Thematic special issues have long been a mainstay of art-historical periodicals. Magazines such as Apollo, for example, would month on month present to their readers collections of articles focusing on topics which their editors felt were of current importance. 1978 saw the appearance of a new title in the field, the Oxford Art Journal, which from the fore dedicated itself to the publication of such collections of material. But whilst those magazines intimately allied with the market brought out special issues on subjects such as the history of collecting and taste, the Oxford Art Journal, by contrast, pursued new directions with the intention of addressing ‘those problems that face the more wide-ranging ambitions of the social history of art’. This paper examines in depth one such thematic collection, dedicated to the topic of propaganda, which came out in October 1980. Considering the periodical’s beginnings as a title originating from, as well being addressed to, a specific place and its inhabitants, the university city of Oxford, the subsequent radical agenda that it adopted is set against the backgrounds of both other magazines, in distinction to which it wished to be seen, and also the conservative cultural context from which it emerged. I argue that this special issue of the Oxford Art Journal must be thought of as not simply taking the idea of propaganda as its subject matter, but should also be viewed, in terms of its form, through its complex engagement with, for example, advertising, itself a propagandistic medium. In so doing, I put forward a model for approaching the art-historical periodical as embodying the politics of its visual and material nature.
Samuel Bibby is Managing Editor of the journal Art History. He is currently working on Art History as Things Seen: The New Art Historiography, a project which looks at art magazines and art-historical periodicals from 1970s Britain.