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Re: [BKARTS] bookart

On The Definitions Of Book

Well, that'll learn me.

Nothing like sloppy thinking to start the day.

And our Pointing Finger of Shame author threw in such accusatory terms as "Bible" and "fascists."

Impressive move that, and no doubt all discourse is sure to crumble under the onslaught of such authority.

To begin, it is not certain that a sculptor would take offense if the sculptor was also able to parse relatively simple English sentences.

On the other hand, it is understandable that it is in no way easy for simple minds to grasp the distinction between an object itself and its context. But, it should be noted, that for the purposes of sloppy thinking it is often desirable to conflate metaphors anyway.

It does seem best to set aside the hot-button issue of taking Rodin's "The Burghers of Calais" since I wouldn't take that or any other Rodin.

Suffice it to say, the issue is not to denigrate sculpture but to distinguish it from the concept of book. The imaginary sin of giving offense to limited intellects just does not rise to the level of meriting rebuke.

The unhappy terms "Bible" and "the memory and souls of those worshippers" have led us straight into the swamps of deep thinking indeed.

The bible is a red herring brought into this discourse for no other purpose than to claim authenticity or authority. Too bad that the Bible is representative of those many books containing conflicting scriptural texts that are responsible for putting the human species at risk of annihilation. To be fair it really isn't the books' fault per se. It is the content reflected by the text that manipulates human cupidity, human gullibility or human stupidity. Pick your "ity."

See, now we are interactive.

By the way, most of said bibles are codex bound, which is not the only definition of book by any means, but certainly has a history as a respectable form of the book.

And now we are the crux of an idea that will be most difficult to grasp by bible fans and others who are cognitively challenged: the idea of context. It is an idea that is anathema to the literal minded along with terms such as "relativism" and "humanism."

The plastic arts, for example painting, sculpture, photography, etc., are more reliant on context than the book medium is. One of the special qualities defining book is that it is less reliant on external context and contains more of its relevant information within the object itself; that is in the content. The sculpture, on the other hand, is right our there; what you see is what you get, except for the context. Its content is really the fact that its structure, shape, image etc., does not contain a definitive text, but points to an exterior cultural context to communicate its significant meaning.

In fact, all human media, to one degree or another, point to some cultural context, otherwise the entire culture would have to be recreated within each and every cultural object that intends to communicate something significant.

That is really remaking the cultural map on the scale of 1 to 1. Not a very practical way to communicate. And just as The Pointing Finger of Shame has pointed out, it is a waste of time to endlessly replicate what the audience already knows, for example the commonly known myths of the bible.

So, plastic arts, just like the poem, rely on referring to external contexts, not only for convenience, but for the power of it. There is something moving, persuasive and powerful about the terse reference to common cultural contexts. For one thing, such references are beyond true/false analytical thinking. It is what makes the metaphors and symbols so powerful in a poem by Tu Fu and the fact that it would require the entire translation of the Chinese culture to effectively render a Tu Fu poem into English. That in itself makes translation impossible or, at best, approximate. Note that it is not necessary to translate "The Burghers of Calais." Perhaps such power has to do with the suspension of critical thinking which, after all, invites a value judgment. No one can accuse "The Burghers of Calais" of being false. The criticism of the plastic arts rely more on emotive terms such as liking, viewing, representation, form, etc, and hardly at all on such value judgments of true or false.

A book's look, the touchy, feely, and smelly qualities relate to its structure; its sculptural qualities. The value of the book that is really a book is that it has the added dimension of content. The idea of book as sculpture alone is valid, only that it is limiting and uninteresting since to be called a book sculpture it is confined to the look and feel of bookishness. At best, it can only hint at some linkage to a hypothetical external context related to bookishness. Talk about restricting artistic expression. I would think an artist who is truly consumed by sculptural expression would claim the right to represent a wider universe than books alone.

Several points are of interest here. One point is that at one extreme of the concept of a book may be so totally reliant on content as to be completely uninteresting as sculpture, say a cheap paperback printing of the Platonic Dialogues. This is one reason that book artists love to dress up those texts derived from the literary canon in crafty book sculptures; resulting in a happy combination of sublime content with beautiful sculpture. Sculpture itself runs no such risk of containing boring texts or the possible negative value judgments associated with analytical thought.

Another point is the issue of the print or image in a book. Is it plastic art or is it content, or both? There is an issue with interactive written all over it.

In this regard it may be noted that books as text are read and sculptural structures are viewed. It is one of the greatest distinctions of the book arts that some books can do both.

So the issue of context is really an matter of degree. The idea of book is that, when opened, it displays a content greater than (more complex, deeper meaning, more significance, greater analytical thought) than its structure. That is, the book is less dependent on pointing to external cultural contexts and at greater risk for the loss of power associated with language and analytical thought. On the other hand the book gains in precision of communication what it risks in loss of power. It is possible that the reader may, in fact, decide not to agree.

Literature, including poetry, is a gray area using the precision of language while avoiding the invitation of validation associated with strict analytical thought. Tricky people, those poets.

Otherwise the object is sculptural, meant to convey its message only as structure.

Sculpture does not risk being disagreed with. In exchange for the power inherent in terse reference to external cultural contexts, which gains validation by the simple fact that it is previously agreed that such contexts already exist, sculpture is less precise in its communication. Not many sculptures exist that precisely communicate Gödel's Theorem. Not many philosophical texts are as moving as Praxiteles.

What is viewed is not subject to agreement or disagreement, is less precise in communication and more powerful in persuasive emotion.
What is read is subject to the risk of disagreement, is more precise in communication and less powerful as a persuasive tool.

Some books are only read, and remain only books.

Most sculptures are only viewed, and remain only sculpture.

Both can be very high forms of art indeed.

But some books are both and they are lumped under book arts.

Some book art objects are just sculptures of books and are not really books at all, and yet they are still lumped under book arts.

Perhaps a better descriptive label would be book-like sculptures.

Let us next consider The pointing Finger of Shame's accusation of fascism and the tension between freedom and regulation.

Freedom, in this discourse, is often the knee-jerk flag raised in defense of artistic expression. Fine so far as that goes, but the mere raising of a flag is not a convincing argument of anything.

But that does not mean that freedom applies to every possible cultural object, idea, media or system. For example the English language is not useful when the author is free to use a foreign vocabulary and German sentence structure, with randomized words, and Spanish colloquialisms.

Regulation is the idea that certain rules are necessary for system coherence and to accomplish the task at hand; tasks such as language and communication. Economies need to be regulated otherwise laissez-faire freedom lapses into fascism. Language has rules in order to allow it to function as a medium of communication. Logic has rules in order to be useful for the representation and validation of complex ideas. Etc.

No doubt the "why can't we all just get along" school of art would like to impose the laissez-faire lack of regulation on art itself. Just another case of confused metaphors. What The Pointing Finger of Shame wants to appear to claim is the right of the artist to make any kind of object he wants. Why not? What it doesn't mean is that the artist has the right to label any object with any label he wants without reasonable recourse to the regulations and rules that ultimately derive from communication systems such as language and the definitions of art and artistic objects.

One famous case of acknowledging the rules is the observation that a hawk is not a handsaw. And for good reason. Otherwise we do not know what we are talking about. A book is not a sandwich and an algorithm is not a sculpture.

So, while it is important that artists have the freedom to create any object they like, it is equally important that we know a hawk from a handsaw.

Perhaps it is the "anything is everything" or the "everything is anything" or the "everything is everything" or the "anything is everything is anything" school of art, or that the school of deep thinking?

You pick. We are interactive once again.

"Bibliophilic fascists" is a catchy phrase. Hats off for that one.

The Catch-22 with this catchy little turn of phrase is that our freedom loving defender of the arts is using regulations and rules (that is language, text, discourse and content) to claim that regulations and rules are irrelevant, especially when applied to those arts known as book arts.

Unfortunately The Pointing Finger of Shame has also introduced the idea of the dependence of art on context which places it back into the realm of communication, language, analytical thought, text and content.

Fascism defined as an unhealthy conspiracy of military and economic interests is actually rooted in laissez-faire capitalism. Laissez-faire and its logical outcome, fascism, are meant to imply freedom from all regulation since economic predators dislike being regulated by their economic prey. Now, laissez-faire is a poor analogy to apply to art or bibliophilia in this case since The Pointing Finger of Shame here wishes to paint a rosy picture of artistic freedom, but is actually suppressing freedom by arguing against communication, language, critical thought, definition and discourse which are all dependent on the regulated systems of rules and consensually agreed upon definitions and which, incidentally, often end up as text in a codex.

A conundrum, that.

Unfortunately the term "fascists" just does not hold in this case. But the idea of clear definitions does.

Well, I'm awake now and fresh out of time for the critical analysis of sloppy thinking.

If you have read this far you are both more awake than I am and among those happy few who are free of lowered attention spans and cognitive challenges.

The rest are free to define their sculptures with any label that they can spell.

Happy Trails

michael andrews

----- Original Message ----- From: "Andrew Williams" <pickafightbooks@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
To: <BOOK_ARTS-L@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Sunday, April 22, 2007 7:01 PM
Subject: Re: bookart

I'm sure a sculptor would take offense to that statement.
I would argue that a sculpture also displays a content greater than (more complex, deeper meaning, more significance, greater analytical thought) its structure.
Take Rodin's The Burghers of Calais? That is a sculpture that speaks volumes and is not necessarily a monument to structure.
What you are saying is that a book is a container that holds a text - true enough. However, whether or not this book-as-box has a lid and you can 'look inside' shouldn't limit what a 'book' is. This codex orientated definition of what a book is or isn't does (as someone has said previously on this thread) deny a large part of the history of books - their cultural function and significance etc.

Also, as far as am empty book not having the qualities of 'being a book' until something is put in it -
I have heard of blank books being used in rituals in various religious ceremonies - a blank bible. It is not necessary to have the word written when the book is obviously a bible and it is commited to the memory and souls of those worshippers. This book is not 'empty' just because no ink has been applied to the pages.

Also, I would ask, how is Minsky's book not 'readable'? Is it not a text? Does it not communicate thoughts/ideas?

Why must we narrow the definition of what a book is like some band of boring bibliophilic fascists. We're going to take all the fun out of it.

Andrew Williams Pickafight Books Stanmore NSW Australia.

Michael Andrews <apeiron@xxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

A book is an object that, when opened, displays a content greater than
complex, deeper meaning, more significance, greater analytical thought)
its structure. Otherwise it is sculpture, meant to convey its message
as structure.

----- Original Message ----- From: "Søren Ibsen" <soren.ibsen@xxxxxxxxxx>
To: <BOOK_ARTS-L@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Sunday, April 22, 2007 2:24 PM
Subject: Re: bookart

I have now read Philip Smiths and Ed Hutchins comments and also some of the discussions which was going on ten years ago, and also the newly inputs. Very good. I agree with Ed that scrolls also have bookness, ( I can't translate that word in Norwegian). A wonderfull book sculpture is the censored book I saw on Minskys webside. Because the book can't be read it has lost its bookness, it is a censored book. I will still not call it bookart. Philip Smith also creates booksculptures, where it is possible to turn over the leaves, it is bookart. Books with emty leaves will have bookness when you start to create writings, drawings aso. My understanding is that it must be possible to open and se the contents in the book before it can be called bookart.


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                Online exhibit and catalog order form at

             For all your subscription questions, go to the
                      Book_Arts-L FAQ and Archive.
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Visit "The Book of Origins: A survey of American Fine Binding"
Online exhibit and catalog order form at
For all your subscription questions, go to the
Book_Arts-L FAQ and Archive.
See <http://www.philobiblon.com> for full information

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