‘Art is seduction not rape’ – Susan Sontag
A highbrow quotation, it’s true, but nevertheless one that aptly sums up the point of our magazine. Middlebrow is a magazine dedicated to the principles of art for enjoyment. Art that is not unintelligent, but wears its learning lightly – never using a long word where a short one will do, focusing on the sheer pleasure of the text, or the song, or the film, or pretty much whatever else we decide to turn our hand to. A dear friend of mine recently dismissed an artist’s new album on the basis that it had become ‘too accessible’ – his love of pretension, endearing as it is, is something we disagree with and it is this that has prompted us to actually do something concrete about our dislike.
As cultural forms become more pretentious and purposefully ‘difficult’, they becomes less and less enjoyable. I am thinking in particular of literature here, but the same is true of writing about film, music, politics, even food. Middlebrow has become a derogatory or a meaningless term, we want to reclaim it as a positive word. Middlebrow means to us a love of art of all kinds that you can lose yourself in, identify with and respect for its style and skill, whilst never feeling alienated or purposefully belittled. Middlebrow is the best of both worlds – the intelligence of the highbrow and the guilty enjoyment of the lowbrow things we all like but pretend we don’t. This feeling, or compulsion, is the result of a year of coming up against this term in a variety of ways through formal study, and finding both academic and popular attitudes to it unacceptable.
Good art should be accessible. Virginia Woolf’s own essays are middlebrow, despite her hatred of the word and style, and let her come and stab me if she wants to. While they deal with so called highbrow subjects, they are insightful, clear, concise, even funny. Modernist writers and artists, the inventors of the derogatory term middlebrow, used popular culture in their books and paintings, they used the world around them. George Orwell in his essay ‘Politics and the English Language’ called for simple, succinct writing. Today’s novelists, artists and musicians reject this style, and reject Orwell’s rules, continuing and exacerbating his criticisms in that essay that: ‘modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug’
The main aim of this magazine is to try to highlight the best of what has been before in middlebrow genres; what we like and what we don’t like, try to provide guidelines for fellow middlebrows. A disclaimer – our inner core are, or have been, literature students, and this is certainly our area of expertise – although possibly also the area most susceptible to academic-speak. However, we have a commitment to middlebrow entertainment of all kinds, and will probably end up touching on a bit of everything. We don’t suffer fools, and we plan to tell you so; we also like eating.