Socialist Realism and The Danger Of Thinking

Tamara and I went to see the Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 exhibition at the Royal Academy. We learned that Lenin viewed culture as a stepping stone to the Communist State. When that was achieved, art would have no function and it would be removed ‘snip, snip’ as he described it.

Stalin allowed only Socialist Realism in art. That is art that could be understood by the most uneducated of workers.

The narrator described how Stalin disliked Avante Garde art because its message was unclear.

And suddenly I understood it. Art that has a message that is unclear requires that the viewer makes an attempt to understand it. The viewer has to think – and that is what Stalin did not want. Because of course, once people think, they are wild cards – unfathomable and unreachable.

And of course I understood why the Nazis banned what they described as decadent art – for the same reason. Previously I had thought it was because its themes were racy or against the stereotype of the Germanic ideal. But the reason was more basic; that people might think. And thinking carries all kinds of dangers.

Poster For Sale

We saw a poster from the exhibition for sale. The image at the top of this post is a snippet from the poster. The full image shows that giant carrying a red banner, marching inexorably towards Revolution while the masses march and run to defeat the Bourgoisie, the Church, the old State.

We were both attracted to the graphic of the image but we both also thought that the violent scene was one we didn’t want to live with. We came together at one point to talk about buying the poster and it struck me how wonderful it was that we had both independently concluded that we didn’t want to buy it.

This article originally published on NoMorePencils under the same title.

You Say You Want a Revolution

On Friday 10th February, Tamara and I went to see the ‘You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970’ exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

Tamara thought it would be good to see something from ‘our’ period – although I am five years older than Tamara and so ‘our’ periods overlap but don’t match.

And of course, I grew up in the UK and she in the USA.

The V&A advertises the exhibition thus:

This major exhibition will explore the era-defining significance and impact of the late 1960s, expressed through some of the greatest music and performances of the 20th century alongside fashion, film, design and political activism. The exhibition considers how the finished and unfinished revolutions of the time changed the way we live today and think about the future.

The very word ‘revolution’ sends shock waves and tremors through me and I guess through most people. A revolution in thinking is a different beast than a violent political revolution, but where one exists it tends to rub against the other. And that’s the rub.

I’m not here to get into a big discussion of how violence or the threat of violence underpins all authority in society.

We know it is true and we understand that when the society is just and fair both socially and economically, that the threat of violence is a communal censure and not the censure of a self-serving elite.

So, to the exhibition.

Everyone was given a pair of headphones that played different music depending on which room you were in.

The exhibition affected me. It was not something I viewed with passing interest. It was the same with Tamara. We spent about five hours there. When we came out it was 8:30pm and we both thought for a moment that that must be wrong. It didn’t seem like five hours.

What follows is what I thought. It won’t be the same for other people. I know that. This is just what it triggered in me.

In the first room there were posters and statements from people – mostly in the USA – talking about their vision of what things should be like and how they were working towards that.

There was a short quote from Marcuse about how our decisions are directed and controlled, but hidden under the illusion of choice. But the overall tone of the room was positive.

At the entrance to the second room there was a short film made in Britain in the ’60s. It was a caustic film about the delights of a video camera that could capture your whole life.

The voiceover was soothing and led you want to appreciate this wonderful technological thing – except we saw the camera capturing all the vacuous, angry, painful moments as well.

The intent of the film was to show how wrong things were. But in the manner of the production it hit me how even in critiquing the malaise of modern life the English approach was to spend all its time irritating the wound with finesse rather than turn its back on it and look for something better.

It came to me that the English never wanted to turn their backs on the horror – they revel in it too much. Passed off as a greater insight into the true nature of man, it is really just sadism and self loathing cloaked as critique.

You Say You Want a Revolution

And then on with the exhibition and the flowering of ideas. Until we get to the room with films of police baton charges and riots. And I read a quote from Abbie Hoffman’s ‘Steal This Book’ which says that all the nice flower power things mean nothing, and nothing will get done until the power structure is changed.

But then I read that the Diggers felt Hoffman had betrayed his promise not to publish details of the scams that could get people free things.

Suddenly, they said, all the deals that kept poor people in the Lower East Side alive outside of the system were exposed and sucked dry by disaffected kids from better-off backgrounds.

That’s important isn’t it – someone who promotes changing the system rather than living outside of it but who broke his promise to those who took him in?

Is it true? Are they more shades of grey to what happened? Perhaps they were precious and exclusive and he was right to spread the word to as many people as he could. Shades of grey.

Understanding what things are and how they work is important because when we decide we want to follow a certain direction, we better be sure we have good foundations.

And that’s the other famous problem: Thinking people worry about what is right while others just march in and take it.

And I got thinking of Kent State and dead students and comments about how young the National Guard soldiers looked scared and innocent.

Except they opened fire. And I am thinking that the real elephant in the room is the question of when it really comes down to it – how many people will stand on the other side of the line and open fire on the people who want a fairer and more inclusive society?

Originally posted on NoMorePencils


Photo On Google Maps

An email arrived from Google to tell me I had burst through the 5,000 views barrier on Google maps. So in the spirit of crowing and making myself obnoxious, here is the graphic from the email.

Why am I pleased? Recognition of value is one of the most precious things in human existence. And that feeling is still there even when the value is transitory and trivial in the scheme of things.


By the way, the place on the map is Cafe Milk on Morrison Street in Edinburgh.

If you are a friend and you have a blog, I am asking for help.


It came about this way: I got an email from Twitter that had a tweet from JenT of WPMaven. It was about a video from Marie Haynes of Google on the subject of what links can you get that comply with Google’s guidelines.

Number #1 on the list was ‘Ask’, and this is what Marie had to say:

Number one is to ask people. Now some people might say, “Wait, that’s not a natural link because I actually had to ask somebody to get it.” But if somebody is willing to vouch for your website, to link to your website, and you’re not giving them anything as an incentive in return, then that actually is a good link. So you can ask family members and friends and even better is employees. You can say, “Hey, if you have a blog, could you mention that you work for us and link to us?” Now, if they have to hide the link somewhere to make it actually happen, then that may not be the best link. But if they legitimately are happy to mention you and link to your company, then that’s a good natural link that Google will appreciate.

Well, that was unexpected.

Now you may be thinking – so what is so great about links? And the answer is as simple as it gets. Google sees links as a testimony to the value of a web site. The more links the better.

And the more links Google sees, the more it promotes that web site earlier in the pages of search results when someone searches for ‘greeting cards’ or whatever.

Marie didn’t talk about it but it is generally accepted that a good link is a link from a site that has some relevance to the site it is linking to.

So for example, a site about crafts or stationery or relationships (to name a few) that linked to a greeting card site would make more sense than a link ‘out of the blue’ as it were from a site about motorcycles.

So with that message taken to heart, I am using this blog to ask my friends with blogs to take a look at my and my partner’s greeting card site at Flying Twigs and if you like it – link to it.

Only do it if you genuinely think it’s OK.

I made the web site at Flying Twigs myself rather than using a developer. It’s a self-hosted WordPress site and because it is an e-commerce site I used WooCommerce for the shop part of it.

That decision turned out to be a good one when Automattic, the company that owns WordPress, bought WooCommerce last year and brought in most of the developers.

Of course the heart of a site is the content and the content of Flying Twigs is the greeting cards. It really depends on whether you like them as well as the layout and the design, I guess.

The greeting cards and a lot about the layout of the site is the joint effort of me and my wife and partner, Tamara. She is very interested in colour and colour combinations and that shows in the designs.

By the way, our approach is to gently emphasise the positive, whatever the occasion. So, we don’t make cards that ridicule people or are crass or would embarrass someone if the card were put on a mantelpiece.

We only sell to businesses (card shops, museums, etc.) so it really would be a case of you liking the site for its own sake because we don’t sell to individuals. The reason we don’t do that is purely because of the time it takes to fulfil small orders. It’s just not economical in terms of time.

That said, we have thought of selling a small, limited range of cards through a third-party site like Etsy to handle individual sales. We just haven’t ‘opened’ such a shop yet and my partner and I are not sure when or whether we will do so. For the moment, therefore, that idea is on the back burner while we concentrate our efforts on the business-to-business (B2B) business of Flying Twigs.

So the bottom line is, I guess ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get.’

And if you are a friend and you want to link to the site then here is the link to Flying Twigs. But only if you are willing and happy to do so.

In any event, even if you don’t fit into that description – go take a look at the site because it might encourage you to try your hand at building a self-hosted e-commerce site yourself if you’ve the yen to do so.

One thing I should explain is that the site is not straight ‘out-of-the-box’ because of some of the special features we need – such as that cards have to be ordered in sixes and we have a minimum order value.

So I had to add some code into the site. Of course, I am not a developer – so I had to Google for information to get a general feel for what was needed and then I asked people, for example, people in the WooCommerce Help And Share group in FaceBook. That is really what made it possible because I would have been lost otherwise.

One of the lessons I learned building the site is that problems crop up and people deal with them. Nothing stays the same. WordPress gets updated. WooCommerce gets updated. The Web moves on. And then something doesn’t work the same way. It’s like sitting on a quaking volcano – but you have to get used to it because that is how it is.

Another thing I learned is how very, very important it is to use a good web-hosting company. I spent ages researching that because I knew that I wanted the site to load fast and work reliably. That’s another ‘thank you’ I should give to the groups on FaceBook because with a bit of digging, I found people who could be trusted to recommend good web hosts for the purpose I needed.

For anyone out there who wants some pointers to start them off, I am more than willing to help. I know that there’s a big community of people that are searching for answers.

P.S. The Photo At The Top

The photo at the top of this post is one I took with my phone pressed against the window of a local bridal-wear shop. There were still a lot of reflections from the shops opposite, so I ran the photo through Enlight app on my phone to make a painterly version.

Then I pulled the image into my computer and used Photoshop to repeat the mannequin several times and then paint in the background to remove the reflections in the original.