An F. Again!

No, this is not about the ubiquitous four-letter word. “F” here is the school grade for “failure”. This is one of the socialist realism paintings that each and every student in the Soviet Union knew about from their textbooks. It is titled “Again an “F” and was done by Fedor Reshetnikov in 1952, an Academic painter loved by the authorities. His heritage is bizarre. His portraits of Stalin had been thrown out. His landscapes had been all “exported” mainly to the US. In the last 20 or so years, this painting has been seen as his most famous, so today the artist and his heritage are often described as “the painter of a single painting” .

It has everything a model painting of this genre (long dead now) had been required to have.

All the characters are positive, but one of them did something wrong for which he is being “lectured” by other positive characters.

All the “good” positive characters are on the right side, the only “bad” positive character is on the left side.

There are a few details that are also meant to communicate the message, “One must learn well, and follow in the steps of Lenin who was an exemplary student all his life”. This painting was one of the best educational aids in the Soviet Union and most kids hated it precisely for the way it reflected their own feelings about “bringing home an F”.

In particular, there’s a poster on the wall showing a cadet coming home to his granddad, obviously being awarded the leave for his excellence in learning. This poster serves a benchmark of what is expected from the sad boy in front of the viewer.

The window is a symbol of whatever you want it a symbol to be. Of the outside world where other good people are building the first society of peasants and workers, for instance.

The mother is sad, almost killed by her grief.

The elder sister is reproachful (she’s a good student)

The younger brother feels the unease of the situation but is looking up to his elder brother nonetheless; it’s probably an idea of playing with the “bad” boy that he mulls over of at the moment.

The dog is just happy to welcome the boy home (showing us that deep down the boy is good).

The boy is ashamed. Ice skates that stick out of his torn and worn briefcase hint at the boy’s playing hooky. He can’t meet the eyes of his mother, sister, brother, and dog. Deep shame, indeed.


Social realism can be fun, but only if it is not taken seriously.

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