national in form, socialist in content
Socialist Realism is now referred to in North Korea as Juche Realism. Juche art theorists in North Korea divide world art history into two kinds: “peoples’ art”, reflecting the needs of the masses, and “reactionary art”, reflecting the ideology of the exploiting class. Kim Il-song’s 1966 instruction, “Let’s develop our National form with Socialist content”, is still regarded as the absolute guiding principle of Juche art. This “call” for a new Juche Art was in fact a paraphrase of both Stalin and Mao. Stalin had defined Socialist Realism as “national in form, socialist in content”, while Mao called it “national in form, new democratic in content”.
The “national form” of painting naturally meant traditional Korean ink painting or Chosonhwa, but oil painting (an imported western technique) was also encouraged. Large public wall paintings, which would normally be expected to be carried out in oils, were therefore also produced in ink painting, encouraging ink painters to paint realistically. Still today, there are many more ink painters classed as Merit Artists or Peoples’ Artists than there are oil painters, as a matter of principle.
I hadn’t ever heard this formulation before, somehow. And when I first read it, I wondered to myself, “Now what would they possibly mean by a nationalist form for a novel?” and then realized that that’s the point. Not a novel but Korean ink painting or whatever.
But it’s interesting to think, now that I’ve got it straighten out for myself, why it is that “nationalist in form, socialist in content” became something like a universal definition of Socialist Realism, at least according to this article. Why is it that the content is deemed pliable, adjustable to the ideological weather, while the form – in the sense of medium or genre – is considered intractable, rooted in the soil…
Why, in other words, couldn’t it be “Socialist in form and content”?