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Re: [BKARTS] Book Artists Unite?
While well-meaning, there is no way that this is going to happen in this
climate, or anywhere. Reminds me of conversations I had as an apprentice in
Germany (1985-87) where bookbinding was a regulated trade and the Guilds
powerful. They're all but dead now. Part of the Guilds was setting and
maintaining standards of education and craft, as well as business aspects.
Any Kinkos trying to offer the stapling of dissertations/theses would face
These Guilds based their work on centuries of tradition and much of that
work, especially the setting of standards for the trade was something to be
welcomed. The body of knowledge required to pass after a three-year
apprenticeship very comprehensive and the foundation needed to walk into
pretty much any shop, pick up your tools, and get to work on just about
everything that came in the door. During this journeyman phase the binders
could then polish their skills in the more specialized aspects of the trade
(finishing/tooling for example) but more importantly business practice.
Calculating material needs and prices, training apprentices and the law as
it related to those... Then, another test and you could become a Meister and
open your own shop and train apprentices. All that is gone now. Anyone can
hang out their shingle... Also, apprenticeships like mine in Germany were
paid, the wage stipulated by the state.
The Guild at one time thought about a certification program, CBBAG has the
home-study program, and AIC just voted no on certification... It wasn't
much, but I was able to live independently off of it.
There are almost no apprenticeships in the traditional sense offered, mostly
for reasons of economics. Most binders are solo operators and have their
hands full keeping the shop running. Paying an apprentice is not an option,
a major reason being apprentices only really start making money in the 2nd
(if they're really good) or third year. Until then they cost. There aren't
many willing to commit to full time for three+ years. Loans aren't an option
and volunteering isn't sustainable.
Another thing to consider is that an apprentice learns to WORK in a
production environment. That means tons of repetition, the best way to
learn, but not the romantic notion of the genteel craft. Even the excellent
North Bennet Street School doesn't come close in terms exposing students to
a quantity of work they would encounter in an average apprenticeship,
especially the concept of working in batches... The CBBAG program can't
offer that either, regardless of how ambitious the student is...
Then we have to distinguish between art and craft/trade. They are not
exclusive, but in pricing and work there is a distinction. I'll destroy the
can of worms I opened by saying that most of the journals... created and
sold are not art. They may be artfully expressed craft, but they are
commodities created in multiples. Really they are no different from the
rebinding of texts. When we create them we know (or should) how much the
materials will cost and how long it will take us to make them. (overhead...
has already been discussed). Library/trade binders can help in setting
prices, certainly at the low end as that is where the competition is.
Conservators know as a result of experience how long things take and prepare
the appropriate estimates as part of their proposals.
Fine binders/book artists create their works, spend inordinate amounts of
non-billable hours on design... and then hope to recoup the costs.
Everyone wants to make a profit, no needs to make a profit in order to stay
viable as a business, and that is what it really is. Ultimately, the market
sets the price and competition is a part of that. If people choose to work
below cost/minimum wage, that is their choice. On the other hand if they
price their work at an appropriate price they may not sell. Books are not as
highly valued in the US by and large as other parts of the world...
How much should the binders experience play a role in pricing? If the
quality is comparable, price accordingly, but don't expect the same return.
As your skills develop, time will come done and margins will go up.
Still want to unionize? I don't. They won't save you or change perceptions.
Alrighty, the wind has gone out of this bag and it's time to go...
Peter D. Verheyen
Bookbinder & Conservator, PA - AIC
The Book Arts Web & Book_Arts-L Listserv
The Bonefolder: an e-journal for the bookbinder and book artist
From: Book_Arts-L [mailto:BOOK_ARTS-L@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of R John
Sent: Wednesday, March 04, 2009 2:33 PM
Subject: [BKARTS] Book Artists Unite?
This is why the Guild and CBBAG need to organize in its meeting of standards
and establish a fair wage for fair works act that would be binding between
client and artist. And yes, I am suggesting some sort of unionization and
affiliation of protection for those of us who work independently and who
need such protection.
If I spend my time and materials in excess of what I am being paid is that
fair? A Union of Book Artists would protect us against such usury.
That too is ethics in action.
Those of you fortunate enough to be employed in the Book Arts field know
little or nothing of the struggling artist's plight, or perhaps you do. All
I know is that I work for peanuts and pour my heart into my art/work, ethics
The "who" of what is appreciated, that is the artist that created the work,
is as valuable as the "how" precious her/his work is seen.
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