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Re: [BKARTS] rustic and artisanal (summary)



Hi Charles,

That's a nice round out of your question. I would like to offer my opinion, as I feel you will only get some resistance from a lot of the 'old guard' at such a question.

"Bad craft" must be justified (to an extent). Craft standard is an expressive aspect of all binding. Shoddy and haphazard work will express that - but in relation to..? Forgive me using a worn out slogan, but does the medium meet the message? Does the carrier of the text become one with the text. Much like the fine adorning of bibles and collections of literature, the carrier is there to inform you to the value or 'fine work' of the content. It marries with the text by proxy, while informing the greater "uber text" of - what the book is, who wrote it, the quality of the writing, the quality of the message, it's importance to culture and society etc. Similarly, broken down structures can aid you to express some kind of pathos, humility and subtlety. It can be used to define a political stance, an aesthetic stance ie. a moral or ethical stance. It just depends on where you are coming from as an author/artist first.

In my own work, and I will admit at this stage that I am only a novice bookbinder and more of a print based conceptual artist (having come from a fine printmaking background).. Sorry, In my own work, I have been using a very basic binding structure that carries certain connotations for me. It's a basic cloth hard cover structure that is very utilitarian that almost insists it is machine made, through the binding I am trying to leave very few clues as to it being handmade - though all my works contain my failures as a novice binder, which in a way, are substitutes for the failures of machine binding. I use this as a way of describing 'general assumptions' as I call them. They are "matter of fact" kind of books, that contain critiques of "matter of fact" thinking patterns in society, which are often misguided in the first place by bad thought as book form.

As a young binder, I find great deals of in fighting and resistance by the old guard to any 'new ways' of thinking about bookbinding as an expressive form on many levels. Practitioners from a trade background and from conservating are heavily resistant to 'bad craft', but they are often not the most expressive practitioners. I find this list very resistant to new ideas on binding, new ideas on publication.

Someone told me once, or I read it somewhere, I think it was Umberto Eco - bookbinding has changed very little in 500 years. No wonder there is a vehement mistrust of new technologies and new ways of thinking that these bring. Now this is another debate entirely, but it does for me, explain why you wanted to bring the question to the list. There is respect for the old guard and they will guide us into the future, as long as they too want to follow us there.

Try looking toward contemporary printmaking too, you might find a lot of work there to inspire. Even Rauschenberg is a great place to start. He was a great user of 'bad printing'. Robert Motherwell once took some plates around to master printers requesting them to print them in a manner which was contrary to the core beliefs and aesthetic of printmaking at the time. Eventually, he found someone that was willing to try and could see what he was chasing - they remain some of the most influential late modernist printmaking to date.

Would love to continue this debate on, but I suppose the best way is in your work.

Good Luck.

Andrew
Pickafight Books.
Stanmore NSW Australia.

Charles Brownson wrote:
Buttonholer here, with skinny hand and glittering eye... One last observation, on the attempt to define 'rustic' or perhaps declare it to be a useless term, and then I promise to pipe down. Thanks to you-all, I think I understand how to answer the question I raised.

I was washing my hands with a bar of 'artisanal soap' bought at a craft fair, and it suddenly dawned on me why this topic seems so unnecessarily hard to get a grip on. Books, unlike soap, have never been a homemade product in a subsistence economy. Peasants made their own soap, while the wealthy bought a fine and refined product as pure (perfect) as could be. Peasant soap not only looked bad, it didn't even work as well. Peasants themselves wouldn't have used it if they'd had a choice (not to mention the labor savings). Books have always been precious objects, made for the
 educated rich and sold as much (or more) on their refined appearance and design as on the content. The readership/literacy revolution beginning in the 1840s which created the paperback (three times: 1840s, 1880s, 1930s) is the only point of comparison -- and it's significant to note that when trade paperbacks first became common (1960s?) they were called *quality* paperbacks -- as a mainstream book club for them is still so named -- to distinguish them from the badly crafted *mass market* product.

So when I say I'm trying to make a 'rustic' book and the immediate question is 'What is that?' and the exact relationship of 'rustic' to some hegemonic norm is queried ('interrogated' is the postmodern word...) it's because there is no such thing -- yet. No rustic model by which to judge the hegemonic one, which can hardly be called hegemonic without competition. The question as regards craft standards should be restated as, Ought there be? (Competition.) Or more carefully: Is the concept 'rustic' (as applied to artists books) a genuine and desirable category, or is it only a case of rationalized bad craftsmanship?

And I'm betting the
 consensus response will be: the measure of good craftsmanship is in qualities like authenticity, appropriateness of methods and materials to intent, new insight, and so forth, and has no necessary relation to a particular method or ideal (a 'fetish' -- the postmodern meaning, not anthropological), and further, the attempt to categorize individual instances is misguided. The real question is: if you make a book with unsquare covers, sewn irregularly, printed with mixed and worn type, (for example) how can you make it clear this was done on purpose for some purpose and is not to be dismissed as mere bad craftsmanship? This is what ought to be explored if the aesthetic resources and scope of the medium are to be enlarged.

Charles
with thanks to Andrew for prodding me to think again





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***********************************************
The Bonefolder, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2007 is Now Online at
<http://http://www.philobiblon.com/bonefolder>
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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