Recent Blog Posts

Book Art Theory

Capitalizing on the interdisciplinary nature of the field, this blog calls attention to criticism and theory about the book as a medium and/or subject in works of art and, more generally, about book art. It seeks to encourage dialogue, solicit comments, and create a generative space for new ideas from critics and theorists of various fields regarding the aesthetic, semiotic, haptic, cognitive, historical, and other features that distinguish these works and their function in ethical, political, and social matters.

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

    In June, 2016 I wrote a Book Art Theory blog post, WHY BOTHER WITH WIKIPEDIA?

    In January 2017 I started a Wikipedia Book Art entry to replace the current redirect to "Book Arts," which is only a disambiguation page that links to "Artist's Book" and a few other things. Please see what I wrote, which has had a few technical changes by others (View history) but no substantive additions by people knowledgeable about the field of Book Art. Since it doesn't appear on a search for "book art" I doubt anyone knows about it. 

    It's considered a "stub," and until it is fleshed out and is more complete, with better footnotes and references, it will not replace the redirect. If you type "book art" into the Wikipedia search field you will see what happens.  

    I am not fluent in Wikipedia editing, but was able to learn enough to get this started. It's just a beginning. Please help get the ball rolling. If you are a registered Wikipedia contributor, or know someone who is, please take a few minutes to add or change content, correct errors, and clarify references. Every bit will help. If you don't have a Wikipedia account you can create one here

    It could be a significant resource if done properly. Besides the many educational benefits such an entry would bring, there is the impact on funding Book Art programs and departments. When a Trustee or administrator who knows nothing about book art is cutting programs in a budget crunch, you want them to find a robust entry for your field--not that it doesn't exist except as a footnote to a disambiguation. 

     It is more than an embarrassment that there is no entry specific to the name and purpose of the College Book Art Association or Book Art Theory blog. Although the "artist's book" entry is reasonably well written and organized, it has a distinct point of view that does not represent the larger field of book art of which "artist's books" is a part. Many of our subfields already have entries and are linked from "artist's book" in its "See also" section. This will make our job of creating the Book Art listing easier. Note that this list includes a "List of book arts centers" even though "book arts" remains a disambiguation phrase without its own entry. 

    • Art diary
    • Altered book
    • List of book arts centers
    • Asemic writing
    • Bookbinding
    • Fine press
    • Illuminated manuscript
    • Letterpress printing
    • Miniature book
    • Something Else Press
    • Visual poetry
    • Zine

    Please help rectify this situation by going to the entry at;

    Richard Minsky is a book artist. In 1974 he founded the Center for Book Arts. The Richard Minsky Archive is at the Yale Arts Library. More at

  • 15 Mar 2018 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    I am a small press comics publisher and current MFA student at Visual Studies Workshop, founded in 1969 by Nathan Lyons. Coming into the VSW MFA program with my background in comics, I started to look for connections between my medium of choice and overlapping concepts in artists’ books and photobooks. I looked to Lyons’ concept of sequence and quickly realized it presents a problem when it comes to comics—that the fundamental mechanics of comics, the so-called “sequential art,” often challenges or completely contradicts the ideas of Lyons, a master of photographic sequence in books.

    Lyons outlines his distinction between series and sequence in “Display as Discourse:” "Series generally are thematically related or connected, while sequences are based upon disjunctive relationship. The Latin root of each term forms another distinction—series, ‘to join;’ sequence, ‘to follow.’ . . . A sequence is structured by allowing one image to follow another by an order of succession or arrangement, which is not apparently thematic or systematic (6)." A series can be seen as “a system of order” (Drucker, 258), whereas sequence is created through juxtaposition.

    Different disciplines necessitate different approaches to sequence and a lack of consistent terms across these disciplines has made for thorny research and problematic discussions. Sequence is often used to describe any arrangement or order (and the dictionary backs this up) yet the understanding of sequence and its relation to seriality, as Lyons defines it, activates myriad possibilities for the creation and interpretation of visual books.

    Comics rely heavily upon the concept of closure, which is defined in terms of a co-presence (Beatty, 108): “observing the parts but perceiving the whole” (McCloud, 63). Lyons suggested a similar idea when he quotes Laszlo Moholy-Nagy about photography: “the single picture loses its separate identity and becomes a part of the assembly; it becomes a structural element of the related whole” (Selected Essays, 199). Thus sequence is more than simply an image relationship: it is inherently structural and compositional, “a framework within which each element or page make a contribution and has a place” (Drucker, 258).

    With narrative comics, closure allows the reader to close fundamental gaps in time and space, connecting disparate moments and mentally constructing a continuous, unified reality. While this sort of image relationship would be defined as serial rather than sequential, it is of note that we read the space between images as transitional, transformational. In a serial relationship, the transition is often plain to see, but in a sequence, this invisible space becomes charged, made all the more elusive and alluring by the fact that what occurs therein is not readily apparent. This space may well have been what photographer Duane Michals was referring to when he said, “I believe in the imagination. What I cannot see is infinitely more important than what I can see.”

    Lyons’ idea of sequence is defined in terms of a “disjunctive” relationship, yet the problem of narrative arises time and again in subsequent discourse. Comics scholar Scott McCloud poses the question, “is it possible for any sequence of panels to be totally unrelated to each other” (Carrier, 51)? One school of thought seems to suggest a sort of inherent narrativity, wherein “direct narratives may be formed, or very layered associative ground may be established” (Lyons, Selected Essays, 195) regardless of the apparent unrelatedness of a grouping of images. Johanna Drucker cautions that “sequence and narrative are related, but not redundant, elements of books structures” (258). Meaning is “inscribed in the succession” (Carrier, 51) of images, but meaning and narrative are not to be confused.

    The tension between series and sequence, as well as the problem of narrative, is in a sense reconciled in the case of abstract comics, where the subversion of typical depictions of time and space seeks to transcend the serial relationships of narrative and awaken the possibilities of sequence. Andrei Molotiu, editor of Fantagraphics Books’ Abstract Comics anthology, links this to his concept of Sequential Dynamism, the “formal visual energy [that] propels the reader’s eye from panel to panel and from page to page” (89). It is rhythmic, kinetic, and generates sequentiality without the representation of diegetic time. Molotiu’s scholarship invites the reader to take a comics page in as one would an abstract painting: “If these works chronicle anything,” he poses, “it is nothing but the life of the graphic trace” (Tabulo, 31).

    “The single photograph, so apparently clear and emphatic . . . is in fact notoriously slippery when it comes to conveying meaning beyond mere depiction,” writes photobook historian Gerry Badger (16). Sequence is what welds the sentence of a single image to into a paragraph, a chapter, “a territory where rational description is relinquished, is held in tension” (Badger, 16). Represented time and space are loosened into an ethereal, associative realm where meaning bleeds and blurs in the space between images, brought to life by succession and juxtaposition. Sequence is at once a structural imperative and a compositional framework, a mechanic of movement and a catalyst for theme, or in the words of Moholy-Nagy, “a potent weapon or a tender poetry” (Lyons, Selected Essays, 199).


    Badger, Gerry. “It's All Fiction: Narrative and the Photobook” in Imprint: Visual Narratives in Books and Beyond. ed. Negative: Hans Edberg et al. University of Gothenburg, 2013.

    Beatty, Bart. “In Focus: Comics Studies, Fifty Years After Film Studies” in Cinema Journal, 50.3 (Spring 2011).

    Carrier, David. The Aesthetics of Comics. University Park, The Pennsylvania University Press, 2000.

    Drucker, Johanna. The Century of Artist's Books. New York: Granary Books, 2004.

    Lyons, Nathan. “Display as Discourse” in Journal of Artists' Books, 27 (Spring 2010).

    ____________. Selected Essays, Lectures, and Interviews. ed. Jessica S. McDonald. Austin: The University of Texas Press, 2012.

    McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1993.

    Molotiu, Andrei. “Abstract Form: Sequential Dynamism and Iconostasis in Abstract Comics and Steve Ditko's Amazing Spider-Man” in Critical Approaches to Comics: Theories and Methods. ed. Matthew J. Smith and Randy Duncan. New York: Routledge, 2012.

    Tabulo, Kym. “Abstract Sequential Art” in Journal of Graphic Novels & Comics. 5.1 (2009).

    Steven Arenius is based in Rochester, New York, where he runs The Panoptic Press, a small press publisher of comics and limited-run print. He studied literature and art history at SUNY New Paltz and is currently pursuing an MFA at the Visual Studies Workshop.

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

    At the 2018 CBAA conference, I presented alongside AB Gorham, Woody Leslie, and Levi Sherman. Our panel, “Half the Field: Writing and the Artist’s Book,” addressed writing from historical, pedagogical, personal, and practical perspectives.

    We addressed how art world institutions like exhibitions, submissions, websites, and critique can better serve the writing produced in our field. Critique epitomizes many of the problematic dynamics and brings to the fore interesting theoretical implications of these tensions. Books that must be read by one person at a time pose obvious challenges to a typical critique format, especially if they contain written content. In contrast, writing students come to class having already read the piece or pieces that will be workshopped. I believe book art classes can adapt the workshop approach to critique, especially to develop artists’ writing practices. The difficulties posed by this translation reveal fascinating fault lines in the theoretical terrain – the inextricable integration of the artists’ book, the material presence of language, and so on.

    Writing has much to offer book arts education beyond critique, or more accurately, before critique. We must begin by questioning our prioritization of the visual. Not only will stronger writing create a stronger book, but writing can offer a reader a familiar access point into a piece. Certainly novels are more familiar than artists’ books to most viewers. People broadly have an understanding of how books work: of chapters, paragraphs, sentences. Sadly, that is not always the case for visual art. As an instructor, I work to improve my students’ visual literacy, but in the meantime, as a writer, I can demonstrate why an understanding of narrative technique improves artists’ books.

    Tension and conflict drive a book. Linguistic play can delight a reader, but a reader craves momentum. We will read until there is equilibrium, we will read until we find an answer. In a narrative piece, this is as simple as ensuring a character or narrator wants something as soon as they’re introduced. A conflict need not be violent or dramatic. People create their own internal conflicts simply through their desires. These conflicts and tension are amplified by obstacles.

    Without a traditional narrative, an artist no longer asks, what does the character want. The question is: what is preventing an equilibrium? The tension here may be the very relationship between the reader and the book. The book may be ergodic—resisting the reader—but such occurrences should be intentional and controlled. Unnecessary resistance becomes merely tedious. The tension propelling the book may also be in relationship between the visual and written components. Whether narrative or not, a book, as a time-based experience, requires propulsion. This may mean resisting the satisfaction of a perfectly resolved spread, since it is the quest for resolution that will drive the reader to turn the page.

    Considering narrative transformation will also help create, or workshop, an artist’s book. In a traditional narrative, a character goes through a transformation. If they do not, a larger point is made, which in itself is a transformation of an idea. These types of changes are satisfying to a reader. However, there are many types of transformation that both satisfy and provide revelations to a viewer. Depicting one perspective and then engaging with another is a change that provides a revelation to the reader. Breaking boundaries is another way to create this effect. In novels, the boundaries are metaphorical or situational: a castaway escapes an island, someone escapes a small town. In an artist’s book, these boundaries can be both written and physical, strengthening this element. Images and writing can bleed off the page, pages can be unfolded, they can be ripped. When done with intention and ordered for emphasis, these moves can satisfy the viewer.

    These literary lessons highlight the shared vocabulary of visual and written art. Consider overlapping terms like ‘tone,’ ‘organic,’ or even ‘depth’ with different meanings in each context. It’s easy to forget that flat characters or the weight of a line are metaphors. This can make critique and discussion confusing for some students, but this act of translation can also lead to important discoveries in the messy overlap of connotations and meanings.

    Carley Gomez is a PhD candidate in Fiction and a Gus T. Ridgel Fellow at the University of Missouri. She has an MFA in Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her fiction has been published in Passages North and Euphony Journal.

  • 15 Feb 2018 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    During the 2018 CBAA Conference in Philadelphia, I took part in a panel comprised of myself, Carley Gomez, Woody Leslie, and organized by contributor Levi Sherman. This panel explored, among many other things, how book art can benefit from adopting methods from the creative writing field and discussed ways to improve institutions and systems that unwittingly de-emphasize writing within book arts.

    As a tangent of my talk titled “Rebus Read Plainly,” I’d like to propose expanding the notion of writing, specifically in the context of incorporating text into artists’ books. Even more, how can we (educators) get students to produce text for or within artists’ books that doesn’t fall into the trappings of the often-clichéd language that tends to be a default for nascent writers?

    In the long stretching shadow of Mallarmé exists a collection of books that contain fragmented poems, poetic utterances, or short, quippy phrases—while these are wonderful books, this seems to be the default mode of writing within many artists’ books. Perhaps writing in this manner is due to the shared space comprised of text and imagery (not to mention a book’s structural concerns), or, maybe there is a subconscious impulse to keep the language brief or mainly visual in order to appeal to a more visually-oriented audience. Of course, there are many different categories of books, and books that slip in between those categories, so I want to avoid over-generalizing and explore some tendencies I see with “new” book artists. I know that book artists agonize over the text that they incorporate into their books, so this isn’t to imply otherwise. Rather, I’m curious about the textual trend I see with so many artists’ books containing what looks like and acts like poetic language = Poems.

    Writing should not be an afterthought within an artist’s book. Visual elements that work primarily in service of the text are referred to as illustrative, a word that denotes a level of dependency between text and image and, often, places the visual elements into a category of work that historically is defined by an intent other than artistic expression. What about text that works primarily in service of the visual elements of the book? Shouldn’t we call this text descriptive, stripping it of some of its independence as a written artistic form? In order to begin a discussion about the relationship between text and imagery in artists’ books, we have to be willing to prescribe levels of effectiveness not only with imagery and structure, but with the accompanying text. Don’t we already have enough to consider when making books and book objects? Sure, but what’s one more thing?

    The book arts workshop isn’t always a conducive environment for reading/viewing books which contain text that takes time to digest. How can we get students to respond to the text as they respond to the imagery, structure, and material choices? I suggest recommending to students (and ourselves) that alternative writing, including text messages, grocery lists, and step-by-step processes (to name a few) can provide ample fodder for exploring book forms, as well as creating dynamic reading/viewing experiences. Employing these familiar, certainly mundane forms of writing has the companion effect of providing a remedy for that pressure to write Poems into books. Perhaps incorporating text with familiar forms (the texts, lists, and processes that I suggest above) is one way to begin that training. Ultimately, regardless of form, how is the text working within the book space? Using these forms to shape text, we can still ask students to avoid illustrations and descriptive language with the aim of creating more conceptual books, and, just maybe, they’ll begin to see the possibilities for text that doesn’t have to be a Poem.

    AB Gorham is a book artist and writer, originally hailing from Montana. She holds MFAs in Book Arts and Poetry from The University of Alabama. She is the Manager of Black Rock Press and lives in Reno, Nevada with her husband, their daughter, and their three beasts.

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

    “I’m looking for books about mirages,” said one researcher.

    “I’m looking for a book with wooden covers that slam shut on the reader,” said another.

    These are examples of research requests I field on a daily basis in reference to the book arts collection I work with. I love these types of requests because they provide opportunity for me to seek and find new pieces of work that I wouldn’t necessarily come across otherwise. Additionally, these types of requests are relatively easy for me to search in the library catalog and database (or, even with online search engines) because often artists’ books are cataloged with terms focusing on content or structure. I’ve noticed the questions above exemplify two trends in the way people typically request materials in book arts collections: They either choose to focus on topical content or they choose to focus on physical structure. Considering the way books are more typically conceived of as textual information carriers, it’s not surprising that most researchers either use the tools of topic and genre or physical structure, but not both, to search.

    It is my greatest hope, and even assumption, that whichever tool is used to search, the book art piece delivered to the researcher illuminates some relationship between topic and structure. This relationship, though, is more intangible and decidedly more difficult to search for and connect researchers to. In general, the textual and paratextual elements of book art participate equally in the understanding of the whole. Book artists, I think, come to creating work with either an innate or learned sense of looking at the whole. Through exposure to other artists’ work and critical dialogue amongst practitioners, it’s hard to ignore the decisions made and elements present which come together to make a whole. I tend to make the assumption that researchers outside the field of book arts make the connection between the text, image, and physical composition naturally, but I’m not sure if this is the case, nor am I sure where the responsibility of understanding falls.

    Artists’ statements introducing specific books are tools that I have found invaluable as a librarian assisting people in finding book art. As an artist, I am guilty of pushing work off into the world without an accompanying statement. This is partially because I believe the work should be able to convey all meaning and understanding without the aid of a statement, but it’s also partially and frankly because I don’t enjoy writing statements. They, though, do provide the reader something to pull and push against and they often, sometimes in conjunction with a colophon, provide conceptual context in relationship to the physical means of making. In the most practical sense, they also provide readily available terms and phrases by which the item can be cataloged and consequently searched.

    Curiously, I didn’t start writing this post with the intention of shining a light on what an artist says about a work, but I’ve now convinced myself that they are integral to building understanding and research around the art we make. Within the field, I think artists’ statements are generally encouraged, but I’m curious how people perceive their use by future readers and how their perceived use shapes what is provided in a statement.

    Andrea Kohashi is a book artist and librarian residing in Richmond, Virginia. She is the Teaching and Learning Librarian at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Special Collections and Archives. Kohashi received her MFA in Book Arts and MA in Library and Information Science from the University of Iowa.

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

    “What is content?” Some might argue that content is simply the use of text and/or images to tell a story in a book. Perhaps. This past fall, I talked a lot about the idea of “structural content” in relationship to book making. The form of a book is the first place to see how we can give and possibly derive meaning beyond the story inside. The need is straightforward. A binding structure should protect the pages within, so that someone can read the story and then preserve it for others to read as well. The formula for such a book is quite simple. 1. Stick pages together. 2. Put a protective cover around pages. That is the way machines think about book making. Yet, when making a book by hand, we have so many things to consider. Choices have to be made. By making those choices, you begin to add meaning to the work, for me, that is content. Possibly at its most basic, but content nonetheless.

    Content can be quite ordinary. In the 17th Century, artists turned their brushes to the ordinary elements of daily life. Still life paintings, or Genre paintings, are credited with bringing the viewer’s eye to the meaning/beauty/spirituality of the everyday. Just by painting a subject, the artist made the subject meaningful. I think this reverberates through the art practice of the last 400 years. For me this allows one to see the beauty of the object as content in and of itself. It is meaningful to make a beautiful book. Its content is beauty, skill, process, and materials.

    Journals, diaries and sketchbooks, beautifully made books, can be quite meaningful before a pen ever fills their pages with the stories and dreams of their owners. Content as it is defined here is the result of all the choices, structural and material, visual and tactile, that have gone into the creation of the such a book. The exterior of a book might be written off as decoration; however, the cover surely is not merely decoration or protection—it reveals something about the artist who made it and to an extent the person who ultimately uses the book. The best analogy, for me, is from the musical Oklahoma! There is a boxed lunch auction in the story that has the ladies making picnic lunches and dressing the baskets in finery and bows. The men are to bid on the “anonymous” lunches and as a bonus the ladies are obliged to have lunch with the winning bidder. Of course, cheating goes on, intrigues fly, and there is a bit of drama. Laurie doesn’t fare too well and has to have lunch with Jud instead of Curly. But I digress. The moral of that story is that through all that finery, frills, and bows, the hand of the maker can distinctly shine through. And likewise, all the finery that might be used in the creation of a book is not simply pretty decoration, but meaningful choices that fill the blankest of books with content.

    David Nees is an adjunct, book artist, and book designer. He is currently working at the University of Alabama Press, 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:

  • 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.


    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:

  • 15 Dec 2017 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    As the end of the calendar year quickly approaches, I have been participating in some self-reflection: It has been approximately two and a half years since I completed my thesis project for my MFA in Book Arts. I have not, during that time, completed any unfinished editions or endeavored on new book art projects. I have, on the other hand, created 4’ by 6’ screen prints, taken on some job printing, and constructed a couple of sculptural costumes out of milkshake straws, fabric, and foil. Recently, knee deep in straws and silver lamé, I began to question if I could still consider myself a book artist, why (or if) I was avoiding creating book art, and if it was important to continue to self-identify as a book artist or as an artist who works in book form.

Even considering the many ways “book art” can be defined, I can still say with certainty I have not made any book art in the past few years. In my day job as a librarian, I work with a collection of over 4,000 book art objects. Daily, I witness the breadth and range of contemporary book art and it’s hard not to compare my own identity, practice, and production to those whose work surrounds me. My book artist identity questioning has led me in multiple directions and I’ve consequently had conversations with many peers about the obstacles and opportunities faced in building a book artist identity. I present the questions below as common threads pulled from hours of discussion and introspection - they are expansive and meant to provoke. I imagine many book artists have considered these questions, and I’m eager to hear the opinions and thoughts of the CBAA (and beyond) community.

    Are tools, equipment, and technical processes integral to the conceptual basis for your work? What happens when the tools and equipment you consider integral to your work are no longer readily available?

    How have you sought and found community for book arts in your current life? Additionally, how do you seek feedback and critique on in-progress work and ideas?

    How is the field of book art perceived by artists in other fields and institutions? Have you seen this perception shift over time?

    How does gender identity affect your experience of the field and yourself as a book artist?

    If you spent time in a formal program studying book art, what, if any, were the ways you prepared for life as a book artist after graduation?

    Andrea Kohashi is a [book?] artist and librarian residing in Richmond, Virginia. She is the Teaching and Learning Librarian at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Special Collections and Archives. Kohashi received her MFA in Book Arts and MA in Library and Information Science from the University of Iowa.

  • 01 Dec 2017 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    Having just returned from a book fair, a friend told me he slightly altered the design of one of his editions to accommodate a multitude of similar requests from collectors (both individual and institutional) for a more readily storable object. In this particular case, the design change did not greatly impact the reading of the piece and made it easier to store and access, rendering it more marketable. Additionally, the artist controlled the alteration in design and implemented it himself. At the 2017 CBAA Annual Meeting in Tallahassee, the Florida State University Strozier Library Special Collections facilitated a discussion about the potential discord between preservation desires and artists’ intentions. My friend’s design change reignited my thinking about the tensions between preservation, access, and artist intention. As both a book artist and a special collections librarian, I often struggle to define the “right” way to handle and provide access to artists’ books.

    Most artists’ books require the user alter or change the book, whether intentional or not. In the collection I currently work with, we have two extreme examples on two ends of the spectrum. The first, a completely white trade editioned book, has greyed on the fore-edge due to repeated handling (yes, even with washed hands). The greying of the pages is not, as far as I can tell, part of the conceptual aim of the piece. The second, a piece composed of thin laser engraved sheets of wood which, according to the artist, are meant to disintegrate with time and use.

    In order to provide as much access as possible to fragile or changeable artists’ books, I’ve heard suggestions of videos or photos to document moments of change. I can’t help but think, though, by documenting the change rather than allowing people to experience it first-hand, we’re missing the point of the whole endeavor. The act of reading is performative, active, and engaging. The act of observing someone reading is less active and more voyeuristic. Access to the laser engraved book mentioned above is similar to a video because it is generally restricted to classes where the book can be handled by a single person and be shown to multiple people at one time - we’re not avoiding disintegration, we’re slowing it as much as we can. When one person handles a book and many observe, only one person is able to access the full experience and the others are left to imagine what the full experience would be like.

    Another approach to providing access to artists’ books is buying multiples. This practice can be reasonable with trade editioned books. With the above white book changing color, one begins to ask oneself if the book is merely dirty, or intentionally meant to discolor over time. Meanings and perceptions begin to shift based on information relayed through the physical changing of the book. Would an additional pristine copy, unable to be be touched, next to the discolored book provide better insight or does it highlight a change not meant to be highlighted? Additionally, if the book is supposed to change over time and use, does the juxtaposition of a clean version and a used version lead the user to imagine rather than experience the book just as videos and photos can do.

    As a book artist creating work, I always have an imagined audience in mind, but, perhaps near sightedly, I’m not thinking about the potential spaces my work may land in the future and how those spaces may change the way the work is understood. It feels natural to compartmentalize my artist self from my librarian self when creating work in my studio or when handling work in a public space, though it is impossible to keep either completely at bay. To refer to the laser engraved book again, my artist self says let as many people handle it as it takes to make the whole thing fall apart. My librarian self wants people to handle the book and let it fall apart...but gently...and slowly...and actually, maybe not at all.

    I’m curious, how does future collection and use affect the creation and production of work? Would a change in design for future collection and use degrade the work (and if so, where is the line)? Are some artists’ books, by their nature, at odds with ideas of collecting?

    Andrea Kohashi is a book artist and librarian residing in Richmond, Virginia. She is the Teaching and Learning Librarian at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Special Collections and Archives. Kohashi received her MFA in Book Arts and MA in Library and Information Science from the University of Iowa.

  • 16 Nov 2017 7:23 PM | Bridget Elmer (Administrator)

    In my most recent post, I argue that we have a responsibility, as artists and educators in the field of book art, to ensure access to the work that we believe is critically important. I recognize that it can be challenging to make this kind of space, particularly in an academic context. Institutions move slowly, politics are embedded but opaque, and resources are (usually) scarce. Add to this the fact that the field of book art encompasses a constantly evolving continuum of creative activity, which is not easily defined or conveyed, nor predictably valued at any given institution. Advocating for the work while facing these difficulties can be a daunting task.

    As I previously acknowledged, partnerships and collaboration are essential, but a critical question remains–where and how do we locate our allies? With this post, I offer up several possibilities, based on the outreach events that I previously profiled, as well as my recent experiences with a collaborative project, Freedom of the Presses,  a multi-site exhibition focused on the creative and democratic processes of 21st century independent artist's publishing, which is currently in full swing at my institutional home.

    Academic libraries are, of course, natural partners. In all three of the collaborative interventions that serve as case studies for this post, the academic library plays a central, if not primary role in project development and implementation. At UCLA, the Activating the Archive project was made possible by the Center for Primary Research and Training, created by the UCLA Library “to integrate special collections materials more fully into the teaching and research mission of the university.” At Swarthmore, the libraries partnered with the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, which focuses on “Engaged Scholarship,” to enact their Friends, Peace, and Sanctuary project. At Ringling, the Brizdle-Schoenberg Special Collections Center participated in the co-curation , exhibition design, and installation of the Freedom of the Presses exhibition. In addition, the Alfred R. Goldstein Library served as the primary site for an associated book fair.

    Campus galleries can also serve as ideal sites for collaborative interventions. Exhibitions organized in partnership with galleries provide space–literally–for critically important work in our field. These collaborative shows can also greatly expand outreach efforts. In the case of Freedom of the Presses, the Ringling College Galleries were able to directly reach ten times the number of potential visitors to the exhibition and associated programming than the Letterpress and Book Arts Center could engage on its own.

    Non-academic organizational partners are also essential allies. They bring critical focus, alternative strategies, creative solutions, swift action, and meaningful engagement to our efforts to activate artists’ books. In the case of Swarthmore’s Friends, Peace, and Sanctuary project, the Philadelphia-based Nationalities Service Center plays a central role. With their mission to “prepare and empower immigrants and refugees in the Philadelphia region to transcend challenging circumstances,” the Nationalities Service Center facilitates meaningful, client-centered experiences for the Iraqi and Syrian refugees involved in the project, empowering both the organizers and participants to engage artists’ books as sites for activism. The Freedom of the Presses project at Ringling would not have been possible without Booklyn, Inc. The entire project was collaboratively developed with Booklyn's Collection Development Curator, Marshall Weber, from concept, to curation, to installation and programming, in an effort to stay true to the work–all of the artists and organizations featured in the exhibition approach artist’s publishing as a socially engaged practice. In addition to this integral collaboration with Booklyn, several other non-academic partners participated in the programming for the show, including EXILE Books, I Wish To Say, Bluebird Books Bus, NOMAD Art Bus, and SEA Change, a regional group of artists and curators dedicated to building awareness and support for socially engaged art practices. These organizations deepened understanding, engaged directly with the public, and provided a variety of accessible entry points to the exhibition.

    As I continue to forge ahead with the goal to make space for critically important artists’ publications, I hope to locate additional allies within and beyond my community and current institution. For instance, where are our allies within self-organized student groups and among faculty on campus? How can I support the meaningful programming and outreach that is already taking place within and beyond our campus through departments such as student volunteerism and service learning, international student affairs, and student health services? Who are the non-academic partners I have yet to engage?

    I invite our membership to consider questions such as these, and to share successful collaborations, emerging strategies, and possible sites for intervention in the comments section below.

    Bridget Elmer is an artist living in Saint Petersburg, Florida. She is the co-operator of Impractical Labor in Service of the Speculative Arts (ILSSA) and founding member of Print St. Pete Community Letterpress. Bridget works as the Coordinator of the Letterpress and Book Arts Center at Ringling College of Art and Design and serves on the CBAA Board as Chair of the Publications Committee. She received an MFA and MLIS from the University of Alabama and her work is collected internationally.

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