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We make an excursion into the 1920s, marked by the appearance of the Higher Artistic and Technical Workshops, which turned the idea of ​​the artist’s work, get acquainted with the principles of teaching and find out why the workshops were so quickly abolished.

The Higher Artistic and Technical Workshops (VKHUTEMAS) became the first post-revolutionary educational institution for the training of creative personnel and the place where Soviet design education was born. Over the 10 years of the institute’s existence, about 1,500 artists, sculptors and architects graduated from it. Within the walls of VKHUTEMAS, new teaching methods were developed, among the teachers were representatives of the avant-garde, constructivism and rationalism.

The history of the institute, where the artists who determined the development of Soviet and Russian art were trained – in the story of Alexandra Selivanova, curator of the exhibition “VKHUTEMAS-100. School of the avant-garde ”at the Museum of Moscow.

A joint article by and the Mosgortur agency.

The era before VKHUTEMAS

Before the October Revolution, art education in the country was administered by the Academy of Arts, established by the Senate in 1757. For over 100 years, the academy was the only higher education institution in the country where the fine arts were taught according to European standards. Not everyone could go there: training was paid and only for men.

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In 1918, the academy was abolished and the State Free Art Workshops (GSHM) were opened, introducing a radically new principle of organizing training: entrance exams were abolished, women were accepted on an equal basis with men, and the presence of primary education became an optional criterion – only a desire to study was required for admission. Classes were built on the principle of training in individual workshops, the applicant himself chose the master to whom he wants to go.

GSKhM were created on the basis of two large educational institutions – the Stroganov Art School, which became GSKhM I, and the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture (GSKhM II). In the buildings inherited from the schools closed in the same year (buildings on Myasnitskaya and Rozhdestvenka), professional artists taught the students of the workshops the basics of the art of painting, graphics and sculpture.

Two years later, it became clear that the new educational institution could not avoid perestroika: students and professors were dissatisfied with the lack of a clear program, and the country needed professional art personnel to work in industry. In the fall of 1920, GSKhM I and II were united into one educational institution, on the basis of which the Higher Artistic and Technical Workshops – VKHUTEMAS – were opened.

Creation of VKHUTEMAS

The resolution of the Council of People’s Commissars on the opening of the VKHUTEMAS in Moscow was signed by Lenin in December 1920, but the institution began to work in the fall. According to the documents, VKHUTEMAS was a special art and technical educational institution, which trained “artists – masters of the highest qualifications for industry, as well as instructors and leaders for vocational education.”

The workshops were very different from the previously existing art educational institutions: here they taught art not for the sake of art, but trained artists who reform the life, included in the life processes of society. VKHUTEMAS had eight faculties: three art (architecture, sculpture and painting) and five production (textile, printing, ceramic, woodworking and metalworking). The latter two were later combined into one faculty with the sonorous abbreviation “dermetfak”.

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One of the main methodological innovations of VKHUTEMAS was a propaedeutic, introductory course. Regardless of the chosen specialty, all students for the first two years had to study at the main department, formed from preparatory courses from different faculties. Here they studied the basics universal for all specialties – color, graphics, volume and space.

The propaedeutic course consisted of scientific and technical, artistic and humanitarian and social disciplines, which formed the basis of the general education of students. Thanks to the introductory department, students of VKHUTEMAS became universal specialists. Over time, the courses of the main department changed, the duration of training decreased, but the main base of introductory disciplines existed at VKHUTEMAS until its closing.


During its existence, VKHUTEMAS had three rectors: Efim Ravdel, Vladimir Favorsky and Pavel Novitsky. The first was more focused on the avant-garde direction in art and was a supporter of a teaching system in which students received knowledge by completing a certain artistic order. Pupils and teachers did not like the idea of ​​focusing only on industrial art, and in 1923, at the request of students, the People’s Commissariat of Education of the RSFSR appointed a new rector – Vladimir Favorsky.

The new leader managed to find a compromise between teachers – traditionalists and avant-garde, settled the conflict of production and art faculties that arose under Ravdel, and finally consolidated the main department, which is mandatory for all, in the structure of VKHUTEMAS. Under Favorsky in 1923, entrance exams appeared and an art workers ‘faculty (workers’ faculty) was opened, where workers and peasants were trained to enter the workshops.

In 1926, Favorsky was replaced by Novitsky and immediately brought forward the production faculties – the third rector relied on the training of industrial specialists, for which VKHUTEMAS was originally created. Under Novitsky in 1928, the institution was renamed the Higher Artistic and Technical Institute (VKHUTEIN), classes at the main department were reduced to a year, and the entire period of study was increased from four to five years. The main task of the institute under the new rector was to train a new type of specialists – production artists who are able to perform specific work of a production nature.


Over the years, great masters of Soviet art taught in the workshops: sculptors Vera Mukhina and Alexei Babichev, architects Moisey Ginzburg and Nikolai Dokuchaev, artists and graphic artists Pyotr Miturich and Wassily Kandinsky, pioneers in design El Lissitzky and Alexander Rodchenko. VKHUTEMAS united teachers with different views and approaches to art: avant-garde artists Pyotr Konchalovsky, Ilya Mashkov and Vladimir Tatlin worked together with Ivan Zholtovsky, Alexei Shchusev and Vasily Yakovlev, who were not close to the avant-garde attitudes. Teachers who belonged to different ideological camps were united by a formal analytical teaching method. At all faculties of VKHUTEMAS, students were aimed at active intellectual work, forced to analyze reality, and not copy it.

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Classes in individual creative workshops were also common. The painting faculty was a striking example of such an organization of the educational process. His students could freely choose a master and move from workshop to workshop – from Mashkov to Kuprin, from Kuprin to Falk. The rest of the faculties consisted of departments, each of which had several departments.


“The age and social composition of the students was extremely varied. Many fought the Civil War … There were many students from the distant, then provincial outskirts of Russia, a large percentage were workers’ faculty members, and the age ranged from eighteen to forty or more years, “the artist Valery Alfeevsky recalled about his studies at VKHUTEMAS.

Conflicts rarely arose between students, the descendants of the professorial families calmly got along with people from the countryside. The first set of students studied Varvara Armand, the daughter of the famous revolutionary Inessa Armand. The girl lived in a hostel on Myasnitskaya, like the rest of the Vkhutemas. Once Lenin and Krupskaya came to visit her. That evening in 1921 later became one of the legends of VKHUTEMAS – the students told Vladimir Ilyich about their student life, fed him porridge and discussed the work of Mayakovsky, who often visited his friend Rodchenko’s hostel. The conversation about poetry was initiated by Lenin himself: Nadezhda Krupskaya recalled that he asked students if they read Pushkin. Vkhutemas members indignantly responded negatively, called Pushkin a bourgeois and said that they loved Mayakovsky. “Ilyich smiled:“ In my opinion, Pushkin is better, ”wrote Krupskaya.

The students’ leisure time was no less interesting than studying. The children staged performances, published wall newspapers and samizdat magazines, arranged creative evenings and dances, recited poetry and showed cartoons of teachers. There was enough space for sports: there were sections for boxing, shooting, rowing, volleyball. Some students made serious progress – for example, coach Alexander Deineka believed that it would be better for him to give up painting and become a professional boxer.

From the walls of VKHUTEMAS came artists whose names are forever inscribed in the history of Russian art: sculptors Nina Zelenskaya and Ilya Slonim, painters and graphic artists Alexander Labas and Yuri Merkulov, architects Tevel Shapiro and Anatoly Zhukov, icon painter Yevgeny Spassky, playwright and screenwriter Mikhail Volpin.

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Theory and practice

In VKHUTEMAS great importance was attached to the connection with production – the faculties sought to provide students with practice as much as possible. For example, the ceramic faculty had an agreement with the Dulevo porcelain factory, and the textile faculty had an agreement with Trekhgornaya Manufactory and the First Cotton Printing Factory. Students studied and worked in parallel, teachers also worked with students on the job. Lyudmila Mayakovskaya, who worked at the Trekhgornaya Manufactory, and Varvara Stepanova, who at the same time was a designer at the First Cotton Printing Factory, taught at the textile faculty.

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The Faculty of Architecture did not have a recurring curriculum from year to year. Teachers often gave students assignments related to current architectural competitions, and even involved them in real construction. For example, the Khavsko-Shabolovsky residential complex, where the Avant-garde Center is now located, was designed by student Nikolai Travin.

One of the most famous unrealized student projects is the Red Stadium, a huge sports center on Vorobyovy Gory with a stadium for several thousand people. Its construction was started, and students took an active part in it, but during the work landslides began and the project was closed.

The building of the Moscow Planetarium was built by VKHUTEMAS graduates – architects Mikhail Barshch and Mikhail Sinyavsky. After graduation, they remained to work there as assistants. When the competition for the planetarium project was announced, the venerable architects thought that it was not worth their attention, and Barshch and Sinyavsky presented their version and won.

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VKHUTEMAS students often carried out government orders. For example, for the III World Congress of the Comintern, which was held in Moscow in 1921, souvenirs were made at the keram faculty, and the polygraph was issued printed materials. Students took part in the decoration of city holidays. The All-Russian Agricultural and Handicraft-Industrial Exhibition of 1923 on Vorobyovy Gory was painted by students of the Faculty of Painting, sculptures were created by students of the Faculty of Sculpture, and buildings and pavilions were designed by students of the Faculty of Architecture.


In the late 1920s, a struggle against avant-garde art began, and the closure of VKHUTEIN was a logical consequence. Art now had to reflect the party line, be understandable and embody the authorities’ ideas about a better life. A variety of forms and styles became impossible – artists were required to have unity of means and goals, and socialist realism became the main trend in art. A few years before the disbandment of the institute, they gradually began to remove unwanted teachers and students. Numerous denunciations and internal conflicts led to the liquidation of the institute in 1930.

Some faculties managed to survive: some became part of new specialized institutions, others joined specialized universities. In the building on Myasnitskaya on the basis of the polygraphic faculty of the Leningrad and Moscow VHUTEIN, the Moscow Polygraphic Institute was opened, headed by the former dean and rector Favorsky, the textile faculty became part of the Textile Institute, and the architectural faculty remained on Rozhdestvenka and became part of the new Moscow Architectural Institute. Students and teachers of the sculpture and painting faculties were transferred to Leningrad, to the Institute of Proletarian Fine Arts, the ceramic faculty – to the experimental Institute of Silicates, which was closed almost immediately. The rest of the faculties were completely disbanded.

Many teachers of VKHUTEIN left pedagogy, and those who stayed left for the country. The system of teaching in art institutes has completely changed, all VKhUTEMAS educational developments were forgotten until the 60s of the XX century, when the teaching assistants of VKHUTEIN and the teachers themselves managed to return some of the methods to universities.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and or sentence structure not be perfect.

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