El Lissitzky's entire career was laced with the belief that the artist could be an agent for change, later summarized with his edict, "das zielbewußte Schaffen" (goal-oriented creation). Lissitzky, of Jewish оrigin, began his career illustrating Yiddish children's books in an effort to promote Jewish culture in Russia, a country that was undergoing massive change at the time and that had just repealed its antisemitic laws. When only 15 he started teaching; a duty he would stay with for most of his life. Over the years, he taught in a variety of positions, schools, and artistic media, spreading and exchanging ideas. He took this ethic with him when he worked with Malevich in heading the suprematist art group UNOVIS.
During this period Lissitzky proceeded to develop a suprematist style of his own, a series of abstract, geometric paintings which he called Proun (pronounced "pro-oon"). The exact meaning of "Proun" was never fully revealed, with some suggesting that it is a contraction of proekt unovisa (designed by UNOVIS) or proekt utverzhdenya novogo (Design for the confirmation of the new). Later, Lissitzky defined them ambiguously as "the station where one changes from painting to architecture."
Proun was essentially Lissitzky's exploration of the visual language of suprematism with spatial elements, utilizing shifting axes and multiple perspectives; both uncommon ideas in suprematism. Suprematism at the time was conducted almost exclusively in flat, 2D forms and shapes, and Lissitzky, with a taste for architecture and other 3D concepts, tried to expand suprematism beyond this. His Proun works (known as Prounen) spanned over a half a decade and evolved from straightforward paintings and lithographs into fully three-dimensional installations. They would also lay the foundation for his later experiments in architecture and exhibition design. While the paintings were artistic in their own right, their use as a staging ground for his early architectonic ideas was significant. In these works, the basic elements of architecture – volume, mass, color, space and rhythm – were subjected to a fresh formulation in relation to the new suprematist ideals. Through his Prouns, utopian models for a new and better world were developed. This approach, in which the artist creates art with socially defined purpose, could aptly be summarized with his edict "das zielbewußte Schaffen" – "task oriented creation."
Jewish themes and symbols also sometimes made appearances in his Prounen, usually with Lissitzky using Hebrew letters as part of the typography or visual code. For the cover of the 1922 book Arba'ah Teyashim (Four Billy Goats; cover), he shows an arrangement of Hebrew letters as architectural elements in a dynamic design that mirrors his contemporary Proun typography. This theme was extended into his illustrations for the Shifs-Karta (Passenger Ticket) book.