Hey readers, what’s good? Back in university, I was introduced to the artist’s book at the International Artist’s Book Fair, an annual event that takes place in Leeds. Myself and one of my fellow Art and Design students manned the stall for the University of Leeds where we displayed and sold products made by our peers. I exhibited work and even managed to make a sale! But the biggest take away was a newfound love of the artist’s book.
The artist’s book is simply a book that is made or conceived by an artist (not to be confused by an art book which is a book about art). Some artists exclusively make books whilst others use books to exhibit collections of their work. Books provide an opportunity to collaborate with other artists, examine different methods of consuming art and potentially explore themes and ideas that may be difficult to communicate via any other means. Artist’s books are often self-published or published by small independent presses or collectives and the work produces is commonly limited edition or one of a kind.
An artist’s book can take many forms as artists bend the rules and challenge what we understand to be a book. Many contemporary artists’ books take the form of sculptures, others do not use paper, others are simply a stack of loose paper, some are empty and others are (literally) overflowing the page. Forget what you think a book is, art welcomes you to think outside the box!
I am of the opinion that books, whether they be artist’s books or not, provide us with an intimate and often emotional experience that is unique to the medium. As a dyslexic who has not always had the best time with reading, my upbringing has still nurtured a great respect for the written word and the vessels that we use to consume them. Therefore, I am of the opinion that the artist’s book can provide a totally unique art experience, and not just unique in relation to other art mediums and methods of consuming art, but completely different to each individual viewer. When one consumes the content of a book, that relationship between object and reader is personal and unique to that person, that book and that specific time and place. Books often provide us with emotional landmarks in our life, whether they be a textbook, a book read for pleasure or a diary. The act of reading a book is, more often than not, a solitary act which creates a very personal relationship with the object and its contents. This is not to say that when a reader picks up an artist’s work that each reader will like the book artist’s book, it does not even mean they will have any strong feeling one way or the other. But the way that individual picked up the object, touched the cover and the spine, turned the pages and interacts with its materials, it creates an experience that is not only different to other methods of consuming art, but also one that is unique to that book.
In a previous blog post I have explained how a frame can change the meaning of an image and how it is understood. Books are simply another way of framing an artwork. ‘The Frame’ describes the context in which the art is seen and the value we place upon it. Consider the tacky laminated cover of a high school textbook in contrast to the leather-bound pages of a book of laws. We would treat the object differently depending on its frame, quite literally judging a book by its cover.
Below I have provided some of my favourite examples of artist’s books to help give you a better idea of the ways different artists have played with the medium:
Barbara Tetenbaum & Julie Chen, “Glimpse” (2011) https://hyperallergic.com/182306/a-portal-to-unite-the-smithsonian-libraries-artists-books-collection/
Noriko Ambe, Cuts on a book of “ED Ruscha” (2008)
Deirdre Kelly. “Coastal Walk”, 2013, edition 3, pencil on paper
Angela Orr “The Breakdown Index Artist’s Book”, Watercolour and Acrylic on various papers (2015)
We read in an ‘F’ shape! Studies have shown that we ‘read’ images and information at a glance, so fast we do not necessarily even notice. Firstly we register the information along the left from top to bottom. Then our eyes dash to the top left once more and take note of the information along the top left to right. Finally we go to the middle of the left side and follow a line horizontally across until we reach the centre of the page. This all takes place within milliseconds, before we have the chance to really register what we are looking at!
This information is used to make marketing more effective as the most important information will be placed along this ‘F’ shape. This means that we can take in an advertisement or understand a product at a glance as the information will be registered in our subconscious. The most successful marketing campaigns can use this to implant an idea with the intention of selling a product. On a less sinister note, artists and curators can use this information to make artwork more artwork easier to read, make a gallery easier to navigate and create a more pleasing composition
Resources // Further Reading
The Tetley Gallery in Leeds hosts the International Artists Book Fair. Keep an eye out for more information on the website: https://thetetley.org/