Report by Bryn Cavin
The Seven Arts literary magazine was founded in November 1916 by James Oppenheim, with help from associate editors Waldo Frank and Van Wyck Brooks. The magazine was published monthly in New York until October 1917, when it lost its funding and was absorbed by The Dial. Oppenheim intended for his magazine to “transform American life through the arts,” and saw The Seven Arts as “not a magazine for artists, but an expression of artists for the community” (MJP, Oppenheim 53). As referenced in the title, the magazine published writing and criticism on the topics of music, dance, architecture, and the graphic and plastic arts, but its central concerns were literary criticism, fiction, and poetry.
Oppenheim and his editorial team firmly believed that their magazine could bring about the establishment of a national art. In a statement sent out in the months prior to the publication of the first issue, the editors wrote “It is our faith and the faith of many, that we are living in the first days of a renascent period, a time which means for America the coming of that national self-consciousness which is the beginning of greatness” (Oppenheim 52). This did not mean, however, that the Seven Arts’ editorial team desired to choose any one style of writing as the designated national style. They refused to “adhere to a specific ‘ism,’” preferring instead to create a national art by publishing work that they felt embodied the American experience in a a variety of ways (Index of Modernist Magazines).
The Seven Arts was a deeply political journal, publishing many controversial works which criticized the involvement of the United States in World War I, even though Oppenheim had initially tried to curate a “balance between artistic expression and political revelation” (Revolvy). These contentious articles included several by Randolph Bourne, a pacifist writer and critic whose anti-war pieces caused him to be shunned by The New Republic, a magazine to which he had been a regular contributor since its first issue was published in 1914. Bourne’s essays, including “Twilight of Idols,” which was published in the final issue of The Seven Arts, call out by name individual supporters of the war, as well as publications that printed writing in support of it. He refers to pro-war policies as “intellectual suicide,” and states that “one has a sense of having come to a sudden, short stop at the end of an intellectual era” (Bourne 694, 695). The Seven Arts’ political biases were what ultimately led to its collapse in 1917. One of the magazine’s main patrons, Annette Rankine, withdrew her support after being pressured to do so by her family, who were in favor of the US’s involvement in the war and took issue with how outspoken the magazine’s editors and contributors had become.
Oppenheim clearly believed in the importance of a national identity, but does not support a nationalistic, blind patriotism as an element of that national identity. The Modernist Journal Project’s website states that “instead of promoting an avant-garde at odds with the wider public, this magazine sought to catalyze an American cultural renaissance by building a distinctively American culture for a national American audience” (MJP). Casey Blake wrote that “the posthumous idealization of The Seven Arts reflects a widespread sentiment, on the part of its survivors and historians, that the journal was itself part of a ‘potential America’ crushed in the stampede to total war, antiradical hysteria, and ‘normalcy’” (Blake 123).
Blake, Casey Nelson. Beloved Community: The Cultural Criticism of Randolph Bourne, Van Wyck Brooks, Waldo Frank, and Lewis Mumford. University of North Carolina Press, 1990.
Bourne, Randolph. “Twilight of Idols.” The Seven Arts, vol. 2, no. 6. 1917. https://library.brown.edu/cds/repository2/repoman.php?verb=render&id=1349201359578127&view=pageturner&pageno=29.
Henderson, Alice Corbin. “The Seven Arts.” Poetry, vol. 9, no. 4. 1917. https://www.jstor.org/stable/20571045?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents.
Oppenheim, James. The Seven Arts. 1916-1917. http://modjourn.org/render.php?view=mjp_object&id=SevenArtsCollection accessed May 2019.
“The Seven Arts.” Jrank.org. 2019. http://www.jrank.org/literature/pages/5713/Seven-Arts.html accessed May 2019.
“The Seven Arts.” Revolvy.com. 2019. https://www.revolvy.com/page/The-Seven-Arts accessed May 2019.
“The Seven Arts.” Index of Modernist Magazines. 2019. https://modernistmagazines.org/american/the-seven-arts/#1464124281476-e258061f-11951ebf-2cd7 accessed May 2019.