The Yellow Book: an Art Movement
Preface: A Discussion on Art
I wrote this narrative piece as a discussion between a magazine vendor in a train station and a bourgeois, upper-class businessman. I wanted to demonstrate the sense of entitlement and membership that can often be associated with art, and how The Yellow Book, though it had its own membership, nonetheless had included the working-class into their readership. I picked Aubrey Beardsley’s two images, “The Comedy-Ballet of the Marionettes I” and “The Comedy-Ballet of the Marionettes III” because their use of comedy and femininity reflect a cultural shift for the bourgeoisie delicacy. Alternatively, the images embody a sense of pleasure, indulgence, and beauty, with the juxtaposing ink and white space. The setting of the theater and the emphasis on women’s bodies points to the periodicals pervading aesthetic tastes. Further, The Yellow Book
demonstrated a fondness of the decadent and symbolist movement as demonstrated through both image and text. It was internationally notorious for its counter-cultural representation of art, for pushing the boundaries of modernity – and of conservative, Victorian puritanism. I wanted to focus on how it harnesses ‘provocative content’, such as female sexuality and the portrayal of women bodies. I wanted to recreate a moment where the little magazine’s avant-garde attitude could be captured in time, with movement and art. The provocative content made the periodical, and all of its volumes, cutting edge, contentious, experimental, and artistically radical. The Yellow Book presents an alternativeness that impels it away from mainstream culture – negating a space that rebels and offends. I want my fictional piece to capture how the branding made the readers believe: join us, participate in the current, the meta, and the morally questionable.
The Yellow Book Volume two, 1894
A Discussion on Art
“Come get your Yellow Book now, just printed, hot off the printing press!” the vendor at the train station shouted at the customers who showed the slightest interest, perhaps, even the smallest glace, at the brightly-colored yellow books propped up and stacked against the shelves.
“Is this the first volume, sir?” a flustered man asked the vendor, as he feverishly looked across the stall to the incoming train, wailing to a halt and pouring out customers. He gripped his leather briefcase tightly, the gold pendants shining.
“Don’t be silly, it’s not April anymore, it’s July! It’s the new volume, and it’s longer than the last!” the vendor assured him, pointing to the women known as Madame Rejane on the front cover. The dark black ink sets a provocative contrast to the illuminating bright mustard color, giving a slight indication of the radical contents inside.
“I don’t know if I care to read this…. this morally perverse book that calls itself an art,” the man tells the him. “It’s making a mockery of the bourgeois culture, its ridiculing morality, and its spitting in the faces of real, authentic artists, with taste and elegance” the man angrily told the vendor, his face burning a bright red from the heat of the summer and his offended virtue.
“Well sir, it’s a hit, the people love it, or they love to hate it, either way, it’s published everywhere, even in the colonies of Africa, even all the way across the Atlantic in America,” the vendor shrugged his shoulders.
“God how could they, with their inappropriate politics – look, here they have women’s bodies on display, the outline of her gown, the traces of her legs, her bloomers, just like that! Total disregard I tell you,” the man said as he flipped to page eighty-five in the ‘picture’ section of the finely printed white pages.
The title ‘The Comedy-Ballet of the Marionettes’ was written in typography, in small lettering across the middle of the page, delicately numbering the three separate lithographic prints. The page had no superfluous details, and no clutter, looking clean and clear compared to the squished columns of text displayed on the newspapers sitting across the stall.
He held the pages up to the man as if waiting for the vendor to jump back in horror, “Aubrey Beardsley, now he’s trouble,” the man said, shaking his head. “Where is the seriousness? Art is not comedy! It’s modest, it’s respectable” he mumbled again before handing the book back to the vendor.
“But could art be comedy, sir? The Yellow Book is avant-garde, it’s fresh, it’s different, it’s experimental, it pushes the boundaries of art, your art, it re-creates, it offers its own culture” the vendor said raising his brow, almost to elicit a response from the disgruntled man.
The man looked at him with disgust “Tomfoolery! Nonsense! You see, these periodicals do it on purpose, they make it controversial!” he shouted, bringing one hand to pinch the bridge of his nose, shaking his head. “It’s a shame to say but literature is not for the working class, for your people. It’s completely inappropriate! It goes against the conservative culture, against our values, for what? For beauty? For pleasure? This book is corrupting our society with sexuality and aestheticism!” the man says exasperated, before aggressively stomping away.
Beardsley, Aubrey. “Comedy-Ballet of Marionnettes II.” The Yellow Book 2 (July 1894): 89. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2010. Web. [Date of access]. http://www.1890s.ca/HTML.aspx?s=YB2_beardsley_comedy_II.html
Beardsley, Aubrey. “Comedy-Ballet of Marionnettes III.” The Yellow Book 2 (July 1894): 91. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2010. Web. [Date of access]. http://www.1890s.ca/HTML.aspx?s=YB2_beardsley_comedy_III.html
The Yellow Book 2 (July 1894).The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2010. Web. http://www.1890s.ca/