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Kasimir Malevich and suprematism : art in the context of revolution Wheeler, Dennis F.


It would seem almost inconceivable that art could, of its own accord, move society towards the kind of ultimate resolution of conflict necessary for an emergence of the egalitarian paradise on earth that was proposed by most Messianic philosophies in the nineteenth century. Art continually appears to be in the process of undermining any attempt by theoretical philosophy to contain or describe it as an absolute. This seems to be the source of much of the irony of art objects and their tacit philosophical implications. We can assume then that there is a somewhat paradoxical basis for the phenomenon of art as we have come to understand it historically. Any object, in order to be meaningful, has to carry a charge. Whether this is of a magical quality or pertains, as we conventionally recognize it, to some social understanding, what we call an ideology, the art-object does not exist without meaning. It is important to realize that I am not drawing a distinction here between ordering or disordering phenomena. Destruction is equally meaningful as construction, these are not value judgments, evil is as present a phenomena as good, and probably as intrinsically human. The concept of creativity that permeates our knowledge and respect for the powers art traditionally held, are historical understandings. As a civilization, we may have done away with mythological stories of our origins, cosmogonies, etc., but we have tended to unconsciously replace them with conceptual, as opposed to imagistic, alternatives, still largely mythic in construction, although we do not popularly recognize them as such. I am using myth here in Levi-Strauss' sense of the word, i.e.: "the unconscious social truths, those principles which provide the broadest base for a society's conception of itself.”¹ One task of this thesis will be to sort out the confusion which has resulted because of the ideological entanglement with mythic (religious) and scientific conceptions that has characterized the central arguments surrounding the arts in the early years of the twentieth century. Revoluntionary Russia now appears as a particularly dense arena for the combat of extreme or polarized beliefs as to the nature of art, and the artist's responsibility relative to an emerging mass consciousness. In this context there was a comparatively conscious merger of ideological propositions into what was previously considered a uniquely aesthetic or pure art production. Such a situation was contingent to the life and work of Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935). My intention is to demonstrate the art historical antecedents to such a period relevant to Malevich’s conceptions and the relationships which interconnect the development of his aesthetic with the philosophical and political concerns of his time. The ethos in which the artist emerges is especially indivisible in this instance from… [abstract continues]

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