Consumers, Design and Cultivating Public Taste

N. Zhukov, Cultivate Good Taste. November 20, 1954


Original Source: ovyi mir, No. 10 (November 1954), pp. 159-176.

Cultivation of taste cannot be separated from the concept of beauty. But neither taste nor the concept of beauty is fixed and eternal. They differ at different times and among different peoples. “Man’s ideas, views and conceptions, in word, man’s consciousness, change with every change in the conditions of his material existence, in his social relations and his social life, ” wrote the great founders of scientific communism, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, in “The Manifesto of the Communist Party.’

Each epoch has advanced its own concept of beauty, its characteristic style. This concept has always been socially conditioned esthetic views and taste in art has always taken diverse forms among people of diverse classes and diverse strata of society. Finally, we often find extreme differences in concepts of beauty in different countries atone and the same time and even in different geographical latitudes of one and the same country.

The clothing, household furnishings and domestic utensils of people of various epochs not only indicate their concept of beauty but afford a more or less clear picture of their general cultural level, way of life and mode of work. …

We, the people of the epoch of establishing communist society, face the task of working out our own style in material culture, a style corresponding as closely as possible to the needs of the masses and best expressing the nature of our great times.

It is an old custom to regard taste as something native to and inherent in the individual and unvarying in him. When one says ‘He (or she) has good taste,” one ordinarily implies an innate quality, like absolute pitch. We forget the simple truth that taste can and must be cultivated, that the formation of taste is a process depending upon social conditions, milieu, surroundings, and a host of factors that influence taste. Man’s taste is cultivated and formed gradually, from earliest childhood, when the child first encounters the world of varied articles around him–domestic utensils, toys, clothing. The color, form and entire appearance of the articles surrounding man, the articles of constant use in everyday life-all these influence taste. The artist determines the color and shape of articles. Consequently he has the power to affect the growth of man’s artistic taste, literally from the first days of men’s lives.

This is why I think our country and our times cannot tolerate the inertness of artistic thinking in the production of consumers’ goods, particularly now that the Party and government have taken major measures for maximum satisfaction of the constantly growing material and cultural demands of the Soviet people, now that production of consumers’ goods is being greatly stepped up in our country on the basis of the advances achieved in development of socialist heavy industry.

The Party and the government particularly stress the task of constant concern for the quality and finish of all goods for the people and all items for everyday living. Need it be said that Soviet artists cannot and must not stand aside from this task? After all, neither a new textile design nor wallpaper nor chinaware nor cut glass nor furniture nor a store window display nor an advertisement can be created without the artist. And all the forms of the artist’s participation in the work of our country’s industry and trade are directly connected by the strongest links with the job of educating the taste of millions of people. Hence artists designing textiles or planning a department store window display are not merely working for a textile mill or a store and not merely performing a practical function in Production. No. Each of them must remember above all that he is an artist, a man of art, called upon by the very nature of his talent and skill to influence the esthetic sense of the masses, to educate their taste.

Cultivation of taste is a major form of the struggle for establishment of a Soviet, socialist culture, for the cultural growth of all Soviet people.

Better and More Varied Goods.-In early spring or late autumn one is struck by the obtrusive predominance of gray and black clothing on all busy, congested thoroughfares. Of course, it is bad weather and frequent rain which compel us to shun bright and vivid colors and to don less easily soiled clothing. But there are innumerable shades of gray and brown, after all; yet the clothes we buy in stores do not as a rule come in these shades. Why?

Take raincoats, for instance. In these coats men look as though they were wearing a kind of uniform. Even if one were to purchase a blue raincoat, he could rest assured that it would differ in color, style and finish in no whit from a thousand others that would be in constant evidence on the street.

Look in on our notions and accessory stores, even in the capital, Moscow. Everywhere you find the same monotonous assortment of buttons, women’s purses, kerchiefs, belts, combs and ties. Yet each person has a natural desire to seek out something original, something distinctive and different from what is already stale and tiresome. This is why, when a new, beautiful and elegant item suddenly appears among the familiar, standardized selections, it sells readily and quickly. But the purchasers of the new item are soon disappointed and then completely disillusioned: The “original” passes before them in thousands of exact copies on the street, in the streetcar, in the subway, in the hands of scores of acquaintances and scores of strangers.

A new, elegant and originally styled women’s handbag comes out, for example, and in a month you see the identical bag borne by every fifth woman in the street. You become tired of the bag, and the joy of the purchase is replaced by chagrin.

Lack of variety and excessive standardization are major shortcomings still characteristic of the consumers’ goods prod-aced by our industry. As for meeting the requirements of educating and cultivating the taste of the mass consumer, the meager assortment of standardized designs can, of course, only corrupt taste, not develop it.

Obviously, one cannot ignore the technical and economic requirements of industry, which lead to a certain standardization in output in order to reduce costs, make goods less expensive to the consumer and economize state funds. But it is necessary to demand of our industry that this standardization not affect quality and not harm the consumer’s interests nor corrupt his taste.

The esthetic qualities of the most diverse items generally correspond to their technical quality and convenience of use. If, for example, you compare the appearance of the steam engine of the 1890s with that of the latest modern locomotives, it is quite evident how ugly, inferior and simply ludicrous the old steam engine is alongside that powerful beauty, the iron steed of our times. Look at a 1913 passenger car and our modern ZIM: Along with the ZIM’s technical superiority, one is struck by its superior lines. The same analogy can be drawn in comparing articles that grace our everyday life as conveniences. Take the desk fans that gave many thousands of people the pleasure of a breeze during the hot spells last summer. These fans are relatives of the ZIM in perfection of form: They were born in the same period of technical progress, a time of high technical standards. They are of the same day and age.

But designers have not improved and modernized many articles that have been in existence for decades and have retained their ugly shape. Such articles are detrimental to cultivation of taste. The numerous inkstands found on desks in our offices, for instance, are atrocious. Door knobs, desk drawer handles and wardrobe knobs; curtain rods, often made of rose or orange plastic; picture frames, and many other items of this class, are utterly unattractive and badly designed. Take such a small thing as eyeglass frames, which, of course, should improve one’s appearance or at least not disfigure it. The frames on sale in our country are badly designed or, as they say, ‘unsuccessful” in design, very crude, and everywhere the same. Yet we have mastered production of such machines as the ZIS, ZIM and Pobeda cars and have learned to make very attractive trim for them–door handles, beautiful dashboards, upholstery, etc.

Often the wild imagination of some hack gives rise to barbaric items. At one time a booth on Petrovka offered for sale ornamental pins for women. These pins were elephantine enlargements of the common safety pin. The safety pin used to be an emergency fastener for men and women; it was meant to be carefully hidden from the public gaze. Today the enlarged pin is sold as a novelty for adornment. …

Development of taste is a prolonged and gradual process. It is hard to imagine that reading a single book, even the most extraordinary, could create literary taste in the reader. A single visit to a concert at the Conservatory cannot create an ear for music. It is not enough to show a person a Repin or Surikov painting to teach him once and for all to distinguish the true craftsmanship of inspired painting from hack ‘artistry.” No, months and years of observation are necessary-an accumulation of experience and impressions, material for comparison–for a person to learn to appreciate the merits of genuine art, to feel its subtle charm and to distinguish noble beauty from false glitter. …

‘Museums of Bad Taste.’- Furniture manufacture is one of the most conservative branches of consumers’ goods industry. Sometimes it seems as though the people in this industry have some sort of secret agreement to ignore the changes in our life and its requirements and to consider the past still with us. The “respected wardrobes’ of our grandfathers, boudoir sofas fringed with velvet balls, and bourgeois beds with the celebrated nickel-plated knobs are often placed on the furniture market.

Thirty years ago a German art critic suggested establishing a “Museum of Bad Taste” to exhibit monstrous and tasteless articles. It must be confessed that our furniture stores often produce the depressing and miserable impression of ‘museums of bad taste.” …

Unfortunately, artists and art organizations display a kind of snobbery in this matter of furniture design. It must be said that today’s snobs have had their predecessors. For example, Konstantin Makovskii, the well-known painter of the 1890s, was very indignant upon learning that a group of artists had begun to work in the furniture industry. ‘If you are an artist, paint pictures,’ Makovskii stated in a newspaper interview, evidently convinced that by this profound formula he was defending the interests of ‘lofty” art from the “base” encroachments of the .mob.”

Does such a view befit us Soviet artists? Do we not share the responsibility for the tasteless furniture and the inartistic furnishings in the apartments of millions of working people in our country, whose homes often become, against their will, miniature “museums of bad taste?”

Of course, sometimes the individual’s taste plays a considerable role here. One sometimes enters a large apartment containing a great deal of furniture, pictures and hangings, all the furnishings are valuable and expensive, yet tile ‘Whole 1, discordant and garish: all the objects clash in style and character. The apartment is cold and uncomfortable. Another family lives in one or two rooms and has few possessions, but each of them is well chosen and correctly placed. Everything here appeals to one and breathes ease, warmth and comfort. Probably all of us have observed such contrasts.

The interior decoration of our public buildings is also far from satisfactory. In the first few years of the Soviet epoch the need for furniture for new public institutions was met primarily by using the old furnishings of mansions and Manor houses. ‘Modish” furniture, once made to the order Of wealthy bourgeois for “intimate’ boudoirs and ‘smart” bedrooms, thus appeared in workers’ clubs, although completely unsuited to its new purpose.

Reacting against this prevalence of old-fashioned styles, some artists and furniture designers displayed a natural desire to create new models and use new materials. In most cases these innovators were wholly sincere and their motives noble. But their creative quests often led them to “leftism,” to formalist artiness or uncritical imitation of foreign “modern” styles. This was the case, for example, with furniture made of metal tubing, which, as “modern,” became fashionable in the West at one time and also was fairly common in our country.

But if we cannot and should not tolerate the persistent prevalence of obsolete forms and models, this does not mean that we should chase after any fashion appearing abroad, especially since we know that in capitalist countries fashion often changes not because of natural shifts in public taste or the real, practical needs of the consumer but solely in the interest of entrepreneurs seeking to increase the demand for their products by any means.

The Soviet furniture industry is assured the broadest nationwide demand for its products. There is no need for our producers to create an artificial “mode” for new styles of furniture. But can one tolerate their inertness, mental laziness and indifference to design? …

In recent years new styles of furniture, enjoying great success with the customer, have been put on sale in our stores. This is furniture of smooth surfaces and simple, elegant design, light, comfortable and carefully finished. This furniture is pleasant to the eye and makes a room cozy. Instead of high, old-fashioned buffets and wardrobes with useless trim in the shape of wooden turrets, moldings and columns, there are simple, unbroken lines and noble forms. This furniture is not only more attractive, it is also more hygienic, because dust does not collect on flat, polished surfaces and it is considerably easier to wipe flat surfaces or streamlined forms than the pretentious and clumsy carved decorations on the old style furniture.

But, while liking the elegant new modern furniture and happy to obtain it for one’s apartment, one cannot avoid the disturbing thought: Why is this beautiful furniture chiefly imported from Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and the German Democratic Republic and not produced in our country, famed for its forest wealth, the country of the celebrated Russian forests? True, models of furniture are manufactured by factories in Latvia and Estonia. But where are the modern, improved products of woodworking enterprises of the Russian Republic and Belorussia–republics that have tremendous industrial resources and production capacity in this field? Evidently our own furniture production is sadly below the level of present-day standards and especially of esthetic requirements. Evidently our furniture men still live in the old way, unhurriedly turning out old-fashioned products, and do not want to reckon with the growing standards of Soviet people and the task of cultivating good taste.

It should be noted that it is easy for unscrupulous furniture makers to market obsolete, ugly products for the simple reason that there is little furniture on sale in our country, There is a general shortage of it. Housing construction is going on everywhere in our country; each month hundreds and thousands of Soviet citizens move into new apartments and cottages. The demand for furniture is tremendous. One may state confidently that the demand for furniture is much greater in the Soviet Union than in any capitalist country. It is no wonder that one who cannot get a beautiful dresser or elegant buffet has to buy what the furniture stores have hard-as-rock, sawdust-filled sofas with high backs or ancient models of bulky wardrobes.

The managers of wallpaper factories also display very little inventiveness, creative imagination or good taste. They turn’ out large quantities of wallpaper which does not meet even the most primitive concept of beauty. Some wallpapers are covered with enormous violet-colored or rosy chrysanthemums which, on the walls of an apartment room, produce a dumbfounding impression. Other wallpapers are done in such bright reds or shrill greens and with such “luxurious” gold ornamentation for “smartness” that they are suitable only to the “private rooms” of pre-revolutionary restaurants. If a more or less graceful and subdued pattern does finally appear, it is produced in a few automatic varieties of color and consequently soon becomes stale with its insistent monotony. All this testifies to neglect of the artistic side of wallpaper production, yet even wallpaper, as a necessary element in interior decoration, can and should develop taste and feeling for the beautiful among broad strata of the people.

Serious thought should be given to improving the colors, patterns and designs of draperies, curtains and carpets, which are often made to coarse, bourgeois taste. Moreover, the assortment of drapery fabrics is very meager. Two or three patterns and colors are all that stores can offer the consumer. Yet these furnishings can and should be beautiful and attractive, performing not only a utilitarian but also an esthetic function.

Art in Everyday Living. Naturally, even more importance attaches to esthetic considerations in the production of consumer goods which are direct works of art, created by the artist himself–household miniatures, table sculpture, porcelain and examples of folk arts. These works of art-the result Of an artist’s creative work-are called upon even more than Other articles of everyday use to educate our taste, to instill a love of beauty and grace. …

The wonderful folk art of Palekh, Fedoskin, Khokhloma, Mstera and other handicraft centers has been famed from time immemorial in Russia and even far beyond its borders. This remarkable art has been produced for centuries and the experience and traditions have been handed down from generation to generation of talented Russian craftsmen. As far back as 1882 the World Handicrafts Show included prize exhibits of more than 15 various art craft schools of Russia. In our times, too, many handicraft products have won first prizes at international exhibits. For example, the work of Vologda and Yelets lace makers, Yakut engravers on bone, Viatka wood engravers, Tver embroiderers and others has won awards.

Unfortunately, however, the magnificent articles made by the skilled hands of these craftsmen, as well as the works of gifted students of art craft schools, can be seen only at special exhibitions. For some reason they are not put into large-scale production and remain only museum pieces. The stores are flooded with tremendous numbers of tasteless vases and frames, hacked-out ash trays, traditional elephants of various sizes, and clumsy and shapeless colored ceramic articles of the most unattractive forms and shades. …

The works of the animal sculptor Pavel Kozhkin, who created the wonderful composition ‘Gifts of the Mistress of Copper Mountain,” based on Bazhov’s fairy tale, are interesting and original. But if you drop into a store to purchase such things, you will not find them on sale. Such works are made in such small number and the demand is so great that they disappear from the counters with lightning speed.

Reproductions of works by great Russian painters are made in equally small number. They must be disseminated and popularized in every way, but they do not reach the remote regions of our country.

Public demand for everyday artistic (in the true meaning of the word) articles is not being satisfied, and the consumer very often has to be content with the little rabbits, elephants and kittens which have already become standard and are sold in abundance in all china stores.

The porcelain industry is a branch of art production with some of the richest traditions. Russian porcelain has long been famed for both its quality and its artistry. Today, alongside elegant and beautifully painted porcelain, which one unfortunately does not encounter often, one can see in china shops many cups, saucers, plates, etc., which are dull, uninteresting and often downright crude from an artistic standpoint. It is considerably easier to select a whole service according to your taste than to buy a cup and saucer separately or, let us say, three dessert plates. The selection of individual pieces of china is extremely meager, and patterns on them are unimaginative. Either the entire cup and saucer are in one color, generally decorated with a thin border, or two or three standardized flowers are drawn against a white background.

The artists who work with porcelain are in most cases skilled craftsmen. Unfortunately, however, they do not display enough originality, do not work out new patterns, practically never use the motifs of folk tales and the rich national ornamentation of peoples of the USSR. Yet if folk art were studied thoroughly and deeply, it would be possible to enrich porcelain patterns considerably and to create new and interesting designs.

The glass articles produced by our factories are also very monotonous. Store shelves are cluttered with pretentious rose and blue vases and blue and red wine bottles and carafes that are usually uninspired in shape. …

It must be admitted that the quality of reproductions put out by art publishing houses has considerably improved of late. But some enterprising artels have begun to make a living by putting reproductions in identical, round, plastic frames. Thus all the paintings have suddenly and unexpectedly become “round,” all the pictures are fitted to a single genre and background and the ‘atmosphere” of a painting is inevitably lost and its proportions and integral whole disturbed. What impression is left with the viewer of Repin’s celebrated painting ‘Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan” when the entire background is lost and the tsar’s head is set in a plastic frame?

These ’round,” mutilated productions are not merely sold in the stores, but hang in abundance even in art galleries, and customers are offered a large selection of tasteless vases and ceramic monstrosities. And we artists pass by all this bad taste indifferently and do nothing even to improve the frames in which our pictures are set. The frames now sold in the stores-gilded or brown and gilt-are the height of bad taste.

The State Graphic Arts Publishing House and the Soviet Artist Publishing House make many mistakes in reproducing works by Russian and Soviet artists as prints and on postcards. For example, the Soviet Artist Publishing House turns out millions of postcards on which not always the best still lives are reproduced, while works by great masters of the past and artists of the present which have better content and are more needed by the people, works which can do more to educate good taste and to develop a feeling for the beautiful, are not reproduced at all or reproduced in unjustifiably small numbers. …

Clothes Should Be Beautiful.–One need not be particularly observant to notice that the silks and cottons produced by our textile mills are predominantly “flowered.”

It is ridiculous, of course, to object to bright colors or floral ornamentation in fabrics. We need varied patterns and bright, cheerful ornamentation in fabrics. But on one condition: They must be beautiful and graceful. When large flowers constantly clutter up most summer fabrics, the designs are not only unattractive but bad because even the most striking, gay pattern, repeated endlessly, becomes deadly dull.

A considerably better assortment of fabrics-better both in pattern and in color-appeared in the shops for the–spring-summer season this year. This was particularly marked in the new cotton goods. Yet the large flower pattern that runs the gamut from upholstery fabrics to clothing fabrics still predominates in the textiles produced by our mills. Unfortunately, many designers do not show real creative imagination; do not develop interesting national motifs and ornamentation. Many are still captives of stereotyped patterns. At best they think that one can create new, unique designs by modifying old ones. It is this “creative method” which explains why many ‘new” textile designs sometimes seem (and turn out!) to be familiar and tiresome.

Many failures in fabric designs and colors are due to the fact that artists, setting out to create a new design, have absolutely no idea what the future fabric is intended for: Will it be used for curtains, pajamas, bathrobes or dresses? Hence the design often does not suit the purpose for which a fabric is intended. Frequently the design on an expensive silk is such that it makes it look like a cheap cotton print. The opposite also happens: The design on a silk is beautiful, and then you see the same design on cotton and it completely “loses,” it does not ‘strike the bell.”

Not all shortcomings in fabric colors and designs can be attributed to the poor work of the designers, of course. There are many wonderful and fruitful designers. Whole groups -of designers in the textile industry display high craftsmanship and real creative imagination in developing beautiful new textile designs and colors. But the administrators of our art organizations–the Organizational Committee of the Soviet Artists’ Union and the USSR Academy of Arts–deserve strong reproaches for paying no attention to textile designers, for failing to give them guidance and failing to take an interest in their work. Virtually the entire creative work of textile design has been left to chance; good work is not being studied and spread. The names of even the best craftsmen remain unknown, and their work is little and seldom displayed at exhibits. As a result, the entire work of textile design is essentially guided only by industrial managers and trade officials, who often orient the designers toward the backward tastes of the more uncritical consumers.

The work of the art councils of industrial enterprises has often been criticized in the press. Their function still boils down to acceptance or rejection of textile colors and designs proposed for production. The tasks confronting art councils are important and responsible. But in most cases these councils are not satisfactorily composed. As a result the voice of the designers is often drowned out by the voice of the industrial executives, including poor executives infected with utilitarian views and not at all interested in the artistic aspect of production. Often the design demands made by industrial and trade officials disorient the designers, lead them up blind alleys and into loss of the proper criteria for judging good and bad.

It seems to me that discussion of new textile designs should be of a broad, public nature. In addition to production specialists it is necessary to draw into the work of textile mills’ art councils prominent figures in the arts-artists, actors, singers, writers-and working people of various occupations who can adequately express the desires and demands of broad strata of the people, for whom these goods are made.

Directly linked with this is another matter requiring, in my opinion, immediate consideration.

This spring a fashion designer exhibited at a large Moscow trade enterprise new fashions of women’s dresses and outer wear for the spring and summer season. They were beautiful, smart and at the same time simple things–summer dresses, suits and coats, made with true artistic taste and irreproachably graceful in design. They undoubtedly aroused in many buyers a strong desire to purchase them. When asked why these elegant clothes were not on sale, why the designs could only be viewed at special shows and at the All-Union Fashion House, the designer could not give a halfway convincing answer.

The answer should have been: When a design is ‘put into production’ at a garment mill and turned out in large quantities, it does not turn out in most cases to be made of the fabric which was used in designing it. The models are of the best fabrics–silk and wool crepes, heavy crepe-de-chine and the like. The same style, repeated in a simple, cheap fabric, often looks entirely different and loses much when compared to the original. The reverse also happens: What was intended by a designer to be made in a simple, light fabric suddenly and without reason inspires the manager of the garment mill to put out in a ‘smarter” version. The result is again in poor taste and pretentious. Moved by the best of intentions, the production men think that they are “improving” the original by making it a heavier, more expensive fabric, but they are actually grossly distorting the designer’s idea and violating elementary requirements of good taste.

It frequently happens that the producers, to save themselves, trouble, simplify the design a “little:” Either they decide to add on the finishing or they do away with some detail on a garment–a fold, tuck or artificial flower -presumably a small thing, a trifle. Yet the omission of such a “trifle,” planned by the designers to beautify the garment, changes the design beyond recognition, takes away its elegance, makes it crude, spoils Some producers prefer the line of least resistance in order to meet the plan and hold to the principle of ‘the greater the number, the lower the price.” Such arbitrary simplification and ‘cheapening” makes things simpler, easier and less expensive for the producer, but worse for the consumer. As for the designer, there is nothing to say: He simply cannot recognize his work in this mutilated, stultified product. …

For some reason our state industry neglects production of trimming materials-such as straw, decorative laces, buckles, buttons, lacquer finish, etc. Handicraftsmen have taken advantage of this neglect by state industry and have acquired a monopoly of production of the “trivial” items necessary for trimming. Abusing the opportunity created by the absence of such goods in our stores, they artificially raise the prices.

It should be noted that it is skill in trim and finish, attention to “details” of manufacture which distinguish many foreign goods and make them sometimes more attractive, thereby obliging purchasers to give preference to these over goods of our own manufacture, although the latter are more durable and better quality. We still do not devote sufficient attention to these “details” of finish that frequently determine the appearance and tastefulness of articles.

An important role in cultivation of taste in articles of clothing belongs not only to the artist but also to the trade worker who deals directly with the consumer.

Trade organizations enjoy great trust. They have the right to reject low-quality and badly designed goods if industry offends them. Unfortunately, trade officials often fail to realize their great responsibility for training the buyer’s taste, they follow the lead of persons of bad taste, avoid change, are guided only by business considerations of a falsely conceived market demand, etc. Often salesmen advise purchasers to take a tasteless article in order to get rid of goods that have lain on the shelves, instead of honorably performing their mission as educators and propagandists of good products.

Large numbers of men’s and women’s straw hats appear in the stores for the summer. Absolutely every one of the men’s hats has a black hatband, making them all standardized and indistinguishable. Dozens of hatbands of various shades and materials could be produced, a practice which would befit the nature of summer hats and make for variety and attractiveness.

And what happens with women’s summer hats? Some artels operating from ‘commercial” convictions and seeking to make the hats more expensive, decorate straw hats with heavy velours or artificial flowers in such numbers that they seem to be bouquets and not light summer headgear. In arranging the flowers they completely ignore the fact that the trimming should have colors that belong together and materials and workmanship that are organically suitable. … The hats sold in our shops are for some reason generally given incredibly ambitious and pretentious shapes. Taste is lacking in the designs. Everywhere there is a tendency toward the superfluous, toward monstrous encumbrances of felt towers and turrets or pretentious bows and knots. The designers of such hats have obviously lost a sense of proportion and of the appropriateness of color combinations. The women’s hats they design lack simplicity, elegance and compositional unity. Artists operating as designers in this sphere must work stubbornly at improving their mastery and taste.

Production of crudely printed scarves and kerchiefs, philistine “decorated” sofa pillows, table runners and lampshades wreak obvious harm to the cultivation of taste in Soviet people.

Many women think the concept of beauty is inseparable from the concept of fashion. This is a false idea. It is false if only because each woman has her own distinct character, height, figure, color of hair and eyes, complexion, peculiarities of walk and gesture, and hence naturally no single fashion can be appropriate alike to thin and stout, short and tall, the subdued nature and the expansive, the young and the old. It seems to me that blind imitation of “foreign” style, the influence of which sometimes carries to us from the West, levels individuality and taste, paralyzes women’s feeling of “individual style” and often breeds a false concept of beauty and ugliness.

Recall how quickly and widely black heels on stockings became common last year. That was because many women, in selecting their toilette, make their chief criterion fashion, good or bad, but obligatory. And since the “monitors of fashion” had approved black heels everyone had to follow their example. Yet this ‘example’ was nothing but an example of typical bourgeois whim. The black heel on the stockings is the result of the penetration among us of corrupting, formalist, bourgeois influences from abroad. The black heel disfigures the shape of the foot, placing an inappropriate “accent” where it does riot belong. The black heel is as suitable to the foot as redness to a nose.

All our Soviet culture is directed at giving the people a true understanding of the phenomena of life, proper judgment of bad and good, beautiful and ugly.

Soviet women must show independence in the selection of clothing; their manner of dress must accord with the cultural level of Soviet society and the requirements of strict good taste and the conditions of life and the times.

Besides reproducing dress patterns, our fashion magazines should publish articles helping to cultivate taste and orient broad strata of the public toward a correct understanding of beauty and grace as they apply to clothing.

More Attention to Children.–…In early childhood the child is drawn above all to color in the objects around him. The child’s attention is always caught by bright and rich colors: red, green, blue and yellow. Give the child the most absorbing toy, but if it is painted black he will soon discard it. In the Moscow Children’s World shop I have seen a black satin suit (shirt and trousers) for a one-year-old child! The makers of this “masterpiece” evidently gave little thought to the requirements of the child and his age. Now, does it make sense to dress a one-year-old in black? Only utterly indifferent persons, with no love of children and no concern for them, could sew garments of black for children.

The assortment of children’s knitted woolen garments in our shops is a miserable one. Almost all of these articles are of coarse wool and made without thought or care. Yet one can make so many attractive and varied jackets, jumpers, sweaters and suits of soft wool in bright colors and varied shades! But to do so one must not only have bright, attractive colors but also see to it that the quality of the wool is considerably better, softer and silkier.

All who are engaged in making things for children must show a great deal of thoughtful concern, warm interest and creative imagination in order that the children in our country may be dressed with taste and beauty.

Have you noticed the selection of children’s headgear displayed in the shops for the spring and summer season? It is hard to imagine anything uglier and more tasteless. The Leningrad Samoilova Factory and the Progress Artel literally flooded the stores with hoods for girls. These hoods were made atrociously, of coarse felt in dark purple and green.

Such things not only disfigure the child’s appearance, they ruin his taste. … But if the executives of factories and artels producing goods for children think only of formal fulfillment of production plans, with no concern for the essence of things, what can be said of esthetic tasks?

I have a small son. I bought him a rattle, an ordinary rattle with three plastic globes mounted on a small plastic handle.

After a while I noticed that the rattle produced not only noise, as it should, but also a quite unpleasant odor. I opened the plastic globes and in them I found ordinary peas, which had begun to rot. What were the smart makers of this toy thinking of when they loaded it with peas? Certainly they were not guided by love and concern for children.

Candy factories produce chocolate in the shape of boys, girls, dogs and even a surprise cake topped by a child’s buggy with two chocolate twins in the buggy. The cake looks very “impressive.” But why can’t they confine themselves to chocolate balls, stars, fish, rabbits, etc.? Can’t they refrain from producing chocolate boys and girls whom the children must later tear apart with glee, breaking off arms, legs and heads and thus engaging in “cannibalism?” Such “surprises” by the candy factories contradict the very elements of esthetic education.

I roam the toy department of the Moscow Central Department Store, and become depressed and saddened. … The eye wanders along shelves decked in toys, and strikes monotonous, identical dolls with utterly colorless expressions, hair of one and the same straw shade, and formless arms and legs, as if the poor dolls were all hopelessly ill of dropsy. … Many toys evoke coarse, unesthetic feelings. Take, for example, a toy which is popular now-“chicken lays an egg.’ The child is supposed to drop five marbles (eggs) in the chicken’s belly and then squeeze the chicken, causing it to drop the eggs. A typical American toy, designed for coarse, vulgar laughter.

Each game and toy should be properly “edited,” and anti-esthetic ones that corrupt the child’s taste should not be allowed in the hands of our children.

The ‘Face’ of the Store. –Imagine how pale and dull our modern cities would look if they were not brightened by the colorful store windows, gay signs and the neon light of advertising atop the buildings.

We know that any street in a capitalist city deafens the passerby with the hysterical shouting of its advertising, with moving and blinking light displays seeking to outshout one another and creating a bedlam of light and color.

This advertising principle or, more accurately, this unprincipled advertising, is unquestionably unsuited to our cities.

Yet the lack of unified direction in advertising and display often leads to senseless spottiness on our streets too. Streets lack unity, attractive unity of architectural forms, carefully thought-out lighting, intelligent advertising and variety of sign display. For example, take the signs of laundries. One would expect them to be snow-white, as if starched, but they are black with silver lettering and in no whit different from those of any other sign. The host of sign painters’ shops and the combines taking advertising and sign painting work lean too much to gold, silver and bronze lettering, and do not work out a diversity of lettering styles and backgrounds. More and more lighted ads are appearing on city streets. The electric signs occupy many roofs and fronts of buildings. Against the night sky such advertising is very bright and hence demands even more serious and strict thought to its subjects and illustrations and stricter consideration of the appropriateness of the site.

The site is not always well chosen on the squares and streets of Moscow. Near the monument of Timiriazev at Nikitskii Gates stand three lighted advertisements: “Drink tomato juice,” “Drink lemonade,” and “Don’t forget to take out insurance.” As a result the severe granite of the monument to Timiriazev receives a quite unbecoming illumination. The same may be said of Belorussian, Pushkin, Arbat and other squares. Where there are monuments to our great writers, advertising of books and theaters is suitable, not of cutlets, chicken aspic and champagne.

… I wish to mention the use of red in advertising and posters. We often abuse this color, depriving it of out -of -the -ordinary significance, of the significance of our banner, a symbol. On a red background we often paint such slogans as “Let us increase the number of our cattle,” “Greetings to the best cooks,” etc. And red becomes tiresome, commonplace and monotonous. It seems to me that better order in advertising and city layout will be attained when supervision of this work is concentrated in one place and headed by qualified people, by some chief artist of the city, just as there exists the post of chief architect of a city. …

The decoration of store windows has noticeably improved in recent years. But well dressed, tasteful windows are unfortunately still far from common even in Moscow, Leningrad or Kiev. Most window displays do not meet artistic standards.

In most cases specialized artists are employed to design window displays. But evidently many hacks lacking special training and even good taste and elementary conscience invade this, as other, fields. For instance, look at what the artists did in the long period of preparation for opening GUM. Along with qualified, talented artists, dozens of ignoramuses who obtained contracts by hook or by crook were employed to decorate the premises of the country’s largest store. Then these illiterate hacks, presenting each line and curve in the molding as an original creation, put old-regime drugstore ornamentation on the glass of doors and windows and built mirror ceilings copied from the old-fashioned merchants’ restaurant, the Savoy.

This kind of pseudo specialist often decorates shop windows with “skyscrapers” of cans or cigarette boxes, and hauls kitchen gas burners or even entire sanitary fixtures into the window displays. Other “decorators” fill the shop windows with repulsive wax dummies of quarters of meat. The state pays these “decorators” tremendous sums, but the supervisory art organizations are silent and connive at spreading hack work.

Of course it is logical to put wax dummies, rather than real foods, in the window. But the dummies should be artistically convincing, attractive and “tasty.” …

Cadres Are Essential.–The problem of training new, qualified cadres in applied art arises with particular urgency in connection with the work of the Party and government to bring about a sharp rise in production of consumers’ goods and improvement of their quality and finish. It is necessary to give more attention also to folk arts and crafts, to the work of the Palekh, Mstera, Kholui, Fedoskin and other centers of these arts and crafts, producing splendid folk art, miniatures, tableware, lace, toys, embroidery and bone and wood carving.

Moscow has a Higher Training School of Arts and Crafts (the former Stroganov School) that trains pupils in applied arts. But in many respects it duplicates our art institutes and at the same ‘Lime fails to fulfill its direct purpose-to train masters of applied art for industry. …

In 1945 the State Labor Reserves Ministry System had 60 arts and crafts schools. Unfortunately, only 12 remain.

This situation by no means conforms to the tasks of headlong growth in our higher industry. Yet it is clear that, with the growth in consumers’ goods industry, cadres of art workers must be systematically trained for various branches of the economy.

Efforts are often made to present as the reason for the sharp reduction in the number of arts and crafts schools an allegation that there is no “place” for their graduates, no “need” felt for them. But at the same time ignoramuses and persons selected by chance worm their way into many branches of the economy where they maim the taste of Soviet people! …

The process of cultivating taste is a slow and gradual one. Taste begins to form in earliest childhood. In this connection I think it is necessary to review the matter of teaching art in the public schools and the question of the role of the secondary school in esthetic education.

The teaching of a subject such as drawing is given insufficient attention, I believe, and gets too few hours in the curriculum. Drawing helps develop ability in art and also cultivates taste, esthetic appreciation of life, love of genuine beauty and of truthful, realistic portrayal of the life about us.

The schools have very broad opportunities over the course of the years to influence the formation of esthetic appreciation and inclination, and the role they can play must not be underestimated. Teachers and educators must devote more attention to cultivating neatness and tidiness in clothing and in care of household and school objects. The habits of neatness and tidiness and of attention to appearance develop inner discipline,

The All-Union Congress of Soviet Artists is to be held soon. We artists and our supervisory art organizations–the USSR Academy of Art, the Organizational Committee of the USSR Union of Soviet Artists, the Chief Administration of Fine Arts of the USSR Ministry of Culture-should, I think, take measures to see that the forthcoming Congress takes up, along with other art problems, those of the artists’ participation in the work of light industry, in design for everyday Soviet life and in raising the esthetic standards of our entire life.

Source: Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Vol. VI, No. 48 (1955), p. 29.

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