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Re: [BKARTS] Criteria for Good Book Art
Richard Minsky wrote:
The questions of book art taxonomy, nomenclature, or vocabulary will be resolved as we agree on what to call things and I look forward to seeing the AAT add more book art terms to its thesaurus.
I've been following the Drucker threads with great interest and some
frustration. I think that the issues being discussed are pretty much
irrelevant to what the artist does. They are meaningful for curators,
librarians and critics, but I feel very strongly that artists should
ignore categories. The artist creates categories. I didn't know that I
was a book artist until Martha Wilson told me that I was one in 1978.
This felt good for a while, as I previously thought I was just crazy.
[Insert smiley of your choice here.]
My problem with Johanna's schematica is that it ignores or pays very
little attention to the qualities that define my own work. I am mostly
uninterested in physical craft issues. As I've explained here
previously, I taught myself bookbinding in the early 1990s from
recollections of a book about it that I read in 1975. My first rough and
ready book <http://www.cafecancun.com/bookarts/book1993.shtml> (1993) is
still perfectly functional. I later went on to make much more
sophisticated bindings, but they still had a decidedly handmade, rustic
During the past few years, I have completely given up on physical craft.
I am now almost exclusively interested in the print-on-demand process. I
will occasionally perfect-bind a book in order to see what it will look
like when printed and bound on an unknown system somewhere in the
physical extension of cyberspace. My main concern is formatting my
content so that it looks utterly convincing as a "book." In that sense,
my work is much closer to Richard's masterpiece "Minsky in Bed" before
he added the conceptual bindings, which I find amusing, but somewhat
To me, "Minsky in Bed" is great art not so much because of the bindings
(or physical context, if you wish), but because of the content in both
literary and artistic senses. It is a totally personal book that manages
to combine the intimacy of diary with consummately professional but
deceptively home-made layout and typography that recall Kelmscott. It's
an adult work that has the charm of a children's book.
My books are very much adult books, both in content and design. They
don't look handmade at all. Except for "Memoir" a handwritten novel in
the form of a diary, the typography and layout are classically
institutional, based on my life-long studies of the work of typographers
such as F. W. Goudy, Bruce Rogers and W. A. Dwiggins, and the generally
accepted principles of modern trade book design. In literary terms,
however, much of my content is as personal as "Minsky in Bed." One of my
greatest influences, Bruce Jay Friedman, once told me, "Don't pile
craziness on top of craziness." My books conform to that very wise
advice to the exclusion of all other considerations.
In looking through the Drucker article, I do see a couple of slots for
my work, but all in all, I don't really see how I would be a "book
artist" (the quotation marks are there to ram home the point that this
is an artificial definition) under her terms. Yet I am one person making
highly individual books that I feel have considerable artistic merit
even (especially) if I aim at goals that are pretty much the opposite of
most "book artists."
You can read more of my thoughts about this at
On a more personal note, you reach a point in your life where you have
to face reality. I don't have a lot of time left. I will enter my 70th
year in October. A few Sundays ago, Anita and I walked past the tall
hedges and thick wild Australian pines bordering the golf course facing
the lagoon, and we talked very calmly about my making a will. My only
property consists of my writings. I have to get them into publishable
shape the way I want them to be published before it is too late.
I feel an intense pressure to finish my books so that I can leave Anita
something that will pay back even a little of her goodness when I am
gone. Our children can take care of themselves, I'm sure (actually they
are already beginning to take care of us), but Anita gave up everything
that her generation's feminist ideals hold worthy to dedicate herself to
our children and to my independence as an artist. It crushes my heart to
think of her having to struggle in my absence or -- worse -- to feel
that she threw her own chances away on someone else's folly.
That's what my current work is really all about. I am fully confident
that my books will some day (perhaps even in my own lifetime) achieve
the mainstream commercial success that I am convinced they deserve.
I am also very sure that the print-on-demand versions, though unsigned,
unnumbered, will eventually have a monetary value far in excess of what
they are now selling for, mainly because they will be so rare. I doubt
if they will ever sell out of the range of hundreds, at best. I don't
think that I will be able to finish even a half-dozen titles.
Commercially successful artists have to be productive enough to create a
market for their work. My four most significant books have taken me more
than thirty years to create and make commercially accessible.
These factors now impede my contemporary success. But they could be
crucial when I am gone. In looking at my work as if I were already dead,
I am satisfied that I did my job well and my books will survive me for
generations to come. I don't know that Johanna's otherwise awesome
analytical method takes anything like that into account.
JULES SIEGEL Apdo. 1764 77501-Cancun Q. Roo Mexico
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