Strange objects: surface reading popular art periodicals

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Drawing on a private collection of popular British art periodicals from the 1920s to the 1950s, loaned to me during the COVID-19 pandemic, this article explores different ways of reading these magazines’ visual and verbal contents. It takes the unique circumstances of the pandemic—inability to travel, or to access libraries and archives—and asks what we can learn from reading such magazines in isolation. Designed as an “experiment,” it foregrounds acts of questioning and of description, placing an emphasis on curiosity and open-ended enquiry. Inspired by Sharon Marcus and Stephen Best’s ideas around “surface reading,” I use the collection to develop a taxonomy of image-text interactions in art periodicals such as The Studio, Colour, Drawing and Design, The Art Gallery, and Modern Masterpieces. To examine how these interactions worked in practice, I focus on The Artist (1931-present). Using creative-critical approaches, including my own practice as a watercolorist, I examine how didactic pairings of words and images helped to teach an amateur audience how to create their own art. Throughout, I seek not just to introduce readers to a new set of magazines, but to question what modes of enquiry and forms of expression constitute “proper knowledge” in periodical studies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)142-180
JournalJournal of Modern Periodical Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2022


  • art periodicals
  • surface reading
  • word-image studies
  • art education
  • The Artist

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • History
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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