PROPAEDEUTICS

THE FIRST DISCIPLINES

The tutors saw the essence of their discipline not in depicting the impression of the subject, but the essence of its color, noting everything unusual for this picturesque image. The composition must obey a certain regularity of color, not being deliberately random as in the Impressionists’ works. Like volume, color builds the mass of an object, not just stains it. In 1922, when Popova and Vesnin already formulated more detailed tasks of teaching this general artistic subject. At this stage, they divided their program into two stages: the first program- minimum related to the study of color regardless of the future specialty of the student, the second program- maximum to the special study of color, taking into account the specific faculty…

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The core of the propaedeutic discipline of Graphics was the course of graphic design on the plane surface, in which Rodchenko introduced to his students the idea of the line as an element that allows “to construct and create. For this purpose, at the first stage of work with students, he taught them to gradually move in the process of working with still life from the usual tone image through a contour drawing – to linear-constructive construction. Later, students immediately transferred still life from traditional objects to linear-constructive construction…

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In the autumn of 1920 B. Korolev and A. Lavinsky headed the workshop at the faculty of sculpture.  Before the beginning of classes at this workshop, students were mainly engaged in sculpting of living nature. All the students were impressed by the absolutely unusual still life set by A. Lavinsky in September 1920 for his first assignment. There was a cylinder on the stand, a cube placed at a corner to it, an I-beam on the stand, and an architectural detail was placed on top of the cylinder. The tutor asked the students not to literally mold this composition from the clay, but to convey their vision in its peculiar refraction. This was the beginning of the propaedeutical discipline Volume…

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Two new methods of architectural propaedeutics based on Ladovsky’s psychoanalytic method and I. Golosov’s theory of building architectural organisms were formed with the appearance of two innovative centers – Obmas and the workshop of Golosov and Melnikov at the faculty of architecture. In 1922-1923 Ladovsky’s method was used as a basis for both architectural propaedeutics and the propaedeutic discipline Space.
Practical necessity forced Ladovsky to switch to the allocation of methods of building a three-dimensional composition, based not on the study of the classics, but on the study of the basic elements of architecture…

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Propaedeutics disciplines created by N. Ladovsky, A. Rodchenko, L. Popova, A. Vesnin, A. Lavinsky and B. Korolev, were a real discovery in the creative methodology of VKHUTEMAS. They were clearly influenced by the analytical stage of development of fine arts – cubism, cubofuturism, suprematism – but this was not what determined their role in the process of students’ education. The important thing was that for the first time it was possible to create a complex of organically complementary propaedeutical art courses, which could be used equally successfully in the initial training of students of different faculties.  This is the great methodological importance of the first propaedeutical disciplines that were formed into a single system by the 1922/1923 academic year.

VKHUTEMAS propaedeutics courses were created by teachers who were members of the Institute of Artistic Culture, where at that time an “objective method” for the analysis of works of art was being developed.  The propaedeutic disciplines and the Main Course created on their basis take a special place in the structure of teaching methods at VKHUTEMAS-VKHUTEIN. It is these disciplines that have helped turn the autonomous faculties united in one university into a single educational institution. Starting from 1923, students of VKHUTEMAS spent the first two years (from 1926 – one year) studying at the Main Course common to all faculties, where art propaedeutics played a major role in the initial training of future architects, painters, sculptors, designers (artistic engineers), scene designers, textile workers, ceramists and printing specialists.

In the early 20’s propaedeutic disciplines were formed in the depths of the architectural (the discipline “Space”), sculptural (“Volume”) and stage design (“Color”, “Graphics”) faculties by the supporters of innovative methods.

The complex of propaedeutical disciplines became the most important achievement of the Soviet creative arts pedagogy. The authors of innovative methods found and formulated those general artistic regularities, techniques and tools that are necessary for artists of different specializations. This required, on the one hand, to separate from the specific future specialization of the artist, and on the other hand – to remove from the techniques and means of expression any reminder of traditionalist style. To do this, it was necessary to refer to the simplest and most universal compositional laws, means and techniques of expressiveness, which can be taken out of a specific artistic profession and a specific style. This was done by the creators of propaedeutic disciplines with amazing scientific and fundamental depth and artistic brilliance.

The question arises – why did such first-class artists, architects and sculptors as A. Vesnin, A. Rodchenko, A. Lavinsky, L. Popova, N. Ladovsky, B. Korolev, V. Krinsky and N. Dokuchayev need it? Why on earth at the most important stage of formation of a new style they began to address the problems of art education of freshmen students?

The matter, of course, was not only (and even not so much) in the development of educational art propaedeutics, but that the propaedeutic disciplines of VKHUTEMAS at an early stage of their formation became the creative laboratory where the artistic-composite means and techniques of new stylistics were tested.

Of course, in the propaedeutic disciplines created in the early 20s in VKHUTEMAS there were many methods of initial art education of universal value. And yet it would be wrong to absolutize the scientifically based “objectivity” of the complex of propaedeutics disciplines created at that time. For all their artistic universality, they were closely connected with the new style and not just connected, but at an early stage of its formation contributed to it.

In the autumn of 1920, the supporters of A. Rodchenko and the objective method of art analysis created a Working Group at the Institute of Art Culture (INHUK), which began to define the general orientation of the Institute.  The supporters of the “objective method” were focused on the interaction of painting primarily with architecture and sculpture, this was influenced by  the Commission of painting sculpture and architecture of the Council of People’s Commissars for Education.

The members of the Working group of objective analysis of INHUK became the core of the “young” Professor of VKHUTEMAS, which introduced the “objective method” of teaching and formed the propaedeutic disciplines of the Main Course – Space, Volume, Graphics, Color.

In 1920-1921 members of the INHUK – tutors of propaedeutic disciplines mainly focused on the development of teaching methods at the faculty level, but in 1922 they actively fought for the separation of propaedeutics into the autonomous Main Course. Two problems were solved at once by this method: 1. The possibility to form the teaching method without the direct control of the tutors of the special workshops of the Painting, Sculpture and Architecture faculties; 2. Strengthening the connection of the propaedeutic disciplines with the industrial faculties.

Working groups of architects, constructivists and objectivists in VKHUTEMAS corresponded to the propaedeutic disciplines Space (N. Ladovsky, N. Dokuchaev, V. Krinsky), Graphics (A. Rodchenko and the group of constructivists) and Color (L. Popova and A. Vesnin – members of the objectivists group) and Volume (B. Korolev and A. Lavinsky).

The problems of objectivization of means and techniques of artistic expression in 1920-1921 were developed by the same people simultaneously in both VKHUTEMAS (teaching methods) and INHUK (methods of analysis), and it seems that the development of teaching methods in some cases was ahead of the methods of analysis.

On the basis of the first assignments of the “young” professors, an “objective method” of teaching was introduced, which became not only a basis for the formation of propaedeutics but also played a crucial role in VKHUTEMAS.

By the autumn of 1922 the concept of interfaculty art propaedeutics was developed by tutors of four disciplines – Color, Graphics, Volume, Space. 

 

Based on VKhUTEMAS by S.O. Khan-Magomedov,
book 1, chapter Working groups of INHUK and the objective method, p. 36-37