An Interdisciplinary Symposium
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?