Wings, to soar
Without wings nothing can fly, not even airplanes! How many geniuses, visionaries or great talents were left on the wayside, never allowed to shine? How many roses wither on the bush, with none to admire their splendour? Worse than this are the talents suppressed by a controlling family, system or State. Revolutions are times of many questions and few answers; times of confusion and instability, often resulting in chaos and anarchy. Such times are the flames that ignite the artist's soul, but they can also be the floods that drown the roaring fire. Where does our destiny lie?
Looking at past national crises, revolutions and oppressive regimes, the picture is dim and ominous, especially for the arts. It is a rarity for an artist to excel, given strict rules of instruction and guidance. Most flee such conditions to more liberated shores, or stay and die a slow, agonizing death. If they try to express their art, the result is lacking---mediocre and tasteless. Can we look into a crystal ball to find out the future of our dormant talents?
Let us examine how other nations fared, that lived through similar circumstances, and bowed to a government that controlled all things, even the arts. The most obvious point of reference is the former Soviet Union. Prior to the revolution and communist rule, the Russian arts were flourishing. The names in literature, music, painting and poetry are mind-blowing......from Tolstoy to Tchaikovsky, Chekov to Dostoevsky. Their cup runneth over in the arts. What were the results of their oppressive rule? If it were not for supporters in the West, we would have never heard of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, or his account of the' Gulag Archipelago'. The 3-volume book is a study of the Soviet prison camp system, based on the author's own experience. Using the prison and hospital as symbols of society, Solzhenitsyn dramatizes the contrast between revolutionary ideals and hard political reality. His heroes express the triumph of dignity over tyranny and suffering. His books earned him the 1970 Nobel Prize for Literature.
The Gulag Archipelago was published in Paris in 1973, and circulated underground in the Soviet Union. The KGB confiscated the author's materials in Moscow, and seized one of the extant copies of the text, by torturing Elizaveta Voronyanskaya, Solzhenitsyn's typist, who hanged herself within 3 days of her release.
Under Stalin's dictatorship, art was totally suppressed by the State, and replaced by socialist realism.
If you are thinking of Wassily Kadinsky, the first truly abstract artist, well, he left Russia in 1896, satisfied to carry his native land in his heart and in his art. Russian-born Marc Chagall lived most of his life in France, but his fantastic, brilliantly-coloured scenes recall his childhood in Russia. Both painters found their wings away from home, and more is the pity. It is a crime committed by the State against the finest of human expressions.
All revolutionary artists wish to serve their cause, but restrictions are the sharp scissors that clip their wings, and eventually kills their art. What remains is a general pattern of production, with no individuality or originality. Some artists rejected painting entirely, which is equivalent to committing suicide. The Theatre was also forbidden any creativity or adventurous approaches, as in "The Magnanimous Cuckold" or "Tarelkin's Death" both plays presented in 1922. Soviet sculpture depicted the same subjects and themes, which tended towards the monumental, such as the statues of Karl Marx and the colossal Lenin Memorial. One of the most celebrated composers of the 20th century, Dimitri Shostakovich left Russia, so did poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, and author Vladimir Nabokov, (Lolita), leaving Russian art in disarray.
Other examples of oppression of the arts occurred in Nazi Germany. Artists that formed the backbone of a fledgling industry in Hollywood, came from Germany, Austria and Italy. Brilliant Oscar-winning directors, photographers, writers and actors include Ernst Lubitsch, Josef Von Sternberg, Fritz Lang, Frank Capra, Marlene Dietrich, Billy Wilder, the list is endless. Milos Forman left Czechoslovakia and headed for tinsel-town, escaping from the communist regime. In Hollywood, he found fame and fortune and a couple of Oscars for directing "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", (1975) and "Amadeus", (1984).
It was Hollywood's gain, and their countries loss!
How many artists never sought refuge under foreign skies? Their genius was left to die under the yolk of oppression, where the swords of the State turn in the direction of the artist.
Despite our joy, we knew full well, deep, in the bottom of our hearts the perils of unpleasing consequences; but in times of strife, we take the good with the bad, as long as art and artists are left to breathe, to live and to excel. We see images of a vast tide of uncertainty, flowing gigantically towards us, endangering our way of life. Questions continuously dance before us, filled with doubt and insecurities. Will there be poetry without romance, philosophy without logic, music without harmony, songs without heart? It would not only be born of ignorance and shame, but of brutality and corruption. Clipped wings would lie useless and bleeding in pain.
Life will continue without rudder or course, without sentiment, without passion, without humour, without grace.
We must dismiss such nightmarish fears. It will not be so! Art is the measure of civilizations, and we shall be free to spread our wings, to flutter and soar, wherever inspiration leads!
"A robin redbreast in a cage,
Puts all heaven in a rage."
-- William Blake (1757-1827)