After the Bolshevik Revolution the old schools and academies of art were dissolved and their property requisitioned. Soon afterwards, on the initiative of the Department of Fine Arts set up by the People’s Commissariat of Education, under Anatoly Lunacharsky, they were reopened with an entirely new constitution. Previously the Union of Artists had insisted that only artists should have control over artistic matters, without any governmental intervention, and Lunacharsky agreed to accept this demand. Hence the unprecedented decrees which we publish here: decrees which inaugurated not only an entirely new vision of how education should be organized but also an extraordinary upsurge of revolutionary art. Almost all the leading ‘leftist’ artists were involved in the Department of Fine Arts and the art schools—in Petrograd, Moscow and Vitebsk—set up by the decrees. Tatlin was chairman of the Moscow section of the Department for a time; Altman of the Petrograd section. Kandinsky, Chagall, Tatlin, Malevich, Lissitsky, among others, taught in the schools. Their work and the work of their students represents the high point of European art in this century. Naum Gabo has described the conditions at the school in Moscow: ‘What is important to know about the character of the institution is that it was almost autonomous; it was both a school and a free academy where not only the current teaching of special professions was carried out (there were seven departments: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Ceramics, Metalwork and Woodwork, Textiles and Typography) but general discussions were held and seminars conducted among the students on diverse problems where the public could participate and artists not officially on the faculty could speak and give lessons. It had an audience of several thousand students, although a shifting one due to the Civil War and the war with Poland. There was a free exchange between workshops and also the private studios such as mine . . . . During these seminars as well as during the general meetings, many ideological questions between opposing artists in our abstract group were thrashed out. These gatherings had a much greater influence on the later development of constructive art than all the teaching.’ This heroic experiment lasted for three years till the beginning of the New Economic Policy and the right turn which accompanied this. The ‘leftist’ currents in art continued their struggle, often with success, for about another decade before they were finally defeated.
The Academy of Fine Art, as a state institution, is to be abolished. The Higher Institute of Fine Art is to be detached, with its own credits and its own capital, from the Academy of Fine Art, and reorganized as a Free School of Art.
The museum of the Academy of Fine Art will come under the jurisdiction of the People’s Commissariat for Education.
All the capital and all the assets of the Academy of Fine Art become the property of the Soviet Republic, as a fund to be used to satisfy the special needs of artistic culture.
Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars
V. Ulyanov (Lenin)