Bogemskaia, K.

Naïve Art. Pavel Leonov.


 “I wish I could do whatever I liked behind the curtain of “madness”. Then: I’d arrange flowers, all day long, I’d paint; pain, love and tenderness, I would laugh as much as I feel like at the stupidity of others, and they would all say: “Poor thing, she’s crazy!” (Above all I would laugh at my own stupidity.) I would build my world which while I lived, would be in agreement with all the worlds. The day, or the hour, or the minute that I lived would be mine and everyone else’s – my madness would not be an escape from “reality”.

Frida Kahlo


I am writing about Leonov for those who already love him today; those who take an interest in naïve art and understand that it is not as naïve as some may think; even if it does cause laughter, it is the laughter akin to the one accompanying you while reading Gogol or Bulgakov – laughter from another world.

I write like memoirist – a contemporary for those who will live after; those who will build a different personal perspective of the arts culture of the epoch when I met Leonov, and for whom today’s ideas and theories will be nothing more but an episode of the development of humanitarian thought – an episode less significant that actual facts and life incidents.

The blinders of personal mental constructions often prevent the contemporary from noticing the significance of the events he witnesses. This is why historians value the accounts of simple-hearted memoirists, where the meticulous chronology and detailed description of life open up things just as interesting as important historians’ writings to our descendants.

The documentation and archiving of the contemporary life – including the cultural life – has a delusively universal character. The flow of news tells us, on a daily basis, of the life of a rather limited circle of people – those in politics, show-business and so on. The photo- and tele-fixation on the daily life usually pursues aims of an ideological character – or others – but the selection is dictated by the goals standing before the correspondent or author of the telecast. The image of today’s – and yesterday’s – domestic cultural life is assembled with the help of mass communication in accordance with their own goals, so, most likely, how we lived, worked and travelled will forever remain a mystery for the future residents of Russia.

The panorama of visual arts will also be drawn differently, which is beyond doubt, because it has already become a law: whatever concerns the contemporary masses will be forgotten and devalued as a consequence and other names will emerge on the foreground.

The history of art in itself is not a scheme drawn up once and for all like the periodic table of elements; just like history is politics dipped into the past – as the saying goes – the history of art is cultural life seeking foundation.

I am writing for those who are only just shaping their choice, their artistic taste. Knowledge on certain terms, and how amateur creative works have been considered and regarded over the last century, will not burden a beginner arts fan.

Naïve arts – is a term used to define quite a wide circle of works created outside professional schools and have specific artistic characteristics. The term originated in the French arts critique and is far from perfect. The art itself is full of wisdom and holds many deep meanings of human existence. It is the creators of these paintings that should be called naïve – the people out of this world, somewhat eccentric, creating without looking back at art schools, out of contact with the problems of their contemporary paintings. These artists are naïve in the way they – to express myself in the modern language – position themselves with respect to their surrounding world.

The term naïve artist is now applied regardless of economical foundations of the life of the painting’s creator. During the Soviet period, the contraposition to the status of a professional (member of the Artist Union, a man living on his own royalties) and an amateur artist (a dilettante, creating work as a hobby, not selling his paintings) was important. However, this opposition was born during the period when the arts market was not yet present, and the government aimed to take full control over the artistic creative work.

In our opinion, a professional differs from a naïve artist in the manner of creating his work, rather than social status.

An artist who had undergone professional training creates work in accordance with all the rules and laws, consciously determining his goals as precisely artistic. Of course, intuition, fantasies and imagination play an important role, but they must be kept under control by the professional knowledge.

A naïve artist creates his work under the influence of the impulses coming from his subconscious mind. Usually, the incentive stimulus for artistic creation is the desire to preserve oneself as an individual during a critical life moment, imprint one’s dreams and visions. For a naïve artist, the creation process is just as important as the result. It could be said that he experiences a drive precisely during the process of creation, which, first and foremost, is an act of autocommunication for him.

A synonym to the phrase naïve artist is the term primitive. This particular term is much older – even wider in definition. The opportunity to apply the term primitive to naïve art has to do with the fact that a naïve artist – like an archaic man or a child – includes the basic elements of art forms, the simplest, primitive methods of visual content. It is the application of the simplest methods of visual content and the children’s spontaneity of their connection that make up the characteristic features, by which a piece of creative work can be classed as naïve.

In history, the term primitive was applied to areas in arts that had already raised interest, but were not yet included in the socially accepted hierarchy of art. In this way, Italian artists of the Giotto epoch, masters of African sculptures, and the creators of the Russian lubok were called primitives.

The term primitive entered our domestic culture thanks to the artists of the Russian vanguard. In this denomination they united the Scythian stone women, the lubok, city signboards, and the paintings of the Georgian autodidact – Niko Pirosmanashvili. In their own artistic ‘doings’ they aimed to be similar to the masters of primitive, in order to obtain the primeval power of self-expression and overturn the academic system of arts that they set off against.