While it is true that the arts of a country provide us with invaluable information whereby we may furnish the dry bones of history with life and thought, it is equally true that at least a smattering of social history is necessary for the right appreciation of its arts. A background is needed, against which may be set the products of the various arts in order that we may picture the conditions which, at various times and in certain circumstances, have given birth to its architecture, painting, sculpture and applied arts--a background which will serve to bind together the individual activities of its artists into a coherent whole.
But just as a stage setting, however clever its décor, only helps to create the intelligible scene and so complete the picture when the action of the artistes is in progress, so it is felt that in considering the arts of Russia an historical background will be effectively useful only if woven in with the account of its artistic activities. Hence in the pages to follow it is the author's intention to incorporate with an account of Russia's arts throughout the ages, brief glimpses of those historic events which by gradually unfolding the pertinent details of its past will enable the reader to estimate at true value the contribution made to the world's artistic heritage by this all too little appreciated people.
As we know, the Russia of to-day is separated from the Russia Of the past by a great social revolution--a seemingly complete break away from the social, political and economic structure of the Grand Princely and Tsarist régimes. Even so, the spirit of Russia, the spirit of its peoples, lives on, to a great extent unchanged; or only so much changed as is to be expected after so critical an operation performed upon the body politic of the past.
Even revolutions do not radically change human nature or so far influence racial characteristics as to produce an entirely new national psychology. The Russian will always remain a Russian, product of a slow process of evolution through the centuries, originally composed of many and varied elements each bringing its own contribution to the resultant type. For this reason, if for no other, past history and past achievements in the realm of the arts must retain their interest, even to the Russians themselves. And for others who have, perhaps, never attempted to understand this virile race, or even recognised that it had its own indigenous arts so worthy of attention, it is more than ever important that we should take every opportunity of studying its past and present achievements, since only from such a study can we hope to reach that understanding necessary as a foundation for closer collaboration in world affairs.