Protest Art in Pre-Revolutionary Russia

Students will read and analyse short stories by Anton Chekov and Leo Tolstoy that illustrate the class conflicts of pre-revolutionary Russia. They will then create their own art, which will contain veiled criticisms of the same era in Russian history OR a specific political/social issue evident in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia ,United States today.

2-3 class periods (approximately 45 minutes each)

Students will:

  • understand the class conflicts that were at the heart of the Russian Revolution from the perspective of two of the most renowned writers in Russian history.
  • learn to analyze literature and go beyond the surface of the stories to find criticisms of pre-revolutionary Russia.
  • have a chance to create their own pieces of art/literature that convey effective political messages.
  • How Much Land Does a Man Need? by Leo Tolstoy
  • "The House with the Mansard (An Artist's Story)" by Anton Chekov
  • Miscellaneous materials to create protest art (pictures, paintings, sculptures, stories) such as crayons, paint, 'card board','poster board');?>, clay, old magazines, glue, etc.
    1. The project is most effective when it follows readings and discussions of the events and atmosphere of pre-revolutionary Russia.

    2. Have the students read the two short stories for homework and then begin the first class with a discussion of the characters and plots of the two stories. Ask the students to look beyond the surface of the story and decipher the social/political messages Chekov and Tolstoy were trying to convey. Why did they choose these settings? What classes do the individual characters represent? What are the motivations, obvious and hidden, of the characters in light of the students knowledge of pre-revolutionary Russia?

    3. At this point you might want to show other examples of protest art and literature from other countries or eras. Two ideas are the painting Guernica by Pablo Picasso, and "The Weavings of War," an article about women in Afghanistan who design their homemade rugs with images of war.

    4. Ask the students to create a story, picture, painting, sculpture, or collage that follows the style and purpose of Chekov and Tolstoy. Their piece can critique pre-revolutionary Russia or, if you want to expand the topic,'present-day Canada','the present-day United Kingdom,'present-day Australia','the present-day United States. If you need to save class time, the students could create their art at home and bring it to class at the end of the week while you continue with lessons on the Russian Revolution.

    5. The next class can be spent analyzing and presenting the students' art. Put the students' desks in a circle, have the students place their art on their desks and then ask the students to spend the next 10 minutes quietly walking around examining all the artwork. They should not ask any questions during this time.

    6. When the students have finished observing the works of art, they should return to their seats. Then ask each student to share his/her observations about one piece of art (NOT his/her own work). Who or what is the artist criticizing What symbols are being used? Is it an effective piece of protest art? Why or why not?

  • You may want to create a rubric that includes an assessment of each phase of the project. Example:
  • Students participation in the discussion of the short stories: Did he/she carefully read the stories for homework? Did he/she understand the hidden criticisms within the stories? Was he/she able to connect the plot of the story to the class's previous discussions of pre-revolutionary Russia? (20%)
  • Student's piece of protest art or literature: Did the student put a good deal of thought and creativity into his/her art? Did the art effectively express social/political criticisms of the society without being too obvious? (60%)
  • Student');?>'s participation in the final discussion of protest art: Did he/she spend time carefully analyzing other students' work? Was he/she able to articulate his/her observations to the other students? Did the student effectively explain his/her own piece of art? (20%)
  • Spend time exploring the Web for other examples of protest art.
  • Include a discussion of protest music – classical or contemporary.
  • Complete a longer study of Russian culture and art by reading Boris Pasternak's epic novel, Doctor Zhivago.


    • Understands reform, revolution, and social change in the world economy of the early 20th century
    • Understands the diverse events that led to and resulted from the Russian Revolution of 1905 (e.g., the Russo-Japanese War, "Bloody Sunday," the October Manifesto, groups agitating for political reform and those supporting radical changes)
    • Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies for reading a variety of literary texts
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  • Students will read and analyze short stories by Anton Chekov and Leo Tolstoy that illustrate the class conflicts of pre-revolutionary Russia. They will then create their own art, which will contain veiled criticisms of the same era in Russian history OR a specific political/social issue evident in the United States today.
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