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A Guy from the Urals

Social worker
Vasili Neyasov depicted an idealized Soviet "shock worker" in his 1959 painting "A Guy from the Urals." Socialist realism was the only officially approved style in all art forms for much of the Soviet Union's history.









President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the State Department to issue temporary visas to "those of superior intellectual attainment, of indomitable spirit, experienced in the vigorous support of liberal government, and who are in danger of persecution or death at the hands of autocracy."
Destination America

Watch the VideoThe Art of Departure

Well into the 20th century, the United States suffered from a sort of cultural inferiority complex. While the nation grew into an industrial power, many Americans felt—with some justification—that it lagged behind Europe in artistic and scientific achievement. Most Europeans, in turn, regarded the United States as a cultural backwater. It would take the contributions of immigrants—many of them fleeing repressive regimes in their homelands—to lift America to global preeminence in the creative fields.

The last decades of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century were a time of great innovation in all the arts. Traditional forms gave way to new ones—from cubism in painting to the 12-tone works of composer Arnold Schoenberg. Sigmund Freud's concept of the subconscious fueled movements like Surrealism, while left-wing ideals increasingly informed the work of European artists and writers, such as Bertolt Brecht. Meanwhile, the death, destruction, and suffering wrought by World War I led many artists, like George Grosz, to explore the dark side of the human condition in their work. The years after the war saw the rise of Fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany. These regimes sought to control not only their subjects' freedom of action and movement, but their freedom of thought and expression as well. The Nazis suppressed any art that did not conform to their idea of Germanic Kultur, and their anti-Semitic ideology put all Jewish artists at risk. After 1933, thousands of artists, writers, musicians, academics, scientists, actors, directors, and designers fled Germany and the countries that came under its domination. Many of these refugees had trouble winning admission to America because of the restrictive immigration laws of the time and anti-immigrant feeling among many Americans. President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the State Department to issue temporary visas to "those of superior intellectual attainment, of indomitable spirit, experienced in the vigorous support of liberal government, and who are in danger of persecution or death at the hands of autocracy." More than 3,000 people received these visas before the outbreak of World War II put most of Europe under Nazi control. The impact of the refugees from Fascism and Nazism on American intellectual life is incalculable. From scientists like Albert Einstein to composers like Kurt Weill to writers like Thomas Mann, they collectively represented the single greatest transfer of talent the world has ever seen.

Postwar Developments

The end of World War II saw the fall of Nazism and Fascism, but the Soviet Union remained a totalitarian state until the introduction of Glasnost in the mid-1980s. The Soviet Union's Communist leadership stifled any creative activity that did not adhere to its ideological standards, or which betrayed the slightest hint of dissent. Those who did not toe the party line faced imprisonment, internal exile, or confinement in mental hospitals. The situation was similar in the Soviet Union's satellite nations in Eastern Europe and in other Communist nations, like Cuba. In the decades of Cold War following World War II, the United States welcomed hundreds of creative refugees from the communist world. Some, like writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, were exiled by the Soviet government; others, like dancers George Balanchine and Mikhail Baryshnikov, defected or otherwise managed to escape from their communist homelands.


Source: Destination America by Charles A. Wills, Bibliography


Sources: Social Worker-The Museum of Russian Art, Minneapolis, Christopher Columbus-The Granger Collection, Book & Series: Destination America

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