Artists' books have a long history yet are perhaps one of the more difficult of the fine art genres to define. While Marcel Duchamp stated, “ An artist's book is what an artist calls a book,” noted critic and author Lucy Lippard posited that they are “neither an art book (collected reproductions of separate works) nor a book on art. The artist's book is a work of art on its own, conceived specifically for the book form and often published by the artist him/herself.” The genesis of the artist's book can be traced to the British poet, painter, and printmaker William Blake (1757–1827), who developed new printing methods to allow for the integration of image and text.
In general, an artist’s book is conceived as a project in book form and the structure of the book is an integrated aspect of the overall concept. Some of the structural considerations may include, but are not limited to, the binding or lack of binding, the way the pages fold or may be kept loose in a portfolio box or slipcover, the use of a scroll in lieu of pages, a lack of text or a manipulation of text into imagery, or the use of traditional or non-traditional materials and formats.
Combinations of image, text, and the book form by artists, however, are considered to be primarily a 20th-century development. Unlike the late-19th century French gallerists high-end publishing ventures of the livre d'artiste (“artist book”), the contemporary artist book derives from the conceptual experiments of the 1960s Fluxus movement, the West Coast painter Ed Ruscha's early books, and the work of German/Swiss artist Dieter Roth, who is represented in this exhibition. By redefining the terms of the book visually, textually, and structurally, artists in the 1960s sought to create a more inclusive and democratic approach to the book arts by stepping outside its conventional boundaries.
The exhibition is loosely divided into four groups, and begins with a facsimile edition of William Blake's Book of Job (1927) and two examples of Arts and Crafts books. Included are examples of scroll books and an illuminated Koran, and a group of 1970s-era works by well-known British artists. The remainder of the exhibition features books by five Ohio-based artists who complete this brief overview of the book arts.
SELECTIONS FROM THE EXHIBITION
Kate Kern, Cincinnati, OH
August B. Fan, 1999
ink and pencil on paper, brass, silk ribbon
15 h x 24 w inches (open)
Courtesy of the artist
1999 © Kate Kern
Ellen Sheffield, Gambier, Ohio
Susan Stewart, Princeton, New Jersey
edition of four
ink jet printed front cover, target paper back cover, flag book format,
accordion bound with pages/flags of text on ink jet
printed transparencies, ink jet printed inside covers
6 h x 5 w inches (closed)
From the Kenyon Review Poets Series
Courtesy of the artist
2004 © Ellen Sheffield and Susan Stewart
This book is a visual poem by the artist that weaves together the story of a historic legal case (c. 1896) establishing riparian, or water rights, with a visit to the Kokosing River in Knox County, Ohio, by a group of Tibetan monks in 2001. The poem is a hybrid of concrete poetry, traditional case law briefing as taught in law school, and lyrical poetry
Kate Kern, Cincinnati, Ohio
Keep Your Distance, 2004
ink and pencil on paper, rag board, cloth
Courtesy of the artist
1 h x 10 w inches (open)
2004 © Kate Kernhttp
Richard Wilson (British, b. 1953)
Wind Instrument, 1980
Published by Coracle Press, London
Wood, paper, metal, lithography
24 h x 16 w inches (closed), sculptures variable
The College of Wooster Art Museum 2004.9
1980 © Richard Wilson
The small paper and wire sculptures displayed in the adjacent sculpture stand are the “text” of this book, and the pages in the book are molded to accept the flattened version of each “wind instrument.” The chestnut box is the book’s “cover.”
scroll book, c. 19th century
palm wood, palm leaf sheets, cord, metal coin
2 h x 20 w inches (closed)
The College of Wooster Art Museum 1930.148
Gift of William Kelly
© The College of Wooster
The writing in this scroll book has been incised into palm leaf sheets, with powdered ink rubbed into the grooves. The book contains Buddhist writings, and the script on the discolored leaf is written in Pali.
Stored in a compressed form between two wood pieces, the scroll book is read by loosening the cord(s) and lifting the sheets out, much like a venetian blind. This example is displayed pivoted on a fixed point as the cording on both sides has disintegrated over time.
Scroll of the Lohans, Chinese,
late-19th century copy of a Ming Dynasty (1368–1644)
original by Ting Yün-peng (1584–1618)
silk on paper
16 h x 60 w inches (partially open)
The College of Wooster Art Museum 1964.266
Gift of C.E. Loehr
© The College of Wooster
This narrative scroll reads from right to left and features twelve groupings whose character’s focus looks toward the conclusion of this scroll; a representation of the Kuan-yin Bodhisattva, or Goddess of Mercy, floating in clouds and seated on a lotus flower. The subject of all the scenes is the Lohan, a worthy Buddhist ascetic disciple who has achieved Nirvana in this life, with his disciples and admirers.
Willow Legge (British)
An African Folktale, 1979
20 h x 14 w inches
94/200, 20 APs
Published by Circle Press, Surrey England
The College of Wooster Art Museum 2004.14
1979 © Willow Legge
LINKS TO MORE INFORMATION ON THE HISTORY OF ARTISTS’ BOOKS, ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON THE OHIO-BASED ARTISTS FEATURED IN THE EXHIBITION “ARTISTS’ BOOKS,” AND AN EASY, FIVE-STITCH BOOKBINDING METHOD
Concise overview of artists’ books and books in general.
Kate Kern’s website of bookworks. Kate Kern is one of the featured artists in “Artists’ Books.”
2005 Bookfest site—click on the various artists to see different types of book arts. Ellen Sheffield if one of the featured artists in “Artists’ Books.” Click on the image on this page to see more works by Sheffield.
This site provides detail about Holly Morrison and Carolyn Fraster’s “The Extinguishing of Stars” exhibited in “Artists’ Books.”
This is a link to an easy-to-follow five-stitch bookbinding instructions. The author states that this is a 15 to 30 minute project.
 Lucy Lippard, “The Artist's Book Goes Public,” in Artists' Books: A Critical Anthology and Sourcebook, ed. by Joan Lyons (Rochester, NY: Visual Studies Workshop, 1985), 45-48.
 Considered deluxe editions, a livre d'artiste consists of fine binding and original prints by well-known artists illustrating classic texts. An unbound example of a livre d'artiste by Henry Matisse has been included in this exhibition.
 Fluxus was a loosely organized international group of avant-garde artists. Other precursors of the 1960s exploration of the book as art object include innovations in typography by Bauhaus artists, the political art of the Russian Constructivists, and Dadaism