Black and White and Dominant

The Artist (or the “Artist-Socialist”) as Spectacle – April 4, 1891 (Page 285)

Walter Crane’s two-part “In Memory of the Commune of Paris” stands at the center of my examination. The very inclusion of Crane’s work within a conventional journal at the end of the century is surprising: he became an avowed socialist in 1884, and in 1888 founded the Arts & Crafts Movement, a group largely antagonistic towards the machinery of the mainstream press (DNB). Because of these politics, Crane’s work isn’t presented as just another piece of reputable art – i.e. “Pictures of the Royal Academy” or “The Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace,” the likes of which strive to cement the periodical’s ties to the British establishment. Instead, Crane’s illustration – stark and eloquent, though its feminized allegorical symbolism now seems a bit hackneyed – is pinned with a disclaimer:

(The illustration) is presented as an example of Mr. Crane’s artistic work and of his political views. The Commune is commonly regarded in England as a meaningless carnival of riot and vice. Mr. Crane and many of his fellow Socialists regard it as an interesting attempt to establish an ideal form of government.

Black and White marginalizes Crane by separating his politics from the popular English view (“commonly regarded”), using violent verbiage that makes clear its own proud affiliation with the latter. Thus the “Artist-Socialist,” to use the paper’s pet name for Crane, is presented as a political oddity, which in turn amplifies the authoritative voice of Black and White. This power struggle is accentuated by the separation of the illustration from its accompanying poem by no less than ten pages. Much more than finding it “interesting,” the poem deifies the socialist experiment, charging not only that it has been “Maligned [and] betrayed,” but that “her blood lies still upon the hands that slew./ E’en now…” More than merely celebrating the Commune, Crane emphatically condemns the mainstream forces that stood (and still stand) against it. Black and White is ironically a member of that mainstream, thanks especially to its haughty criticism (“meaningless carnival of riot”). Perhaps it was to protect itself from this ire that the journal separated Crane’s text from his image, literarily marginalizing the poem into the bottom corner of an earlier page. The journal thus benefits by dampening Crane’s anti-mainstream vitriol, condescendingly placing this vital “Socialist-Artist” on display and subverting his message.

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