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Re: [BKARTS] Drucker Article



I think the artists book community could learn something from efforts made
in the '50s and '60s to establish the place of graphic prints within the art
world.  The book arts are in a somewhat analogous position to that of
graphic prints in the '40s and '50s when prices were low, quality uneven,
and acceptance as a 'fine art' questioned.  It seems to me that Johanna
Drucker is wisely calling for exactly the same types of things that
printmakers of that era had realized were needed if the graphic market was
ever to come of age, and history has shown us that concerted efforts made in
these areas can, indeed, play a crucial role in establishing a field.

By way of historical example, June Wayne, a printmaker herself, became
actively concerned with the declining state of expertise in the field of
lithography as well as with the low esteem with which it was held in the art
world.  She was prescient in understanding that, in order to turn things
around, she needed to address what she called the entire 'ecology' of the
graphic arts world, not just teach lithographic techniques - that in order
for the art form to thrive it needed expert printers, practicing artists,
high-quality materials, discerning critics and collectors, and a sustainable
economic market.  Consequently, in 1959 she applied to the Ford Foundation
to support the creation of Tamarind Lithography Workshop which served not
only as a nexus for artists and master printers to work together to produce
high-quality prints, but also as an umbrella sponsor of a variety of studies
aimed at developing an understanding of and market for high-quality graphic
prints.

Throughout the '60s she worked tirelessly to educate art dealers and gallery
owners in how to discern quality in lithographic works and how to value
editioned works.  Her theory was that if the gallery owners were trained to
recognize and appreciate high-quality lithographic prints, they would, in
turn, train the art collectors and establish a viable collecting base that
was willing to pay for what the works of art were worth.  She also pursued
funding to research materials (inks, paper, etc.) in an effort to establish
standards, and also to study the cost of running graphic studios to help
artists understand what it would take to support themselves - all with an
eye towards establishing a viable 'ecology' for lithographic printmaking.

Needless to say, there is now a thriving art market for graphic prints due
in no small part to the concerted efforts of people like June Wayne and
like-minded others who were concerned with the practical realities of the
forces that drive art markets.  To see similar efforts in the book arts
field is heartening, especially in this age of scrapbooking and related
crafts that border too close for comfort to the world of artists books and
threaten to cheapen it.

As an MFA student in the book arts, I'm disconcerted by the insularity of
the field and discouraged by the low value place on artists books relative
to other fields of art; and as a librarian I'm concerned about how we can
make these work accessible to researchers so that the field can be better
understood and studied.  Despite what I presume to be a reasonably
sufficient collection base available at libraries across the country,
publications about artists books all seem to use the same example pieces
over and over.  It is not clear to me that this is any kind of nascent canon
so much as a reflection of the difficulty in tracking down new and
appropriate examples to use because of the lack of any meaningful
vocabulary to describe, and therefore to search, for artists books.  Rather
that worrying about the potential narrowness that might ensue from
categorizing works, imagine how being able to search for examples of
particular aspects of artists books could open up access to a whole range of
currently unknown and essentially buried works.

-Elisabeth Long

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