Artist Books 3.0

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Would it make more sense to use the term artists’ publications instead of artists’ books or book arts? For example, the ASPC in Bremen classes artists’ publications as: books, records, multiples, music, etc. This is a forward thinking and inclusive structure. But is ‘artists’ publications’ so broad a term that the book aspect loses its identity altogether and become anything? Thus negating artists’ books as a singular subject?

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One of the things I find interesting about this debate is the way 'artists' books' (and that apostrophe is a constantly shifting or forgotten entity) have shifted from 'books made by artists' to 'books made by book artists'. We now have people whose whole practice revolves around producing books as an artform, and yet they aren't identifying with traditional* press culture. But surely a practice totally based on books IS a press of some sort?

*By 'traditional', I don't mean traditional print practices like letterpress. I mean traditional as in a body or individual who produces books for distribution. Many private presses were individuals.
Is the question really about intent? "Publication" is the action of making something public. Do artists who make books (who may not be the same as 'book artists', as I picked up from Caren's comment) make them with the intention that they should be public? To me it doesn't seem quite the same thing as 'publishing' in a literary sense, where the existence of a 'readership' is implied by the act of publishing a book. Publishing a book seems like a sort of giving birth of something that needs to be outside of oneself in order to function. Is that what artists do? Is a need for an audience or 'readership' implied? I'm not sure, or perhaps it is more accurate to say that for me, the potential audience isn't really part of the act of making something. My work has a function for me, because it is something that I needed to make, to work out. All other potential 'purposes' for any work that I make are almost coincidental; certainly not implied. I suppose I define my arts practice as one that happens to include book making (in a very loose sense) as part of its methodology. I do want an audience, of course, for all sorts of reasons...

Perhaps I'm missing the point of the question; it's just that in terms of how I view my own work, "artists' publications" doesn't have the sort of meaning that I associate with my work.
My, it's an empty room so far, isn't it? You're right, Sarah, there is a distinct difference between making for personal exploration and 'publishing'. I'm also always really interested in why people are making books rather than using other formats.

I know what I tell my students: that the bookform concentrates how your audience receives your ideas, that you can control or inform the way they approach your work, like a mini-exhibition; that it is a structure so ingrained in our consciousness that you can choose to work with or invert that structure, both to good effect; and that there are elements of 'bookiness' that can be applied individually or in combination to materials and rationalised as books that transform the way people receive the ideas in the work. (There are many other things I tell them, but that's the core of it.)

But publication also, as you say, implies readership and author-ity, and surely by the sheer act of making a 'book', that act brings those notions into play, whether it is part of the impulse of creation or not. Otherwise you are just making an object, are you not? And it is hard to make a booky object without these overtones.

Publication is a problematic term. I've been using 'artistic publication' lately, but without thinking about it much, and when I do it smacks of something a bit scrapbook-y!
Sorry, SARA. I must get your name right.
You are right about the apostrophe – it does move around, but so far it seems that you two prefer artists’ books to artists’ publications. Do you think the term artists’ books can cover all of the book/text/sequential pieces we produce as artists? For example an online book? or would you say that was an artist’s publication?

I wouldn’t say that a practice totally based on books becomes a press, if someone makes only one-off books (altered books perhaps?) that isn’t really a press as such. I only make work in the book format but I wouldn’t consider that as a press.

Publication is about making something public, whether paper-based or perhaps hypertext/e-book, do you think then that an audience would understand or relate to it more it being called a ‘book’ or a ‘publication’?
There is a parallel discussion going on at the Book Arts List, where Allen Bradley summarizes that a book has to be able to be read, or written in so that it can be read later -- the metaphor of a journey is used to distinguish the experience of a book from other artists' publications. I think it's important not to confuse these two. Any discussion of the 21st century book is going to question what a book is, in the shadow of the continuing hoopla over the putative replacement of the book by something else. "Artists' publications" is the broader term. Not the most felicitous nor poetic; already we are entangled in the question of what it means now to publish something and a suspicion that "unpublished" outsiders working for themselves are somehow being disenfranchised. The elephant in the room is digitization: the quintessence of the 21st century. I myself have concluded that there is no such thing as a digital artists book ( in a paper "Now the Artists Book Now" -- leading to the paradox that if you publish it, it's not an artists book (it's a facsimile of one) and if it is an artists book it's unpublishable: the exact opposite of the situation with "real" books. What a snarl. Personally, I feel that the whole medium is a small one of small aspiration and that whatever comes next ought to look for a way to give the Artists Whatever the reach and cultural significance of a Faulkner or a Matisse rather than continue to make precious objects.
Prompted by Charles' comment I looked at the Book Arts List and Allen Bradley's summary, but I think there is a hole in the definition of what constitutes a book, because books can legitimately contain things that can't be read i.e. are not presented in words: pictures. I'm probably being a bit of a nit-picker here, because one could argue that books that consist of collections of pictures are simply reproductions of something else (if the pictures are just images of a painting, for example, that exists as a painting elsewhere). But what happens if the book is a collection of original pieces e.g. prints, assembled in book form because that was the artist's intention? We get straight back to the question of what is an artists' book! And whether or not one can 'read' it (or look at the pictures) later seems less important as one can also go back to any piece of art later, if one so choses.

I like the suggestion that 'journey' is implied in the experience of a 'book' as opposed to a different sort of artist publication. A painting may evoke an internal 'journey' in the thoughts of the viewer, but it is what it is, existing in three dimensions not four. So what about time-based media? Video art can take you on a journey, but clearly video art isn't the same as an artists' book or artists' publications... And what about all those other things on the CFPR diagram that Tom and Sarah have proposed, such as podcasts and vodcasts, or phone-based work...? I agree with Charles (I think!) that 'book art' is different to these other sorts of art, so we're still left with the taxonomic problem of how to classify them. I haven't really thought about it until now, but I think I have a 'traditionalist' view. For me, digitally-produced work sits comfortably alongside the 'artists' books', 'artisan' and 'ephemera' branches of the CFPR book arts family tree, but the digitally-based work such as podcasts, vodcasts and text messaging don't sit comfortably alongside my definition of artists' books. For me, they are so completely different that I wouldn't classify them as part of the same family, but would probably classify them as part of the 'time-based media' family tree. They may be cousins, but several dozen times removed, like whales and elephants!
Yeah, the digital family looks a bit sad. An artists podcast is I suppose a virtual drama, and an artists text message is a haiku-like object. But the hidden dimension of the discussion is that this family will grow, ultimately eclipse the others, and impose a techno-artistic logic now as mysterious to us as a Coke bottle to a cargo cult. As Caren observed at the outset, we now have artists whose whole practice is to produce books who don't identify with the traditional print culture so what, from their point of view, is the point of these taxonomic struggles? I'm reminded of the old Steinberg cartoon of the US from the New York end, with everything west of Schenectady barely visible. Just within the artists' books family we see the old handmade practice saddled with a dozen little brothers and sisters. I think part of the trouble (if there is trouble) with the "publishing" rubric is that all these little boxes are not part of a common enterprise because the barons who rule them won't make common cause. "Publishing" is 9th-century kinglet pretending to rule a lot of big and little fiefdoms. So my response to Tom Sowden's original question is yes. 'Artists' publications' is a very broad term which will, if allowed, negate artists books as a singular subject. What the classification makes clear is that the price of defending the borders of the artists' book is to risk marginalizing it as one small practice among many. I do not like this conclusion.
I don’t think that digital production of artists’ books (or publications) will eclipse the handmade, in the same way that e-readers won’t halt the production of the paperback book. The use of digital will grow of course, but this may provoke more desire for the handmade. We have students who are desperate to learn letterpress techniques for their work as they feel it will give them a creative edge in the digital arena, so this can be seen as a positive. As artists we use whatever technology is available to produce our work.

I would like to see all forms of artists’ publishing considered as viable and valid - and to think of a term that will cover all forms of artists’ books production. Whatever format it might be in is surely just a matter of how to get your work out there? If I made an e-book to download, or used a mobile phone to create a free, multi-recipient text work, I would definitely still think of it as an artist’s book, as that is the way I work. I also use letterpress and screenprint and I wouldn’t think of any one process as more important than the other, you use what you feel is right for each piece.

If we extend the borders of the artist’s book, that might make it a stronger and inclusive contemporary movement, allowing artists the freedom to use whatever technology they choose to make their work, from digital to traditional?

Maybe it is what is inside that is the most important thing. Think of Shakespeare, his first Folio of plays was published in 1623, his plays, sonnets etc. have been printed on pamphlets, as fine deluxe editions, as paperbacks, CDs, and now we have the e-reader – people are still reading them, it doesn’t matter so much about the format they are published in.
I'm similar to you, Sarah, in that I'm very open about what is an artist's book. I've always thought that what makes an artist's book is the artist identifying it as such; I've seen objects that I would happily call a book that the creator has identified as a sculpture or installation, and vice versa. I think that how the artist identifies the work controls the way it is received (another thing I tell my students!).

I'm not sure if it's possible to create an umbrella over the whole oeuvre that everyone is happy with apart from 'artists' books', because anything else implies shades of hierarchy that will have practitioners embracing or shifting away from it according to their feelings of inclusion or dispossession... again, it boils down to identification. There are probably artists who work with digital media who will hate the idea of being associated with something as retro as a book! Once you apply specific definitions, the process of push and pull starts all over again. Which is frustrating, because so many artists are happy with the umbrella of 'painting' or 'printmaking'.

I also agree with the way digital and handmade creations can co-exist. Just look at the huge surge in craft in the 60s and 70s as a backlash to the 'modernisation' of society in the 50s. The more time-saver machines and synthetic materials were integrated, the more people enjoyed buying and making handmade things. I think that cycle persists, and we're seeing it in full spin right now.
the initial response I have to your question Tom is what are the implications if the term artists books was to loose its currency

I recently saw the movie Blood Diamonds and was taken with the portrayal that being african was primarily about living rather than about origins or names. I make books, artists books, books that are meant to be touched, books that rely on their long heritage in diverse cultures. If the term artists books was to be subsumed by another term I would still make the same objects. So while a name is crucial I don't see it determining what I make, like Sara (Bodman) says, people still are engage by Shakespeare, even in paperbacks.

Having said that I find the term artists books resonates with me. At times i think it has more in common with fluxus that it does with books. Derrida used the term "an insoluble tension" when writing about books and I think that it is a tension that cant be dissolved that gives artists books their currency. If the term artists publishing could dissolve that tension that maybe the term artists books would loose currency. I am fairly confident though that the term artists publication and the digital components will only diversify the fledgling discourse and raise the creative tension in the filed.

The digital offers unparalleled media to artists however parts of a book are unique to the books object and cant be achieved any other way. For my part the digital has in part released the book to a wider scope of creativity despite initial assumptions that the book might be made redundant.
The Book Arts Web, as Charles pointed out, is having a raging discussion about the nature of books v objects at this moment.

On the one hand you have people saying this:
A book is not a book if meaningful text cannot be read. That is the definitive use of a book. It is why the object "book" was invented. Anyone is free to apply any name at all to anything that exists. That is called a civic right or freedom of speech, which, by common definition is not about definitions but about content and protest. But, I digress.

If actual communication is to be involved we have to agree on definitions and rules, or else discourse becomes nonsense. It muddies the clarity of discussion to dispense with commonly accepted words, to redefine them as anything and everything - it dispenses with discourse and communication period. More to the actual point, it muddies markets.

The idea of defining a book simply by calling it a book applies strictly to the idea of intention,
the intention of having some object considered as a book. So far, that is acceptable. But it fails in its intention because it cannot seem to confine itself to simple rules of communication in which a book is commonly defined as an object that has a meaningful and readable text, and a sculpture as a different form of art that is spatially oriented as opposed to a form that is linguistically oriented.

It is further confusing to contemplate whatever it is that impels someone to redefine an obvious piece of sculpture as a book. What is it that makes them want to redefine one form of art, a sculpture, or a painting as another art form altogether? Are they offended by the concept of sculpture? Is it simply confusing to people who do not read
because books often are encapsulated as objects that have sculpture like attributes such as tactile weight,
smell, or visual appeal?

On the other hand, this:

On this list-serv we have discussed the question of what makes a book a book in many different ways, most exhaustively when Johanna Drucker published her ideas in the Bonefolder. I appreciate lots of different opinions and have my own, articulated at first by my friend Elena Siff: "It is a book if you say it is a book."

I am a populist. If you want to call something a book, go for it. Because I want to include you if you want to be included, for any reason whatsoever. But it only gets interesting after that: why? What makes it booky? What do you want us to think when you include it in the field of book things?

I feel the same about people calling themselves book artists. You are if you say you are. I'll let you in - but all the interesting questions come after that. Where is your work? Does it interest you? Me? Is it good? What do you want to do next?

It's the former person you're battling when you try to extend the meaning of 'book'. It's the latter person (who is not me, but could be) that you're battling when you try to define an umbrella term for artists and their use of the book concept. I guess all you can do is go ahead, work out a definition, and see who runs with it. If it's persuasive enough, it'll stick.


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