Lives of the interview: the development of the artist interview in twentieth-century Britain and the United States
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date21/04/2023
This thesis examines interviews with artists in Britain and the United States, mapping changes in their form, function and status over the twentieth century, and highlighting Transatlantic connections. The modern meaning of ‘interview’ only appeared in the late nineteenth century, immediately being regarded as a low form of journalism. Using case studies, this study demonstrates the complexity of artist interviews, overturning the simplistic perception of interviews as journalistic tools, apparently ‘neutral’ historical documents or as forms of oral history. I build on recent research into author interviews to determine what is specific about the artist interview. Based on a model of the interview as performative and co-constructed, this research shifts the emphasis away from the biography of the artist to the ‘biography’ of the interview itself. I track the stages in the production and dissemination of each case-study interview, emphasising the network of stakeholders and institutions involved. This method brings to light the many iterations an interview can take over time – from the unpublished material (recordings, scripts and transcripts) to different edited versions for print and broadcast. The thesis begins with a survey of artist interview broadcasts on BBC radio and television from the 1930s to the 1960s, comparing the pedagogical approach to art in pre-war interviews with the post-war emphasis on artists as public figures. It assesses the impact of innovations in broadcasting technologies, including the microphone and the portable tape-recorder. It considers social, cultural and political contexts, such as how the culture of the Cold War popularised the notion of ‘brainwashing’ through interviews. It then looks at the relationship between interviews and fiction in the 1960s through British social realist writer Nell Dunn’s book of conversations Talking to Women and American New Journalist Barbara Goldsmith’s interview profile of Warhol associate Viva, to consider how interviews affect the legacies of neglected artists. The final chapters focus on interview-led ‘little’ magazines (BOMB, Interview, index) published in New York from the 1960s to the 1990s, to explore artists’ relation to criticism and politics, including the AIDS crisis. These magazines pioneered experimental forms of interview transcription and a more egalitarian relationship between artists and their interlocutors.