15 Mar 2020 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

As a follow-up to my previous blogpost featuring detailed descriptions of Selected Durations, Flashpoint, vvvvv, and Rain/fall, I want to spend a little more time analyzing the responses from my class “experiment.” Folded into these descriptions and definitions are a few select terms and/or ideas that seem to transcend book art epochs, audience expertise, and materials. To show some of these connections between my (mostly) novice students and book art theory and criticism, I pulled key passages from the following three texts which students read for class: Ellen Brown’s “Beyond Words: Artist’s Books”; Ulises Carrión’s “The New Art of Making Books”; and Dick Higgins’ “A Preface”, and placed them next to some particularly poignant statements made by my students. The result is three sets of bubbling conversations between the two parties.

These Venn diagrams riff off of Dick Higgins’ Intermedia Chart in the way that they visually represent intersections between categories within the [book]art world. The three categories include, books that re-present time, control time (all books?), use time as a subject (Carrión); books that make tangible an intangible subject, or stress the reading/viewing experience (Higgins); and books that are playful in the way they use imagery, structure, or text, or in the way that they encourage the viewer to engage in play (Brown). Within each of the three categories there are intersections between the existing theoretical quotations and the student statements, but the student statements often overlap as well, and all of the bubbles seem to rotate around the phrase “object lends itself to connection.” Of course, none of these statements is mutually exclusive of the other statements and some of the abstract language (by all parties involved) is due to the structure of the dynamic described in each statement: there is the book object and there is the book object’s subject/content and there is a reader/viewer that is trying to make connections between the subject/content and the book object in order to connect themselves to the overall project. I have included a simple Venn diagram to show these intersections.

I would be interested to hear if anyone sees another (4th) primary aspect within the book art trifecta. What about object and presentation space (gallery, special collections library, classroom, kitchen table at home)? And beyond the individual components (dual, in the case of subject/content and reader/viewer), how can we start to discuss the other levels of interactions, say, between subject, object, and reader/viewer in the way that they affect one another? Perhaps these abstract questions will be better addressed by using concrete book examples that exemplify the diverse interactions that artist books can create.

As a side note, while I like teaching these essays to an introductory class, I am aware of how dated they are and am actively looking for alternatives.

Work Cited

Brown, Ellen. “Beyond Words: Artist’s Books.” Modernism Magazine. Volume 11, Number 3, Fall 2008. http://publishing.yudu.com/Apt5o/MV11N3/resources/56.htm

Carrión, Ulises. “The New Art of Making Books.” Artist’ Books: A critical Anthology and Sourcebook, edited by Joan Lyons, Visual Studies Workshop Press, 1985, pp 31-44.

Higgins, Dick. “A Preface.” Artist’ Books: A critical Anthology and Sourcebook, edited by Joan Lyons, Visual Studies Workshop Press, 1985, pp 11-15.

AB Gorham is a book artist and writer from Montana. She is the Director at Black Rock Press where she teaches book arts in the Book and Publication Arts Program. Her artist books have been exhibited and collected nationally.


  • 21 Apr 2020 6:42 PM | Chris Perry
    I am curious how you would approach works that don't have content but utilize books as an integral component. While the samples you used to create definitions of what book art is and how it interacts within various venn diagrams are beautiful, they are but a small sampling of what many artists consider book art. There is a whole world of work that utilizes altered books, destroyed books, and codex-like shapes made of completely non-traditional book materials. It would be interesting to hear how these works would have been received by your students.
    Link  •  Reply
    • 03 May 2020 10:13 PM | AB Gorham
      Hi Chris! Thank you for your comment. Yes, I agree that the books that I initially offer up are but a small sampling of the artist book world, but mostly that is because I pull from my own (very) small collection. While I've been lucky enough to manage a few book exchanges with artists/friends, most of my collection consists of books that I've helped create. However, I see each of the books as doing something quite different from the others, so it does feel like a range of publications. To get to your question though, I eventually introduce the students to the world of altered books, codex-like shapes, etc., by way of Ben Dozer, Doug Beube, Jacqueline Rush Lee, to name a few. Their final assignment asks them to appropriate an object into a "book" or significantly and meaningfully alter an existing book. So, we get there eventually. Thanks again for your thoughts! And if you have more, send them my way. Best.
      Link  •  Reply
Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software