n Slavic Almanac : The South African Journal for Slavic, Central and Eastern European Studies - From the French Synthetists to Zamiatin's concept of Synthetism to the grotesque

Volume 19, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1025-3386


The term 'synthetism' is associated with the style of symbolic representation of observed reality; it is applied to the style of paintings by the late 19th-century French painters (Gauguin, Bernard) who advocated the view that an artwork should synthesise the subject matter with the emotions of the artist and with aesthetic concerns, rather than offer a naturalistic representation. Soon, the use of the term was extended to other artistic domains, including literature, where it was embraced by the Symbolists. This article aims to examine, in brief, the transformation of the original meaning by juxtaposing it with the one proposed by Evgeny Zamiatin, who (in a number of writings towards the end of the 1920s, including an essay 'On synthetism') names synthetism as the creative method best suited to the representation of contemporaneity. For him, synthetism enables the modern artist to depict the complexities of modern life and to acknowledge the shift in the perception and understanding of reality that occurred as a result of recent scientific and technological discoveries. Thus, although Zamiatin was inspired by the French Synthetists and commended many of their formal devices for being useful to the new art, he placed their method in the wider context of their actual relationship with contemporaneity. In other words, Zamiatin invested the method developed by the French painters with a greater emphasis on content. It may also be said that the way in which he viewed both the role of art in general, and they way in which he interpreted modern art in terms of 'Synthetism' in particular, opened the door for an escalation of the grotesque and legitimised it as a mode of expression befitting the times.

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