Winter 2006

The World Made Visible

Rick Poynor
History / Motif magazine [EXTRACT]

Motif, edited by Ruari McLean, was a quirky mix of art and illustration, with its roots in graphic art and typography

Motif magazine’s range of editorial interests was unusually broad for its time and, in the often highly segmented world of periodical publishing, it has rarely been equalled in Britain. An editorial in the first issue, signed by its editor, the late Ruari McLean, and its publisher, James Shand, quotes the nineteenth-century French writer and poet Théophile Gautier: ‘I am a man for whom the visible world exists.’ Motif, they go on to explain, ‘is a periodical for which the visible world exists’.

Over the course of thirteen issues, published from 1958 to 1967, Motif ran meticulously researched and beautifully illustrated articles about painting, sculpture, art education, graphic design, typography and lettering, illustration, photography, architecture, wood-engraving, and the history of the graphic arts. ‘Visual culture’ had yet to become a category of academic study and Motif’s urbane editor and publisher, whose careers began before the Second World War, would not have used the term. The magazine’s presentation of a wide array of visual arts on a more or less equal footing can nevertheless be seen as a prescient early example of a new way of documenting and appreciating the ‘visible world’.

The first editorial acknowledges a bias towards the graphic arts, yet McLean and Shand imagine the broadest possible readership for their journal. ‘Strenuous efforts will be made to make Motif appeal to the mind and eye of the non-specialist, the ordinary man who just wants to do exactly as he likes – but who is prepared to use his eyes to find out and evaluate what he likes.’ They emphasise the point in the second issue: ‘Motif is for the receptive whole man (whether, by profession, artist or laundryman) who can get visual pleasure from Pollock’s abstractions, Mies van der Rohe’s skyscrapers, Paolozzi’s sculptures, or Stewart’s sun, moon and stars.’ (Graphic artist Robert Stewart designed the cover and endpapers, and his work is also featured in the issue.) Motif’s content, they write, would continue to be ‘unrepentantly and deliberately various’. . .

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