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Book Art Criticism: New Thoughts



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WARNING: THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE MAY CAUSE NAUSEA, DEATH, OR DEATH-LIKE
SYMPTOMS IN HUMANS WHO HAVE BEEN EXPOSED TO CERTAIN FORMS OF EDUCATION. THE
AUTHOR DISCLAIMS ANY LIABILITY FOR THE MENTAL OR PHYSICAL HEALTH OF ANYONE
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     The Theory of Museum Finish (continued)

3. One more point about Cognitive Capacity. I wrote:
>a viewer with greater scope of vision may see our work as
>pedestrian, bourgeois, juvenile, derivative, or just boring.

It also should be noted that a person with less cognitive capacity may see
our work as meaningless, incomprehensible, childish, alienating,
threatening, or just boring.

This and the following section go toward "Who is the intended audience of
the Work." Does a Work have to mean something to everybody to be art? In our
field we see works all the time that have meaning To The Trade Only. A new
conservation binding structure from Gary Frost or Hedi Kyle, for example. To
me they are Art.

4. Cultural Limitations

Visual literacy includes everything the viewer brings to the work: language,
familiarity with the history and evolution of the type of object being
viewed, aspects of the culture referred to in the work, and more. The recent
hubbub at The Brooklyn Museum about the Madonna with elephant dung, for
example. As it applies to our field, let's look at the sub-category of Fine
Printing and Typography.

A civilian (that means someone who is not experienced in our field) may walk
into the new Book Art Gallery that opened last week in Los Angeles and see a
beautiful letterpress copy of Moby Dick that was just printed in San
Francisco, with excellent typography, and a crisp black impression in
handmade paper. To the customer, it's a wonderful example of book art. They
buy it, take it home, and give it an honored place on the piano.

Those list members who attended the Hand Papermaking Conference held at The
Center for Book Arts in 1977 will remember the passionate lecture given by
Henry Morris of The Bird and Bull Press. It was a Rant against what he
called "Songofsolomonitis." From his point of view, what the world didn't
need was one more beautifully printed copy of The Song of Solomon. To Henry,
that wasn't Art-- it was Pollution, a waste of valuable resources--a disease
that afflicted letterpress printers.

There is a risk associated with publishing a fine edition of a new text one
believes is important, or an old important one that's out of print. Is Risk
a factor in whether it's Art?

About that same year Philip Smith, the English Designer Bookbinder, gave a
lecture at The Cooper Union titled something like "The Philosophy of Art and
Bookbinding." He showed many examples of his decoratively illustrated and
sculpted leather covers. One was on the Dali _Alice in Wonderland_. His
covers looked more like the Tenniel illustrations than Dali. One elderly
member of the audience asked him why he used Tenniel as a basis for the
design rather than Dali. "I didn't like the Dali illustrations," Philip
replied. I asked "If you didn't like the book why did you bind it?" To which
Philip answered, "It's a commission, and one doesn't refuse commissions."

Is the economic position of the artist a factor? Is work made from bourgeois
necessity different from work made for idealistic (aesthetic, ethical) reasons?

Perhaps it's decorative art, though it's slick enough to border on
illustration. It certainly did not integrate the binding with the content.
Perhaps it could be construed as literature-- a criticism of Dali's work.
But if it takes a Q&A period with the artist to figure it out, is it too
obscure?


        Richard
        http://www.minsky.com

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