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Beyond the Little Magazine: middlebrow print culture, 'art' literature and the formation of modernist taste in Britain, 1910-45

An Interdisciplinary Symposium 
Chair: Dr Louise Campbell ~ Respondent: Professor Michael Hatt
Wednesday 14th July 2010
10am -5.30pm, F204, Institute of Advanced Study, Millburn House
*Registration now closed**
The recent publication of the magisterial first volume of The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines (Britain and Ireland, 1880-1955: Brooker & Thacker, 2009), along with digitisation ventures such as Brown University’s blossoming Modernist Journals Project, testifies to the strength of current scholarly interest in early twentieth-century ‘little magazines’ as disseminators of avant-garde aesthetics, both literary and visual. Contributors have shown that the editors of these periodicals sought to carve out a space for the avant-garde in an increasingly commercialised literary market-place.
Yet the role of precisely those more mainstream or ‘commercial’ publications in the shaping of modernist taste remains open to investigation. For scholars interested in the broader circulation and reception of ideas about modernism in the visual arts specifically, in Britain - among them cultural and literary historians, historians of art and design and of visual and material culture - this symposium aims to describe the view of modern art from vantage points beyond familiar avant-garde territories such as Rhythm, Blast and Axis.

The rapid refinement of print technologies such as the three- or four-colour half-tone in the early twentieth century underpinned, in part, the flourishing of what might loosely be described as ‘art’ literature. We seek to give texture to the latter, with a focus on the ways in which it shaped or primed audiences for modern art. Alongside art journals and interior and consumer magazines, objects of interest might be popular ‘how-to’ art/design manuals, gallery guides, exhibition catalogues and trade manuals/journals. Also key are forms of art writing such as ‘local’ art journalism or educational literature. And in what kinds of other, more unlikely, places might one have read about the latest sculpture, for example?

Questions to consider: What sorts of canons of modern art did these publications establish, and for whom? How do these appear to relate, now, to the dominant historiographies of British modernism, or to the ‘insider’ narratives articulated in the little magazines? Further, how useful are terms such as ‘suburban’, ‘Northern’, ‘local’, ‘masculine’, ‘domestic’, ‘middlebrow’ or indeed ‘modern’ or ‘British’ in the mapping of taste within and across such publications? ‘Middlebrow’, a term whose first use is associated with the 1920s, was notably applied to certain kinds of readers as much as their novels. Alongside the current re-examination of this term (and its relationship to our understanding of modernism) in revisionary accounts of British literature in the interwar period, what, we might ask, are the parameters for the delineation of a middlebrow art literature and/or a middlebrow reading public for art?



(Fee: £5.00)
History of Art
Millburn House
University of Warwick