Total Works of Art

I was particularly struck this week by Koenraad Claes’s “Introduction” to The Late-Victorian Little Magazine in which he discusses how little magazines attempt to reach the status of “Total Work of Art” — the German aesthetic ideology that sought to offer cohesion and organization to a work.

This “integration of medium and message” results in sites of cross-medial art and literature that seeks to present a complete work of seemingly composite, miscellaneous, and disparate works (1). The amount of work and attention to detail that it takes to put together a cohesive work of different authors and artists (each with their own differing intentions, backgrounds, and talents) for a single audience is impressive and speaks to the power and talent of the Editor of these little magazines. Claes argues that “this attention to design as well as production and distribution processes was what set these little magazines apart from the periodicals of the perceived mainstream against which they opposed themselves” (5). This means that the Editor, or perhaps more specifically the Art Editor, was responsible not only for trying to create a Total Work of Art, but also occupying this space as literary rebel and counter-culturalist whose aim was to go against mainstream ideas of what media can be.

I think it is so impressive, and frankly inspiring, that these Editors could (or at least endeavour to try) do so much with their little magazines. The audience is the most important component of any kind of media, so crafting something that is dialogic AND cohesive is quite an undertaking.


Work Cited

Claes, Koenraad. “Introduction.” The Late-Victorian Little Magazine, Edinburgh University Press, 2017, pp. 1-15.