What are your options?
You could attempt to escape the country.
Or you could abandon your ambitions or just create art privately.
Or you could pursue your ambition within the communist system.
The first option would be dangerous, perhaps deadly.
The second will not fulfill your ambitions and perhaps make you miserable.
The third would amount to collaboration, but what other choice do you have? Communism is the only system open to you, and it controls everything including education and the art world.
And would it be genuine collaboration if you secretly resisted the ideology in your own mind and thoughts?
Are those who quietly resist merely deluding themselves or is resistance, regardless of how subtle, an act of immense spiritual courage?
I explored these ideas in a brief scene I have excerpted from my novel below. I invite you to read it if you feel so inclined.
Under the watchful eye of Ms. Kálmán, Reinhardt spent several months slaving over paintings and drawings for the portfolio he would submit as part of his application to the University of Fine Arts in Budapest.
“The essence of socialism must permeate every last detail,” Ms. Kálmán said. She withdrew a large book from her desk and propped it open. Examples of socialist-realist art decorated the pages. “You see here,” she said pointing to an unnatural and idealized painting of a field with mountains in the background. “You see the pent up energy beneath the surface? The principals of socialism should be evident even in the composition of landscapes.”
Reinhardt took the book home and studied it meticulously. He absorbed the basic rules of socialist art and began sketching out some rough ideas of his own.
“What are these monstrosities?” Gertrude asked after Reinhardt had filled the table with sketch after sketch of robust, angular figures striding through fields of grain or striking grand poses before factories, shipyards, and train stations.
“Ms. Kálmán said I should idealize the human form and make every person I draw or paint should look like they had eaten communism for dinner.”
“Communism for dinner?” Gertrude said incredulously. She picked up a sketch of a masculine woman wielding a pitchfork. “In the morning, I bet this one shits nothing but red stars.”
A strange blend of shock and amusement overcame Reinhardt; it was the first time in his life he had heard his mother curse.
“I don’t approve of any of this,” she said as she placed the sketch back on the table. “It’s all lies.”
“It’s just a style of art.”
“It’s nonsense. If they accept you into this school, they’ll have you churning out this rubbish day and night until they turn your brain inside out and make you believe all of it is true.”
“I don’t believe any of this,” Reinhardt offered, his voice calm as he gingerly countered his mother’s objections. “I’m drawing these so I can get into the school.”
“This is a bad idea. I don’t know why I agreed to it. What will happen to you once you get up there?” Gertrude asked. She turned her back on Reinhardt and looked at the embroidered cloth containing the old town emblem. “Do you think they’re going to just let you do whatever your heart desires?”
“They’re going to teach me how to be an artist.”
“They’re going to teach you how to become one of them.”
“I won’t let them do that.”
“It is easy to say that now, but once you get up there they’ll figure out a way to put a red star in your head the same way the Germans who came to the village during the war succeeded in putting the crooked cross in the heads of so many. And what good did that do? Within a few months they rounded up the Jews in Pécs. Later, it was our turn.”
“I’ll pretend I have a red star in my head. I’ll play along so I can get what I need, the same way you do, the same way everyone does.” He paused for a second; Gertrude did not appear to be assuaged. “What other choice do I have? We all have to make compromises. And it’s not as bad as it used to be. You’ve said so yourself.”
“Will you be able to sleep at night knowing you’ve created nothing but lies and absurdities?”
“Will I be able to sleep at night if I don’t become an artist?” Reinhardt cried. “What will I do if I turn this down? Become a bricklayer and build garish eyesores for party members or the proletariat? It doesn’t matter because in the end I’d still be working for them, building up the world the way they want it built. You’re no different. Every morning you go out into the fields that used to be ours and you toil to fill the stomachs and fuel the hearts of true-believers and party members and Russian soldiers.” Reinhardt paused to regain his composure. He continued, in a softer voice, “Don’t you see, Mother? We like to think we’re not a part of it and that hanging a white stag on the wall and keeping our Swabian names somehow puts us above it all, but it doesn’t. We are all accomplices. Every last one of us.”
Gertrude became pale as she stared at the white stag in the old town emblem. Reinhardt shook his head and tried to refocus on his work. It took him less than a minute to realize he would be unable to do anymore that day. He dropped his pencil and grabbed his coat.
“I’m going for a walk,” he called back to his mother. “I need to clear my head.”