The White Book: A summary with observations (9) (1)
Archived Articles 23 Jun 2006 Viktor VirakEWR
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VI Fine Arts

The introductory paragraph of the article:

“In 1944, approximately one third of Estonian artists fled abroad. For those who stayed home, the most difficult period was the so-called Stalinist period (1948-1956, when most of the repression acts and imprisonment took place), but the ideological pressure from the Soviet occupation authorities and restrictions to artists's creativity (as they were isolated from the Western art and subjected to emotional and spiritual violence) influenced them until end of the occupation.”

The situation is described by the three occupation periods.

During the first Soviet occupation, interestingly enough, the new change in the government was initially received with positive expectations by the artists in general, due mostly to their disappointment in the existing fine art policies and the tight economic conditions of the 1930's. Mainly younger, less celebrated artists grabbed the limelight. They organized in July 1940, forming the National Artists Congress, compiling a list of active artists — 142. They planned to organize more artists, extend art education and develop museums. However, from November 1940, all existing artists organizations were dissolved and blacklisted. The Administration of Fine Arts was established, in order to have control over all work of art, exhibitions and competitions, procuring objects for museums, supervising artists associations. This ideological control frightened artists; they had to accept socialistic realism in their work.

The war between the Soviet Union and Germany caused a political schism between Estonian artists. Some fled to Jaroslavl in Russia, where they formed the Estonian Soviet Artists Association. Adamson-Eric became the Chairman.

The German occupation 1941-1944 hit many artists severely, for their collaboration with communists. Some were executed (Arkadi Laigo); some died in prison. Those artists who stayed in Estonia could continue their traditional work. In 1942, a Department of Sciences and Fine Art of the Estonian Directorate was formed by the Germans. It organized art exhibitions and provided modest financial support for artists. In 1943, a higher art school re-opened in Tartu under the name “Pallas”. An intermediate level school of applied arts was opened in Tallinn in 1942.

Art life was active 1941-1944. Many exhibitions took place, art was discussed in the press, art market flourished. The principal financiers of art were private citizens of Estonia.

When the second Soviet occupation returned in 1944, there was a new split amongst Estonian artists. In the fall of 1944, 60 artists fled to Sweden. Famous cartoonist Gori (V. Agori) committed suicide, fearing KGB persecution. Artists who escaped the Soviet terror, contributed to the development of Estonian cultural life, participating also in the art life of their new home countries.

With the return of the (second) Soviet occupation, 1944-1991, the goal was once more to achieve control over the artists, guaranteeing a functioning art scene for propaganda purposes. Artists had to join the ESAA in order to be able to work. Repressive measures hit some of the artists. Their work was not easy nor inspiring. The ESAA stated the object: “...the most important tasks for artists are to educate people in the Soviet spirit and resolutely fight against remnants of Fascist ideology and bourgeois nationalism...”

It became clear in 1948 that Moscow no longer tolerated the local artistic individuality. Estonian culture had to conform to Soviet models. Stalinization of cultural life was completed by 1950, led by Max Laosson. The Artists Association underwent “cleanouts”; artists who did not apply “social realism” were expelled.
In 1949-1950, dozens of art students (Henno Arrak, Olev Subbi, etc.) were sent to prison camps. Artists who escaped imprisonment had to endure the atmosphere of political intrigues and repression: fear, jealousy, lack of trust. All this destroyed the creative courage of artists. Organizationally, the Chair of Art History of the University of Tartu, and the Department of Art History of the Academy of Sciences were dissolved. Tallinn Art Museum got a new head from Moscow.

Though applied art managed to stay beyond the reach of political propaganda, eventually it, too, had to succumb to Soviet symbolism.

The three-dimensional art had to follow the rules of Russian classicism.

Regarding Estonian folkart, only accurate, lifelessly pedantic and soulless copying of ethnographic material was allowed.

The fate of Estonian architecture was quite similar. Reconstruction activity dominated the first years of the second occupation. It was followed by Stalinist architecture, which was based essentially on “ceremonial traditionalism”, with some links to the Russian Empire. Its influence started to manifest in city plans, with large central squares, showy main streets and gigantic monuments made of buildings. In Tallinn an example of relatively pure Stalinist style can be seen in the so-called “house with tower”, at the corner of the Tartu highway and Liivalaia Road. (On the top of the tower, an oversized symbolic Red Star looks over the area, being a reminder of the Soviet occupation even in A.D. 2006)

However, in parallel with the above style (to the end of 1940's), an architectural style developed, based on the residential architecture of the 1930's independence period. In 1950's rules for the residential architecture became stiffer (describing even the style of windows!).

In the second half of 1950's, when the Soviet system did not show signs of mellowing, the Estonian art developed into something different from the Moscow rules. Thus, it assisted to strengthen the Estonian identity. However, the Soviet ideological pressure existed until the end of 1980's: separation from the Western art remained; information about it was fragmented. Exhibitions had to have official permissions; it was still difficult to work as an artist outside the Artists Association. Thus, the ideological repression never completely vanished; the psychological and spiritual terror continued until the end of the occupation.

(to be continued)
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