“What is modernism? What should Latin American art be? What is your attitude towards art today?” Such are the questions posed to artists and writers through the questionnaire, a ubiquitous genre issued by magazine editors to their contributors to assess a community’s shared political or artistic purpose.
While the questionnaire can be traced to the paragone of the Italian Renaissance, wherein the merits painting and sculpture were actively debated, it first appeared in newspapers starting in the late 19th century. While some of these questionnaires focused on aesthetic preoccupations, such as the 1905 Mercure de France questions, “Is Impressionism finished? Can it renew itself?” others mined the intersection of art and politics, like the 1926 “Negro in Art” questionnaire in Crisis. As modernists adapted the questionnaire to suit its various projects, it also playfully reinvented it, as in the case of the 1929 Little Review questionnaire that culminated with the question “Why do you go on living?”
Because modernist magazines enabled communities to form across geographic and cultural boundaries, they also generated anxiety about a group’s shared purpose. While the manifesto is prescriptive, the survey is often retroactive; the two serve as bookends for an editorial project or print community. Questionnaires functioned as transnational communities’ print proxies, revealing both the individual and collective concerns and reinforcing their alliances. Such a means of self-assessment persists, as evidenced by October’s 2009 questionnaire on contemporary art.
As I continue to work towards theorizing the genre, I am also creating an index of all the questionnaires I can find and would love your input!