“One can imagine what a vast cosmic system VKHUTEMAS was. It consisted of planetary systems of faculties filled with planets and satellites of outstanding people. It is easy to understand how they gravitated or bounced off of each other alternately combining or stressing and breaking the system. VKHUTEMAS history is indeed multidimensional and controversial. Natural for any new endeavour, there were always theoretic ideology discussions, professional, practical and methodological creative debates that happened in the atmosphere of deep conflict between art faculties, especially the faculty of painting, and the industrial faculties. Most of the tutors of the faculty of painting sought to recover the traditional creative education and therefore demanded to reform the General course, whereas the industrial faculty leaders strived for hegemony and dreamed of subordinating the entire institute to the interests of only the new design education.”
L. Zhadova “USSR decorative art”
1970. issue 11 (p.156)
Higher Art and Technical Studios
The VKHUTEMAS history becomes clearer if you are aware of the events that took place two years earlier. The creation of VKUTEMAS was preceded by “The First Creative Education Reform” (by definition of a well-known researcher S. Khan-Magomedov). After the events of the October Revolution of 1917 the Council of People’s Commissars started to reform most spheres of public, social and political life. Anatoly Lunacharsky, the first People’s Commissar responsible for the education, he was in charge of the reorganisation of all areas connected to culture and education.
The pre-revolutionary model of an art educational institution was replaced by a new one – Free State Art Studios (SGKHM – Russian: СГХМ Свободные Государственные Художественные мастерские), that were more consistent with the ideology of revolutionary changes. Having difficulties in organizing the educational process in a new way, the SGHM, unlike “obsolete” institutions, required only the candidate’s eagerness for admission: entrance examinations were cancelled and primary education was not compulsory. The curriculum was based on personal workshops lead by renowned artists who taught basic principles in their own individual manner and shared their experience with the students.
The First Free State Art Studios were open in Moscow in 1918 at 11 Rozhdestvenka street (now Moscow Institute of Architecture (MARKHI)) and the Second Free State Art Studios at 21 Myasnitskaya street (now Russian Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture) The First and the Second SGKHM were actually the reformed Stroganov Academy of Industrial and Applied Arts and the former School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture.
SGKHM became a foundation of VKHUTEMAS in 1920, accommodating the studios in the classrooms on Rozhdestvenka and Myasnitskaya streets.
Decree No.595, c.1
PROVISION OF THE COUNCIL OF PEOPLE’S COMMISSARS ON THE MOSCOW HIGHER STATE ART AND TECHNICAL STUDIOS
Moscow Higher State Art and Technical Studios are a specific art and industrial educational institution, aiming to provide higher education to master artists for industries as well as tutors and leaders for professional and technical education.
December 18th, 1920 V.I. Ulianov (Lenin)
VKHUTEMAS started to operate in autumn of 1920 and consisted of art faculties (painting, sculpture, architecture) and industrial faculties (polygraphy, textile, ceramics, woodwork and metalwork).
The industrial faculties taught artists of a new type, the ones that create the material environment of the human (household items and tools, residential and public interiors, etc.)
Among VKHUTEMAS tutors are A. Arkhipov, D. Kardovsky, N. Ladovsky, A. Rodchenko, V. Tatlin, El Lissitzky, V. Favorsky and others.
Fundamental principle of the innovative VKHUTEMAS methods of art and architectural education was to dispose of entrenched dogmas and patterns of the academic school. Contrary to popular belief, VHUTEMAS did not deny experience and did not try to get rid of the classical heritage. Pioneer tutors like Rodchenko, Popova, Klutsis, Ladovsky and Korolev offered their advanced methods that were more relatable to the time and the new role of the architect in society and in the artistic environment.
Going through the General course during their first two years all VKHUTEMAS students acquired basic artistic education. They got acquainted with the main types of spatial arts, their common, unifying features and their specific qualities. They studied basic elements and means of creative geometry generation: color, space, surface, volume; as well as methods and vocabulary of compositional creation including proportions, rhythm, dynamics, contrasts and laws of visual perception of material environment. The General course developed universal foundations for all artistic practices thereby undermining their former division into “higher” and “lower, productional” specialities.
VKHUTEMAS inherited the individual pedagogy from the Free Art Studios. In the course of elimination of the individual workshops, almost every faculty formed its own pedagogical system, as a rule, those that were influenced by a renowned tutor became more fruitful. Specifically Favorsky’s school at the printing and graphic faculty. At the faculty of architecture, that until 1926 was divided into directions of classical architecture and latest researches, there were I. Zholtovsky’s academic pedagogy and the one of N. Ladovsky, developed mostly under the influence of psychoanalytic method.
VKHUTEMAS sought to create scientific objective foundations of artistic education, providing the means of achieving high professionalism. It was expressed both in the general content of education and, above all, in the teaching of actual artistic disciplines. Compared to Bauhaus semi-annual propaedeutic course, devoted only to general plastic training and led by J. Itten and later by J. Albers and L. Moholy-Nagy, the two year VKHUTEMAS General course was a more complex organism. It had a large staff of tutors and provided both general plastic training and foundations of comprehensive knowledge of the “core” education. The course was built holistically at the junction of artistic, scientific and technical and humanitarian and social disciplines. This way the education in theory and practice of art was supported by scientific and general education. The most important tendency in VKHUTEMAS pedagogy was an attempt to objectify the art education itself, and the plastic courses of the General course are the quintessence of these trends.
(Based on research materials of L. Zhadova and N. Adaskina)