Last year, President Putin pronounced 2014 the Year of Culture. I was fine with it, then. I was slightly more concerned about 2015. Would it going to be a year of less culture than 2014? And what about 2016: a year of zero culture?
My petty concerns aside, when Putin says something, the bureaucratic fervour with which that something is done, makes ER crews rushing patients to hospitals look like snails in deep meditation. He said, “culture”, and Russian bureaucrats darted off to locate, restrain, and put that “culture” patient on life-saving medication.
Weeks were passing by and… nothing happened. They couldn’t find the damn thing. By mid-May they realised they didn’t know what culture looked like when it was last seen.
So, the Ministry of Culture decided to produce a definition of culture that would help any law-abiding citizen to embrace it on sight.
Culture in Russia, from now on, is the cumulative deposit of differentiating characteristics, values, traditions, and beliefs that are specific to the way of life and art of the society or a social group.
The closest international definition clearly has more words in it:
International definition: Culture refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving.
I am not surprised to see fewer words in the Russian version: we, Russians, are known for our brevity. We don’t understand “small talk”; we don’t ask, “Are you OK” before helping people (yes, often against their will); we save time on pleasantries and point directly at things we want to take home. Too bad if the thing we want to take is your home (but we make sure your home runs a referendum to stop being your home). Perhaps, this is why “possessions” also don’t feature in the Russian definition. “Hierarchies” are omitted because there’s only a single hierarchy in Russia. If it is a constant, it can be abridged from the equation.
There’s no “knowledge” in the Russian definition, but it includes “art”.
At first, I was surprised to see “art” woven in, for the debate on what is art and what is not does not seem to be closed. The Ministry had the same concern, it seems, so they defined art further in the text.
The souls of warring philosophers, art historians, art makers, and art lovers may finally come to rest.
Art is one of the forms of manifestation of social consciousness, an integral part of the spiritual culture of the mankind, a method of the spiritual exploration and mastering of the world.
Yes, culture is defined via art, and art is defined via culture. This is called a recursion, a pedant’s nightmare, and a favourite of cynics, who believe “the culture of sex” and “the art of sex” are two very different things, at least in their ability to provide pleasant sensations. Google produces two very different sets of pictures, but make sure your computer is sufficiently protected before attempting to check it for yourself.
This may seem a fine definition until someone with a drop of common sense stumbles in and spoils the party. Not surprisingly, this is a very unlikely event in the Russian Ministry of Culture that’s headed by a guy who stole both of his PhD theses to get PhD’s in two different areas. He is still in possession of his PhD’s, and he’s still the Minister even though the web is bursting at the seams with court-worthy evidence. How creatively postmodernist is that?
So, the absence of logic is not a problem.
The biggest problem is that INDIVIDUALISM is totally excluded from both definitions. “Culture is blah-blah-blah society”. “Art is blah-blah-blah social blah-blah mankind”. Without an individual drive, desire, and effort both art and culture are doomed.
What if you make something that has not been an integral part of the spiritual culture of the mankind? Something totally new? Like Matisse’s cutouts? Oops. That’s won’t be art, for it had not been an integral part of the spiritual culture until the cutouts were made.
What if you make something that is not about exploring the world? No, says the Russian Ministry of Culture, that’s definitely not art that makes up culture that is made of art.
What if you make something that’s about your personal joy? No, you must produce babies each time you have sex, and don’t think about your own pleasure. Think about the value the babies you are making will bring to the society.
You know, they had a ministry of music in China in the 4th century BC. I’ve heard an opinion that this freeze-dried their music culture for a couple thousand years.
I am so sad this is happening in Russia now, and my only hope is that there will be less of the officially recognised culture next year.
Walk through this gallery of paintings and sculptures that are officially recognised as art in Russia to understand how a great culture can be destroyed.
If you hate it, drop me a line. Otherwise, I’d have to torture you with more of it, just like a producer of cheap flavoured booze, who promoted his stuff with,
“I bet you throw up after the first bottle, if not – you get another bottle free”.
If you are Kim Jong Un and would like the artists’ contact details, write me a nice letter, and promise you won’t kill the courier when he brings back my reply.