary poetry was written. Poets did not waste the time with empty experiments, producing endless, boring paragraphs of texts. They became masters of the words, used them wisely with unusual sense for metaphor and deep meaning.
Then interest of the state – and it’s functionaries – in poetry and artwork was really huge. Censores have read the poetry from the first to the last letter. Some from fear, some from scrutiny needs, some with interest. All of them had to generate an interpretation of the artwork and refer it to their bosses who did approximately the same. They had to generate what significance the poetry verses have, what connotations, what hidden meanings. Can you imagine that your artwork is read and seriously analysed by such a number of state employees? That you as an artist have your own folder in the states’ encyclopedia, filled with everything you have created, done and mentioned?
And as a last effect that system brought was the interest of the citizens in the poetry and artwork. People have read the poetry because many felt it was matter of their survival. To get proper information, to get truth and spiritual food. The people who would not even touch a book under regular circumstances were hunting the banned books with unusual effort – because forbidden fruit tastes best. Once something is prohibited it becomes extremely attractive.
Now look at it – how much you as an artist (does not matter if poet, painter, sculptor) have to invest in ads, promotion, PR to make your artwork visible and attract few people interested in viewing / reading it? Can you compete with the system described above? I believe the totalitarian regime is the best advertising agency you could ever hire. Who else can bring so many different people to reach your artwork and analyse it so intensely?
I think the best service to art in history was made by totalitarian regimes. If we do not have it now, we should create one. What is the freedom system all about? What effect on society it brings? Artists are not under pressure, they do experiments, art is boring, everything is possible, art degenerates. Government functionaries do not read and analyse contemporary artwork in their working time, do not even think of generating significance or deeper meaning. They rather watch the reality show in TV and feel good. And the average citizen dreams of good and cheap holiday tip or a good bargain in the local supermarket, being indifferent to a book with poetry.
Now tell me, do we need that? Any interesting reflections please send to me here >>