BEING A BOOK ARTIST // David Nees

01 Jan 2018 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

I was inspired to write about the difference between being a book arts student and a book artist after reading some of the previous blog posts. Having graduated with my MFA in Book Arts from the University of Alabama this past summer, I have little time under my belt not being a student in Book Arts. Also, I am very fortunate that my current job as a Book Designer includes an education benefit that afforded me the opportunity to take a Binding class/workshop this past Fall semester. So technically, I have continued to work and learn, refine and practice, right up the present. But has it ended? No. I have a bag full of books to put together, a book project to print and bind, and a myriad of ideas. It feels far from over. I think, to be honest, it has just begun.

I recently said to a group of new MFA Book Arts students that I didn’t really see myself as a book artist until I was knee-deep in my Thesis/Creative Project and I did something during binding that in the recent past I would have labored and worried about. Now I just did it. It happened easily. It was, now, natural to me. I remember thinking almost out loud that now I am a book artist. Becoming a book artist isn’t easy. Continuing to be a book artist certainly will be harder. Success even harder still. And of course, there will be classes, workshops, and techniques to learn and master; however, if you truly are a book artist, you can describe yourself as one. Perhaps you never make another book after completing your degree. You will still be a book artist. You may not be a good one, a great one, or even a practicing one, but you are still a book artist.

Until…

You may become something else. Anyone, of any advanced age, at least over the age of 2 or so, has been a lot of things. Identity is not formed of cement. It is fluid. For instance, I have been a son and a brother. I have been a student, a retail clerk, a hairdresser (well, a student in cosmetology school). I have been a Classics major and an art historian. I have been an adjunct, an artist, a graphic designer, a Book Arts student, and now a book designer and a book artist. I am all of these things. I also know that all of these versions of myself inform the current version of myself. So often, I have found, we debate and argue over whether what we make is book art; however, maybe we should spend a little more time talking about ourselves as book artists. I echo the call for us to talk about ourselves and talk about how we make/survive the transition past student into life outside. Like Plato’s freed prisoner, there are challenges.

And the challenges are not inconsequential. I have to begin to think of how I am going to do my work. I have to think outside of the glamorous, yes glamorous, world of the studios that, as it were, I have grown up in. I am looking at different ways to incorporate content into books, and finding ways to make books that are nearly as successful as those that I have made before. I have to make books in the way that I can make them now, not mourn for the loss of the studio space, lack of storage, or the lack of a board shear or access to printing presses. And I have to work toward creating that ideal space as it is allowed and afforded. Moreover, I have to maintain my community of fellow book artists that are now scattered, but always close at hand.


David Nees is an adjunct, book artist, and book designer. He is currently working at the University of Alabama Press, working as a printer and binder, and teaching at Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa, where he lives with his fiancé, and their dog Henley. A selection of his portfolio can be seen here: http://davenbookart.tumblr.com/.


Comments

  • 04 Jan 2018 9:24 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)
    David, you spoke of wanting to investigate “different ways to incorporate content into books"; for me that evokes the sense of “content” as a foreign entity. How do book artists deal with the idea of “content”? Does one begin with content? (I do.) Does it/can it change and emerge as you work on something? (Also true for me.) Can a binding have content? (I think so.) What is “content”?
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