I Spy With My Little Eye

Today’s discussion of intended audience got me thinking about the Modernist ideal of active reading. In Modernist literature, many writers purposefully leave gaps in their text (see: fractured form) to encourage their readers to fill in the blanks and actively engage in their work. This can be extended to art more generally, but also—I think—to the artwork and illustrations from The Dial.

When an image offers excessive detail, it can do one of two things: it can either discourage the eye into glossing over its intricacies so that the work is taken in as a “whole”; OR it can invite the eye into a more “close-reading” of the image so that no detail is overlooked. If we take the latter approach, the images in The Dial, specifically its Volume 2 Front Cover Design by Charles Ricketts, open up a different kind of engagement. Each element of the piece is there for a reason and offers a different dimension of meaning and insight into the magazine as a whole. This is valuable when we taken into consideration the many different writers and artists contributing to The Dial, and how as I’ve mentioned numerous times in blog posts before, a “Total Work of Art” is the editorial goal.

My question is: how Modernist was Charles Ricketts (and other contributors of The Dial) in his conception of active reading (looking)? Is the viewer intended to spend time with the front cover, or is she meant to quickly flip past the cover in an attempt to start reading? Should we as post-modern readers be playing a game of “I Spy” with these little magazines?

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