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Book Art History

On Oct 25, 1995 21:37:31, '"Louis H. Silverstein"
<SILVERS@yalevm.ycc.yale.edu>' wrote:

>misconception that Ms. Drucker is
>writing on the book arts.  This is incorrect!  The correct title of Ms.
>Drucker's new publication--at least the one being published by Steve Clay
>Granary Books--is "The Century of Artists' Books" which is
>described as "the first full-length study of the development of artists'
>as a twentieth century artform."  It is not a history or survey of
>century book arts.

So it's not the first and it's not on book arts. I'm not sure what
full-length means. Everything is as long as itself, unless abridged. I
don't even care about any of that. I just want to know if it's good and
accurate. Does it correctly identify the artists who created new ways of
approaching the book as cultural artifact?  Can't wait to read it. And look
at all the pre-publication attention it's getting!

But it does bring us back to the nomenclature issue. *Artists' Books* is a
subset of *Book Arts.* Some people include *Sculptural Bookworks* (from
artists like Barton Benes, Stella Waitzkin or Marty Greenbaum and their
lineage) as part of *Artist's Books.* I regard it as a separate category.
Fine Printing and Typography, Bookbinding, Papermaking, Marbling, and you
can add an awful lot of categories--type design, illustration, comic books,
photo books, ....

Until I get the chance to read Johanna's book I can't say what it's about.
We do know it's her most substantial comment on her view of what's been
going on in whatever she defines as *Artists' Books"-- and considering her
academic inclinations one would expect a substantially researched tome with
analysis of the works presented from a particular philosophical and art
historical viewpoint. This is just what the field needs-- and hopefully it
will be controversial enough and leave out enough that someone will get
upset enough to write another book. Maybe Steve Clay will publish a whole
series (the Bollingen of Book Arts). Pretty soon graduate students will be
writing more and more theses and dissertations about book art, and more and
more professors will maintain their academic credentials with publications
about it.

===> Perhaps some of our librarian listmembers would be kind enough to post
the basic catalog information (Title, Author, Publisher, Date, and maybe
brief description) about all the books on the history of book arts/artist
books/the book in their library's collection, so that those new to the
field will get a little sense of the scope of our subject!

And now I'll rant a little:

I'm all for enthusiasm. But many people who start making book art or artist
books just don't know what's been done. And I don't just mean this year or
century. Amazing work has been done for thousands of years. Everyone in
this field--artists, collectors, librarians, curators, writers (critics?),
dealers-- *needs* to spend at least a hundred days in museums, rare book
rooms, galleries, auctions, etc. seeing and touching THE REAL THING.
Looking at pictures of books may be something, but it's not going to get
anybody any knowledge of what it's really all about. Devote one day a week
to this for two years. Maybe then one gets a glimmer of where to begin. See
what's out there.

Look at a bunch of ancient Egyptian scrolls-- they're so MODERN looking!
Page design hasn't changed much in three thousand years. Look at bindings
of all periods and places, both the common ones and those by the great
binders. Handle the incunabula-- the ones in original bindings.
Particularly with hardware (chains, bosses, clasps). See how the hinges
work, how nicely they open and close. Feel it. So much of a book is about
weight, texture, smell, mechanical action. Go to the Louis Stern collection
at MOMA in NYC, and go through a few hundred "Livres d'Artiste" in the
Vollard tradition. Go to the Getty Center for the History of Art and the
Humanities in Santa Monica and spend a week with their DADA material-- they
have Jean Brown's collection from the Shaker Seed House. Get a hold of a
few books of William Blake's (not facsimiles). Look at 10,000 "Artist's
Books" in the Franklin Furnace Archive (now part of the MOMA library). It's
a beginning. Maybe then one has the possibility of becoming an artist.
Handle enough great stuff and it begins to rub off on you.

Read Kandinsky's _Point and Line to Plane_ and  _Concerning the Spiritual
in Art_, Tolstoy's _What is Art_, Koestler's _The Act of Creation_.

I'm so tired of seeing redundant work. This field has gone from one with
almost no participants to one with thousands of artist in a very short
time. The thing that always grabs me is how much real content the artists
have to communicate. Seems like a lot more than in painting and sculpture.
I had nothing to read at lunch the other day and they had  _Artforum_ at
the restaurant. You know, not only hasn't the work presented in it evolved
in the last 10 years-- they didn't even change half the names. The "Art
World" sort of died out the last few years because it got boring (and a lot
of the yuppies who were paying a lot of money for garbage got snagged).

But so much of current book art *doesn't* utilise the form or materials in
any way that either supports the metaphor of the text or comments on the
book as an evolved iconic medium. Unfortunately a lot of "Artists' Books"
have visually interesting pages in a boring form (just look through the
shelves at an "Artists' Bookstore" like Printed Matter). When they do
create a statement where the whole object--not just the images--is
involved, that's what I think of as "Book Art." To be "Art" an object has
to change the way I see the world-- it has to make the space around it


Richard Minsky

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