An artist never works under ideal conditions. If they existed, his work wouldn’t exist, for the artist does not live in a vacuum. Some sort of pressure must exist. The artist exists because the world is not perfect. Art would be useless if the world were perfect, as man wouldn’t look for harmony but would simply live in it. Art is born out of an ill-designed world. This is the issue in “Andrei Rublev” (1966).
“I cannot help but wonder why they persecute me so”, Andrei Tarkovsky said. Soviet censors shortened Andrei Rublev by 25 minutes due to excessive religious symbolism. He was not allowed to make another film for six years following the release. Andrei Rublev is in fact a critique of the Soviet Union, of tyranny and oppression. He was allowed to make only 5 films during his filmmaking career in the Soviet Union and various project were left unrealised. Film critic Valery Fomin said: “Censorship left an enormous cemetery of films and unfinished projects in its wake. It wasn’t enough to ban or cut; they had to punish, as well. This acquired monstrous forms of public execution.”
Tarkovsky’s often-cited words on the uselesness of art in a perfect world, since in such a world we would live in harmony and wouldn’t strive to create artistic perfection, can be associated with our Fall from the Garden of Eden. Particularly our pursuit to create new worlds which can serve as reflections or memories reminding us of Lost Paradise and its perfection (Plato’s ideas if you like). Tarkovsky’s films are such reflections, perfect and pure, which possess a timeless quality.
Yet, the rest of the aforementioned quote deserves even closer scrutiny. We should ask ourselves how it is possible that under such hardships, innability to work and create, mankind has received one of its most cherished artistic works. Tarkovsky is, without a doubt, Russia’s Michelangelo. The right answer might be, that precisely because of such hardships, torments – they “spat on my soul” the director said – his works were possible. This doesn’t mean that artist feeds on the sufferings of others, like some are reported to do when they visit India, for example. On the contrary, the struggle, the very need to create a world which is the opposite of a bleak one in which tyranny of the spirit prevails, is the driving force behind art.
We must keep in mind that Tarkovsky in fact did create five films in the USSR, the tyranny over his soul was not complete. Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote: “The highest type of free men should be sought where the highest resistance is constantly overcome: five steps from tyranny, close to the threshold of the danger of servitude.“ This was, more or less, Tarkovsky’s position: he was in constant danger of artistic death, but managed to elude it, and his freedom was even greater than the type of freedom (or libertinage, Nietzsche would say) men in the West now enjoy.
Russia’s Michelangelo did not come into being solely because of his enormous artistic talent, but also because of the ill-designed world he was destined to live in. Michelangelo’s Florence exchanged republics for tyrannies in a matter of years, wars and diseases were frequent, yet, some men prevail and create for centuries to come. In the 20th century, totalitarian regimes were invented, they were a plague more devestating than medieval plagues. Andrei Tarkovsky overcame the plague and created everlasting works of art.