“Art for the masses” (Scope 2017)

As part of the research project PN-II-RU-TE-2014-4-0243 “From the ‘state artist’ to the artist dependent on the state: the Union of Visual Artists (of Romania) (1950-2010) – the Bucharest branch’ financed by the UEFISCDI” Dan Draghia, member of the research team chaired a panel: Art for the Masses: Popular, National and the Distorted Imaginary of Western Values in the Romanian Arts during Communism at the International conference SCOPE 2017 – Democracy in development: comparative perspectives on the governance of the public good (26-28.05.2017) at the Faculty of Political Science, University of Bucharest.  The panel included 3 presentations and a discussant.

Chair – Dan Drăghia (FSPUB)

Discussant – Ștefan Bosomitu (IICCMER)

 Dan Drăghia, Western versus ’People’s Democracy as Reflected in the Communist Visual Arts 

Rejecting the Western (liberal-democratic) values is not a recent trend in Romania. We can trace some roots of local anti-Occidentalism as far back as the 1848 Revolution, some arguing that even much sooner. But opposing these values in a more elaborate manner, mocking and distorting them for the benefit of the political regime, can be seen first during communism, which legitimized itself in this way. Official propaganda during communism was very aggressive towards Western imperialism, using any means available to instate this conceptualization upon Romanian society. Besides the written word, one of the most useful tools through which Western values were demonized and reinterpreted was art in general, and visual arts in particular. ‘Visual propaganda’ represented one of the main functions of the artistic field and its institutions, especially the Union of Visual Artists (UAP) and its bodies. ‘Anti-imperialistic’ propaganda was omnipresent in the documents of the UAP, and very well reflected in the artistic production. This paper discusses the way in which ‘anti-imperialism’, democracy and ‘people’s democracy’ were reflected in the policies and the production of Romanian artists during communism. We will try to see how topics like militarism, unemployment, inequality, justice, voting and other general political topics were designed and depicted in the visual arts during communism, both in their ‘bad’ anti-imperialistic interpretation, and in the ‘proper’ Romanian adaptation. Furthermore, we will also draw some comparisons with the way in which these types of ‘democratic’ ideas are presented today by the local national-populist voices.

Alina Popescu (CEREFREA), “Pessimistic, Superficial, Lacking Enthusiasm”: The Guiding Commissions of the Union of Romanian Artists and the Building of a National and Socialist Art during the 1950s

 This paper investigates the contribution of the Romanian Union of Artists to the development of an art “national in form, socialist in content”, but also of a professional and politically engaged group of artists during the 1950s. On an institutional level, this purpose was expected to be largely accomplished through the activity of guiding commissions (“comisii de îndrumare”) established in various art fields. As the name suggests, these commissions were in charge with the political, technical and esthetical guidance of artists, at a national scale. They were especially concerned with artists that were commissioned for the Annual State Exhibition, but their members were permanently looking for artists with socialist realist views and for those prone to “formalism” or “cosmopolitism”. Many archive documents attest the intense and challenging activity of these commissions, whether it concerned their own lack of rigorous methods of work, the conflicts with Party’s bureaucrats or the difficulties of maintaining a connection with the provinces. The guiding commission’s reports register very often the difficulties artists encountered in adopting the socialist realist method, despite all the instructions received. The paper focuses especially on the activity of the guiding commission in the field of painting, one of the most important arts in the hierarchy established within the Union. In order to examine its efforts in introducing a new understanding of art, special attention will be paid to the organisation and functioning of the commission within the Union of Artists and its discursive practices of guidance.

Gabriela Filippi (UNATC), A cinema for the millions: the puzzling Romanian musical films of the 1960s 

The historical socialist regimes often insisted on the production of a “democratic art” (an „art for the millions”, as defined by the famous soviet phrase), opposed to the formal experimentations enjoyed only by a few initiated. In doing so, they often drown upon the film genres as developed mostly in the American cinema. This paper, focusing on the musicals, explores how western formula of genre films was adapted to the Romanian context of a socialist cinema in the 1960s. In that decade, marked by the cultural thaw, the Socialist Republic of Romania discarded the unattractive doctrine of socialist realism, in exchange for the so-called “humanistic realism”. This implied more diversified subject matters and, in cinema, the production of historical films, romances, musicals, adventure and mystery films etc. Furthermore, cinema industry became dependent on the entertainment as it was mainly financed from the returns. Still, as the cultural representatives insisted, the educative mission remained essential, its main objective being that of developing the socialist consciences of the viewers. This has produced intriguing melanges of western and eastern mentalities.


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