For many years, the West looked down scornfully on Soviet realism. Its naturalism and propagandistic bias was felt to be somewhat old-fashioned and rather naive. Nevertheless, this was a realism that made a resolutely modernist choice in its ideals of industrialisation and emancipation. In the period after 1917, this modernism took the form of a critique of capitalism, its institutions, its aesthetics and its bourgeoisie. From then on, art existed for the masses. That is not to say that Soviet realism simply depicted images from everyday life; on the contrary, it radiated an idealised and heroic perspective on reality.

Art works were not marketed under the Soviet regime, but while they may not have been for sale, they were in the business of selling the messages they depicted. The regime was responsible for disseminating reproductions of art works. Art was a means for making political publicity and propagating abstract ideas. It was quite commonplace in Soviet art to show books or newspapers, as well as people reading and writing or people setting forth their ideas. In that sense, Soviet art was conceptual art.

According to Lenin, film was ‘the most important of all the arts’, a pronouncement that, remarkably enough, brought Soviet art close to the surrealist body of thought.