Natan Altman’s proletarian futurism

Pages from Bolshevik Festivals, 1917-1920 Natan Altman, monument for the anniversary of the October Revolution 1918a

“Futurism” and proletarian art

Natan Al’tman
Iskusstvo kommuny
October 1918

Certain art circles and private individuals who not so long ago abused us in various “cultural publications” for working with the Soviet government and who knew no other name for us than “bureaucrats” and “perfunctory artists” would now rather like to take our place.

And so a campaign has begun against futurism, which, they say, is a millstone around the worker’s neck and whose claims to “being the art of the proletariat” are “ridiculous,” etc.…

But are they so ridiculous?

Why did it need a whole year of proletarian government and a revolution that encompassed half the world for the “silent to speak up”?

Why did only revolutionary futurism march in step with the October Revolution?

Is it just a question of outward revolutionary fervor, just a mutual aversion to the old forms, that joins futurism with the proletariat?

Not even they deny that futurism is a revolutionary art that is breaking all the old bonds and in this sense is bringing art closer to the proletariat.


We maintain that there is a deeper link between futurism and proletarian creation.

People naïve in matters of art are inclined to regard any sketch done by a worker, any poster on which a worker is depicted, as a work of proletarian art.

A worker’s figure in heroic pose with a red flag and an appropriate slogan — how temptingly intelligible that is to a person unversed in art and how terribly we need to fight against this pernicious intelligibility.

Art that depicts the proletariat is as much proletarian art as the Chernosotenets who has gotten into the Party and can show his membership card is a Communist.

Just like anything the proletariat creates, proletarian art will be collective:

The principle that distinguishes the proletariat as a class from all other classes.

We understand this, not in the sense that one work of art will be made by many artists, but in the sense that while executed by one creator, the work itself will be constructed on collectivist bases.

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Take any work of revolutionary, futurist art. People who are used to seeing a depiction of individual objects or phenomena in a picture are bewildered.

You cannot make anything out. And indeed, if you take out any one part from a futurist picture, it then represents an absurdity. Because each part of a futurist picture acquires meaning only through the interaction of all the other parts; only in conjunction with them does it acquire the meaning with which the artist imbued it.

A futurist picture lives a collective life:

By the same principle on which the proletariat’s whole creation is constructed.

Try to distinguish an individual face in a proletarian procession.

Try to understand it as individual persons — absurd.

Only in conjunction do they acquire all their strength, all their meaning.

How is a work of the old art constructed — the art depicting reality around us?

Natan Altman, The Alexander Column Lit Up at Night, Crayons and chalk on paper, The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow Uritzky-square-general-view-design-sketch-for-the-celebration-of-the-first-anniversary-of-1918

Does every object exist in its own right? They are united only by extrinsic literary content or some other such content. And so cut out any part of an old picture, and it won’t change at all as a result. A cup remains the same cup, a figure will be dancing or sitting pensively, just as it was doing before it was cut out.

The link between the individual parts of a work of the old art is the same as between people on Nevsky Prospekt. They have come together by chance, prompted by an external cause, only to go their own ways as soon as possible. Each one for himself, each one wants to be distinguished.

Like the old world, the capitalist world, works of the old art live an individualistic life.

Only futurist art is constructed on collective bases.

Only futurist art is right now the art of the proletariat.

russian-revolution-34 natan-altman1 Nathan-Altman

2 thoughts on “Natan Altman’s proletarian futurism

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