When the means of direct speech are removed by threat of retribution, then other ways of communicating have to be explored. As a result art flourishes. And art with the minimum of means, in the most desolate of circumstances, nurtured and sustained people in a way that is almost unimaginable now. Art in our culture, here now in 2010, is often regarded as yet another commodity we can either take or leave. A kind of ‘mental cheesecake’, one American critic called it.
But art is surely no escape from reality. We live in a world that is an elaborate fiction. And it is, surely, art’s function to pierce through that. Art is there to show us REALITY. It is the function of an artist to help us see the world anew. Or often simply to SEE IT.
Nowhere was this more true than in the former Soviet Union. A real reflection of what was there, a true description of their lives, was only possible through artistic means. Depicted in the notes of Shostakovich or Schnittke, in the absurd stories of Kharms, the poems of Mandlestam and the fictions of Bulgakov, is a picture of reality the meaning of which was abundantly clear to their audience.