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I have been following this "debate" of art vs craft with some interest these
past two weeks. I agree with with all parties involved who state that it has
become tedious..., but also with those who are discussing it. A book is also one of
the few art forms which has to function, physically, it has to be well
constructed. I have a problem with "artists books" which are
mechanicaly unsound, no matter how good the rest of the book is. A book
object such as the carved granite one we have on display here at the Krock
Library at Cornell, represents a book, but it is not a book! It is a
sculpture. Yes there are binders who push this (Philip Smith, Jan Sobota to
name two) but their creations all function as books and are sound. They
don't all fit on the shelf, and beg to be displayed as sculptures, but they
are books. Design bindings, fine editions.. aren't selling well right now.
Many of our collegues are trying very hard to continue doing what they do
best. The book itself, just doesn't have the same role in our society here
as it does in Europe. People don't read. The intellectual elite does but Joe
Lunchbucket doesn't nor do our kids in school. A book doesn't mean the same
thing as say a painting which you can hang on a wall for all to see. A book
demands a higher level of attention, it demands to be read, and the binding
should be in harmony with the text, inviting the reader in. We don't have to
get into whether it should interpret the text or not... but it is an
introduction. And yes, there is a difference between a nicely bound well
"crafted" book, and a design binding which is an art in it's own right.

On a different note, I strongly encourage all presses, papermakers,
printmakers, marblers or binders out there  to let the rest of us know what
is available. The last Guild of Book Workers show attempted to raise the
overall level of quality by specifying letterpress books as did the Chicago
Hand Bookbinders exhibition. It helps to raise the book to the level of a
"Gesamptkunstwerk", which it is. If you print a title, or have found one you
really enjoy, let the rest of us know where to find it. As binders we're
always looking for suitable books to bind, something more enduring than that
paprerback we love to read, but which isn't worth binding.

Peter Verheyen


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