IT'S 2016 // Julie Leonard

15 Mar 2016 12:00 AM | Deleted user

In Spring 2005, Johanna Drucker published an article entitled “Critical Issues/Exemplary Works” in the journal The Bone Folder. In The Journal of Artists’ Books, Fall 2007, Matthew Brown wrote “Book Arts and the Desire for Theory” (JAB22) for a review of the conference “Action/Interaction” held at Columbia College Chicago. CBAA was founded in 2008 in part to promote scholarship and criticism in the field. Levi Sherman recently posted in this blog promoting what he calls ‘Book Thinking’ (“artists’ books as discourse…considering formal qualities like structure and sequence within social contexts like literacy and book culture”) within the field and as a means for considering other disciplines (giving back). A stated goal for this blog is to “call attention to current criticism and theory about the artist’s book.”

“We don’t have a canon of artists, we don’t have a critical terminology for book arts aesthetics with a historical perspective, and we don’t have a good, specific, descriptive vocabulary on which to form our assessment of book works,” Johanna Drucker wrote in 2005. In this context, she described her proposal for a meta-data base to serve as a resource for descriptive and critical data on artists’ book work. Soon after, Drucker launched Artists' Books Online based on developed descriptors and critical terminology. Matthew Brown wrote, “In the arts and humanities over the last thirty years, theory has done the work of challenging conceptions of aesthetic value, artistic production, and meaning-making…[T]heory has also had a salient institutional role: its vocabulary has given humanists a set of principles that help them speak across disciplinary divides. It is hardly a voice of unanimity. Instead, it is a shared language to maintain a conversation, enrich the debate, and deepen one’s learning.” Drucker and Brown are both asking for a part of a framework in which to do critical work on book art.

Levi Sherman suggests that the book arts have built both criticism and scholarship that could be framed through what he is calling Book Thinking. What has evolved over the last ten years that allows for the optimism Sherman projects, suggesting that what both Brown and Drucker sought has gained a foothold?

Crawling, with trepidation, out on that limb, I’ll suggest that the field is maturing. It is defining itself with greater clarity and expanding its range. It interacts more fluidly with other disciplines particularly as discipline specific art making continues to break down. This is evident in work being shown in both gallery settings and book fairs. The ‘zones of activity’ Drucker defines are discernable but with a merging, a talking to each other. For example, fine press work of imagination and visual acuity has expanded radically the work we see coming from that medium. This is evident in the interviews and writing that saturate our small dot of activity on the Internet (also oozing beyond our borders here and there). The ‘canon of artists’ is also here to be studied and mined; book art is becoming generations, not a generation.

What is still lacking is some kind of accounting, a pulling together…the work that has been and is being done to build that ‘critical terminology’ and ‘descriptive vocabulary’ with ‘conceptions of aesthetic value, artistic production, and meaning-making’ in the book arts. Perhaps this is a time to take advantage of an accessible (practically), collaborative, and also challenging (“enriching the debate”) venue in which to rejuvenate (dig up) and solidify (document) this ongoing concern.

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