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.

To contribute to the list of underrepresented voices in the book arts, see CBAA Book Art + Social Justice Resource List.

  • 02 May 2022 5:38 AM | Virginia Green (Administrator)

    Generally, I have found the book arts community to be welcoming and happy to have conversations that seek to expand rather than limit ideas about book art. However, I also feel that gatekeeping, or limiting access to something, is still too commonplace within the tight-knit book arts world. Gatekeeping shows up in many ways: through elitism about education, stigma against certain processes or techniques, opinions about the validity of works based on the price tag or amount of time put into the piece, or discrimination against artists of specific demographics. It can be hard to navigate, especially for those new to book arts. In our digital age, and particularly with the pandemic spurring such an intense pivot to online and video-based learning, information has luckily been more equitably accessible than ever before. The switch to virtual learning opened the gates for people in locations where there are no book art centers, people who are agoraphobic, and people who find it difficult to fit in-person classes into their schedules. Often Zoom classes are recorded as well, which provides better access for people with severe anxiety, those who need to receive instruction at a different pace, or those who prefer to understand an entire process before they attempt it themselves. With live captioning technology, virtual learning also opened gates for anyone who needs or prefers captions when receiving auditory instruction. Additionally, many organizations implemented pay-what-you-can or sliding scale models to their services, classes, and memberships which opened the gates to those that found the financial investment of participating in aspects of the book arts community to be a hurdle.

    While there has been an excellent push toward equitable accessibility in the ways mentioned above, I feel there are further discussions that need to happen to open our community even wider as some of the paths toward greater accessibility are not as clear. Early in the switch to online teaching, I noticed conversations about the types of classes students could handle through virtual learning, an expected lack of quality due to the format, and concerns about recording intellectual property. These points are important to think about but are also areas where gatekeeping can seep back into actions. In my next article, I will breakdown some of my thoughts on these points, but I want to encourage open discussion about them as well as about other points that I may have overlooked.

    Some of these points are: - Students don’t have access to equipment, so they can’t learn this technique. - This is too advanced to teach as a workshop. - Students don’t need this information, they only need this information. - These students are too young or too old to learn this. - No one wants to be on Zoom for more than 2 hours, so I am limited in what I can teach. - It’s impossible to see anything in online classes/teaching - online is too difficult. - Teaching workarounds or methods for making without equipment is too difficult or pointless because the equipment is too important. - If I share my process as a video, I’ll be out of a job – anyone can share my video instead of taking my classes.

    The book arts community has so many published books depicting binding techniques but so few published books on printing techniques and an incredibly sparse amount of (quality) video tutorials available, so the explosion of accessible classes has been incredible. As that explosion stabilizes, our community has the opportunity to consciously decide how we are going to add to the culture. Putting in the work for equitable access to high-quality information and instruction is a promising way forward.

    There were plenty of growing pains in the last few years, but many organizations and institutions have made it clear that the additional access provided by virtual learning was in fact growth and not a temporary adjustment. It is exciting to see the number of virtual offerings that are continuing even as we have started to transition standard operations back to in-person and it is exciting to think of how much more access we can provide for people in the future through methods we haven’t explored deeply yet.

    Beth Sheehan is an artist currently living in Tuscaloosa, AL. She teaches paper, print, and book workshops around the US and virtually. She co-authored the book Bookforms. Sheehan has also worked as a professional printer at Durham Press and Harlan and Weaver and was the Bindery Manager at Small Editions.

  • 19 Apr 2022 4:21 AM | Virginia Green (Administrator)

    For many book artists and book art educators, there is an increasing dialogue in making books in collaboration with and response to archives and Special Collections. To have artists working with those collections supports their vitality, assuring that such holdings are not just relics of the past, but instead active and continual contributions to current inquiry.

    The most successful responses to archives are when an artist forms an intersecting narrative between the archive and personal allegory. In her Sobre Adaptaciones y Engaños a Primer Vista (On Adaptions and Deceptions at First Site), the artist Viviana Carlos ( mines an archive for material and goes on to transcend this material by crafting a narrative about collective and personal memory and the human experience. 

    Sobre Adaptaciones had its origins when Viviana Carlos was hired by a private photography collection in Los Angeles to serve as its cataloguer. Carlos, a transplant to Los Angeles from Mexico, had become interested in the history of palm trees in Southern California, and the collection where she worked had numerous historical images of palm trees throughout the city. She learned that these iconic trees of Los Angeles were themselves transplants. The Spanish missionaries who colonialized California originally planted palm trees for decorative purposes and, in the case of date palms, for food. Going through the archive of images, seeing many of them repeatedly, Carlos began to see them as a personal metaphor for her own story of migration.

    As the concept for the book developed, Carlos found herself struggling with questions. As first, she didn’t know how it would evolve, but knew that the central idea was transplantation. At first, she asked herself, with no ownership of these images - did she have a right to use these them? As a cataloguer, she had the skills and knowledge to research the Doctrine of Fair Use and Creative Commons, so she was certain that there would be no copyright violations. Yet these images were part of a history that she did not feel she belonged to as an immigrant.  In addition, she was plagued with a deeper question - did she have a right to tell her story? She felt conflicted because her story of migration – one of legal documentation – was not as difficult as that of others. 

    With these questions in mind, Carlos made the intuitive leap to tell her story through metaphor rather than literally. Sobre Adaptaciones is made of images of palm trees sourced from the collection in which she worked that were in the public domain. 

    The text, in Spanish and English, provides a series of facts about palm trees. 

    As the book unfolds, these facts become an elusive description of the human condition.  Through this, Carlos creates a narrative that transforms the historical basis of the archive to become a personal mythology. 

    To keep archives and special collections thriving, we as educators must ask ourselves how to develop ways for students to connect these collections to their own identities. We must find ways for students to see these collections not only as relics of the past, but to help them find metaphor and meaning that are relevant to their experiences. Carlos credits her time studying with instructor and documentary photographer Celeste Alba Iris of Miradas al Foto Libro ( as forming the conceptual basis for thinking of an archive as materials and personal symbolism.

    By encouraging students to mine archives, we must ask them to go beyond appropriation. This is not just because appropriation is currently debated, depending on who is asked, as trendy or as inappropriate, but because the art of the book demands a deeper, more nuanced and layered approach. Yet the question remains, how do we do this? One method is to introduce works like Sobre Adaptaciones to our students, allowing them to see examples of diverse voices responding to collections and archives as models for artist books. 


    Michelle Wilson is an interdisciplinary thinker, whose work involves papermaking, printmaking, book arts, installation, and social practice. She holds an MFA in Book Arts/Printmaking from the University of the Arts. She exhibits widely and is one-half of the collaborative duo the Rhinoceros Project. She teaches printmaking, papermaking, artist books, and seminars at San Jose State and Stanford.


  • 01 Apr 2022 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    If we take books like Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963) and Yves Peintures (1954) as examples, rock music emerged as a genre roughly around the same time artist books cohered as a medium for modern art. Since the ‘50s and ‘60s, rock has fractured into many sub-genres, while also maintaining a coherent identity that distinguishes it from other major genres, like country or pop. So the term “artist book” or “artist publishing” might be about as useful a term as “popular music.” Occasionally, we need to talk about all of popular music, but it’s more common to write about specific groupings of musicians, fans, producers, songwriters, etc. We need the umbrella term "artist book," but whenever we want to write about artist books, market artist books, buy artist books, plan an artist book fair, etc. we should consider the advantages of classifying books in terms of audience. This doesn't mean the categories have to be rigid or limit artistic expression — consider that musical artists make legendary work both by blurring/transcending genre (Lil Nas X) or embodying genre (Chris Stapleton). 

    In his history of popular music in seven genres, the critic Kelefa Sanneh argues that “the idea of transcending genre suggests an inverse correlation between excellence and belonging, as if the greatest musicians were somehow less important to their musical communities, rather than more. (Did Marvin Gaye transcend R&B? Did Beyoncé?) … It is strange, anyway, to praise genre mixing without also praising the continued existence of the genres that make such mixing possible” (xi). [1] Just as musical artists work within and against existing genres, artist books participate in existing literary and visual art genres. There may also be genres that are unique to artist books, but it is these shared ones that provide inroads for larger and more diverse audiences.

    The link between classification and audience is key, and thus existing classification projects reveal a great deal about the intended audience. In “Developing a Book Art Genre Headings Index,” Mary Anne Dyer and Yuki Hibben of Virginia Commonwealth University discuss their effort to develop a “local genre headings index to be used in the online catalog to provide enhanced access to the libraries’ collection of artists’ books.” However, “the list of genres was composed of terms representing book art facets of structures, binding techniques, mediums, and formats.” [2] Calling ‘accordion fold’ a genre is like calling ‘guitar’ a genre, and most rock fans want to discover new rock artists, not a country artist who happens to play guitar. Genres should open up the field, not just help people who already make artist books.

    The inherent interdisciplinarity of artist books poses challenges, but also opportunities for connections, which genre can facilitate. For example, India’s partner uses artist books to teach public history. He has a collection of artist publications featuring facsimiles of primary sources, with and without commentary. Content type and subject matter are what is salient, not the binding or material. Book-as-primary-sources might not be a genre (yet), but it demonstrates that a collecting parameter can be narrow and still expand the use of artist books beyond practitioners. 

    We’re interested in the possibilities of genre for every player in the publishing communications circuit. We are readers, looking for more of what we like, more easily. We are makers, hoping to reach the audience for our niche publications more easily. We are critics, scholars, and thinkers, writing with specificity about segments of an ever-expanding field. We are publishers, placing publications and their creators into meaningful dialogues and debates. We are educators, teaching about artist books but also using artist books to teach other topics. We are collectors, changing the meaning of our library with each book we add. We are information workers, cataloging and describing works to make them accessible. We are curators, soliciting proposals and offering opportunities, who need to articulate what we can accept, fund, care for, and make meaningful. 

    Yet questions remain: Does genre exist without marketing and middlemen? Are genres only characteristic of mainstream sectors of the culture industry? Is genre really a question of type or just taste? Will naming genres stultify the field? Or will leaving them unspoken serve only those whose work fits into our existing, implicit taxonomy?   

    [1] Sanneh, Kelefa. Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres. Penguin Publishing Group, 2021.

    [2] Dyer, Mary Anne, and Yuki Hibben. “Developing a Book Art Genre Headings Index.” Art Documentation: Journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America 31, no. 1 (2012): 57–66.

    India Johnson makes books and non-books. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa Center for the Book. She also attended fine bookbinding school at LLOTJA Conservatori Arts del Llibre. Based in Iowa City, India exhibits her work locally, nationally, and internationally.

    Levi Sherman is a PhD student in Art History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and the founder of Artists’ Book Reviews.

  • 15 Mar 2022 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    A constant consideration in the analysis of the book as art object is its relationship to the body: i.e., the direct physical reaction of the viewer/reader, and book artist, to the book object’s materials. This is compounded by the fact that it is frequently impossible to articulate and share the physicality of this experience with others that have not had corporeal encounters with book art objects. The difficulty of describing and articulating this experience could conceivably be the reason why there are so many differing opinions regarding what constitutes a definition of the artist book. To wit, Simone Murray in her book about contemporary print culture (2021) describes the difficulty of the definition of the book in the following way:

    “[A]ll definitions should keep sight of the fact that the nature and role of the book are constantly in flux, and any attempt at definition needs to counterbalance analytical precision with sufficient capaciousness to respond to current (and future) developments.” [1]

    In summary, the definition of the book, and to a greater extent the definitions of the artist book, book art object, letterpress book, zine, chapbook, etc., are in a state of “flux,” meaning not just change, but also a flowing and commingling. Due to this state of fluctuation and intermingling of bookish traits, definitions require both detailed investigation of the subject and matter that constitute a sufficiently vast understanding of the book in its manifold variations. [2]

    Beyond recurring questions of definition, such as whether book work is art or craft or how publishing is a political act and can be a form of activism, there are questions regarding the essence of the book as a medium for communication. What is interesting is how the “flux” of the book makes it simultaneously capacious and particular enough to engage with a diversity of forms that other mediums cannot. The format of the book provides a versatile material construct that can either question or acquiesce to norms and expectations of what a book is as a means to question and engage with the viewer/reader. Unlike other mediums, the body of the book engages directly with the body of the viewer/reader as they hold and touch the book object; turn the pages; hear the pages, papers and binding move; smell the glue; and travel conceptually through the art object to understand and absorb its captivating ideas and position. Gillian Silverman puts it this way:

    “In seeing, there is recognition, but in touch, there is the primal experience of contact-the fingers press against that which is foreign and in the process the boundaries between self and other are obscured. All touched objects function briefly as prosthetics, extending the body in new directions, creating, through the erasure of distance, a formal unity.” [3]

    Touching, the haptic experience, has traditionally been mistrusted while sight has been considered the reigning perceptive mode because of its clinical and functional distance from the subject. Nevertheless, as Rosalind Krauss points out, sight is also a mediated and curated form of discernment. Krauss points out that seeing and recognition has been conditioned and formatted by the frames situated around perception.  Historically speaking the visual picturesque was crafted by landscapers, paintings were framed and focused on particular kinds of subject matter. Even photography, that most venerable supplement to vision “acts as a kind of prosthesis, enlarging the capacity of the [eye]” [4] at the expense of the tactile.

    Thus, visual cognitive perception continues to be privileged and distanced from proprioception. This conflict is one that has existed for millennia, though the modern version was formulated by René Descartes (1596–1650) and is known today as the mind-body problem. The question presented by this dichotomy is the apparent disconnection between how the natural or material world includes the presence of an immaterial mind.

    The book art object, or artist book, represents perhaps the most gloriously fecund arena within which to address and redress the mind-body problem. The artist book “is particularly useful in destabilizing the boundary between optics and haptics or art and the everyday. Perhaps this explains why so many artists interested in such intersections have chosen the book as their medium.” [5]

    The artist book’s destabilizing capabilities foment questions and create alternative paradigms that directly challenge and question the mind-body problem. They build curious and quizzical bridges that break down boundaries and establish new connections between mind and body. They present works that address and cross pollinate material objects as embodiments of immaterial thoughts. 

    They interrogate the relationship between the human body, as a living material that contains immaterial thoughts. They present a supplemental haptic experience that transgresses the mind-body split to transgress and present, through the body of the book, to the body of the viewer/reader the visual, literal, allegorical and metaphorical immaterial thoughts of a mind made flesh in the material world by the book artist. Thus, the body of the artist’s book is a supplement to the mind that can be touched, and to touch something is always also to be touched.

    The mind-body problem is an issue for the book artist as they are holding and molding, literally, visually and materially, ideas and their perception within the material construct of the book. The immaterial mind is in their hands and as they touch it, it touches them back.

    De libris cogito, ergo sum. (I think of books, therefore I am.)

    [1] Murray, Simone. Introduction to Contemporary Print Culture: Books As Media. 2021. Print. p. 2.

    [2] Addressing this point Michalis Pichler proposes that: “we are no longer only talking about books anymore—more capacious than book, the term publication is better because it can encompass digital files, hybrid media, and forms we have yet to imagine. . . . Publishing or publications as an umbrella term would include any form of circulating information, including books, zines, loose-leaf collections, flyers, e-books, blog posts, social media and hybrids, as long as they are (or are meant to be) viewed or read by multiple audiences.” Though there is something important to the question of definition there, he is trying to take the easy way out. Pichler, Michalis. “Artist's Book as a Term Is Problematic.” 3am Magazine, 9 Dec. 2019,

    [3] Silverman, Gillian. “Touch.” Matthew Rubery and Leah Price. Further Reading. 2020. Print. p. 193.

    [4] Krauss, Rosalind. “The Photographic Conditions of Surrealism.” October, vol. 19, 1981, p. 32.

    [5] Silverman, p. 196.

    Peter Tanner is an Associate Instructor in Spanish at the University of Utah and Editor of Openings: Studies in Book Art.  He has a Ph.D. in Latin American literature, an MA in Latin American Art History, and a BFA in Painting and Printmaking.  His research focuses on artist books from Latin America.

  • 01 Mar 2022 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    The College Book Art Association’s Book Art Theory blog has presented engaging and absorbing topics over the previous six plus years of its online activity.  Its posts reflect trends and theories that are shaping the discourse that surrounds the artist book in all of its manifestations.  Here is a curated selection of some of the ideas and trends perceptible in the CBAA Book Art Theory blog.

    2015: The first post, on the 30th of September, 2015, was titled “Does Text-To-Be-Read Belong in the Artist’s Book?" This post discusses an issue that is still a theoretical concern for book art: the visual languages of format, image, and text. Other posts in this nascent period appeal for a more diverse history of book arts and the practice of “Book Thinking."

    2016: Amidst the offerings of this first full year of the blog is an article that raises the fascinating proposition present in a material reading of the artist book This year also includes what could be the most cited entry from the blog, titled “ The Artist Book and the Sailor Suit.”Though the title sounds glib, this post deals with the question of “to apostrophize or not to apostrophize” when discussing artist books.  This year also consists of posts regarding subjects like: “Erasures: Absence and Presence,” “What Does Theory Want?,” and “Book Art and Social Practice.”

    2017: Many of the entries this year address the concerns of book artists in their capacity as educators and studio artists.  Among these posts are those that question the unmonitored and silent distribution of digital materials in the internet age and also tackle how artist books as artifacts are simultaneously accessible and inaccessible.

    2018: The thought-provoking topics raised during this year include how to live with art, the question of craft versus art, and the task of “paying attention.”

    2019: This year authors broached subjects as diverse as the paradigms that define the artist book, spaces and places for writing, physically embodying poetics as part of the practice of book creation, along with problematic and interesting possibilities that arise from inverting the new art of the book into a vision of an older book art.

    2020: This was a year of questions.  It might be conceivable to recall our ignorance and uncertainty regarding a viral pandemic in addition to how to schedule and hold online meetings.  At the threshold of this change the question of whether or not a new theory of the artist book could be generated was introduced, experiences beyond language were considered in relation to artist books, and the revelatory aptitude of memes became even more relevant as extended hours were spent online.  Introspective questions surfaced on the blog, involving subjects such as papers romance with the book, word tornados, space time relationships presented by bookworks, and whether or not as artists “[We’re] Doing It All Wrong.”

    2021: Nevertheless, book artists continued forward, assisting each other, and developing new practices for online instruction.  The listening book was proposed as a curious opportunity for further investigation.  Soon thereafter attention was given to the artist book’s ability to extend literature and include non-literary sources.  The examination of the significance of both size and scale was demonstrated to be very relevant to book art.  Finally, “Printing Through the Pandemic” disclosed in what way collaborative print work was possible, why it was and is important, and how it is absolutely necessary in addition to being therapeutic.

    2022 This year has begun by questioning the place and relationship of the narratives that are crafted around the book arts, and the importance of “book arts environments” to bridge gaps between institutions and communities, as well as what are often seen as disparate academic disciplines.

    Some themes that have become apparent through this analysis are: definitions and identities; histories of the medium(s) as histories of the field; relationships between text and image, as well as text versus image; haptic and intellectual hybrid experiences; techniques (including paper production, printing methods, binding methods) and materials (are you a Codex or a Printed Matter person); mutual support and strategies during a time of crisis; the book arts market place; assembling histories and diversified reading lists artist books as activism; and of course many other diverse questions of a theoretical inclination.[*]

    This is what the Book Art Theory blog has unveiled to one reader. What has it revealed to you?

    [*] If this brief summary has left out mention of your specific blog entry, it is simply because there was not enough room to do justice to each of the excellent blog entries that are available. Still, at least you know that your words have not gone into the void. You have at least one fan that appreciates your work, your voice and your skill. Thank you for participating in the blog. It is what it is because of you and your efforts.

    Peter Tanner is an Associate Instructor in Spanish at the University of Utah and Editor of Openings: Studies in Book Art. He has a Ph.D. in Latin American literature, an MA in Latin American Art History, and a BFA in Painting and Printmaking. His research focuses on artist books from Latin America.

  • 15 Feb 2022 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    The next few paragraphs will be dedicated to highlighting a small sampling of book arts environments within three universities or college libraries. In order to better understand the role the book arts play in each of these communities of higher education, I arranged conversations with the directors of each program.

    The Book Arts Studio, University of Richmond, Boatwright Memorial Library, directed by Jen Thomas. [1]

    UR students worked with Jen in the Book Arts Studio to develop creative writing strategies utilizing alternative book structures, which they taught to their partners at the Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center.

    The University of Richmond’s Book Arts Studio is a dynamic space that engages with students and faculty in course instructional sessions in addition to community engaged projects and initiatives, the latter being a truly remarkable aspect of Thomas’s work as director. The community engaged projects that Thomas organizes bring together not only students within UR but also the surrounding community, including local high school students. One such collaboration, titled The Spirit of Armstrong, pulled together 11 University of Richmond students with 21 high school students from Armstrong High School, a historically black high school, to document the voices of students and the community in which they live and learn through the creation of an editioned artist book. The creation of the edition resulting from the collaboration allowed students to explore personal narratives through the shared act of creation that is necessary when producing collaborative book works.

    Members of an HIV support group worked closely with students in an American Studies Seminar to create book pages chronicling their journeys living with HIV. The books were bound with a Japanese stab binding and hung in an exhibition in The Valentine, a local history museum.

    Other community collaborations have been arranged with the Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center working alongside UR students in the First Year Seminar: Storytelling and Social Change to capture story and feeling as embedded within student created accordion books. Another of Thomas’s orchestrated projects worth mentioning is that which brought HIV community members and Richmond students together in order to tell stories of living with HIV through the creation of four collaborative cascading books.

    The Library Book Arts Workshop, Dartmouth College, Baker Library, directed by Sarah Smith [2]

    Students from a Spanish class learned to set type—touching their Spanish words—and printed a group broadside.

    Sarah Smith’s work at Dartmouth College’s Library Book Arts Workshop focuses more heavily on the institutional community through course support and offering book arts workshops (open to both the college and local communities). In discussing the Library Book Arts Workshop with Smith, what stood out to me the most was the collaborations Smith puts together with faculty spanning multiple areas of study within the Dartmouth community. One of Smith’s stated goals is to work with as many areas and courses across Dartmouth’s campus as possible. There are many courses that engage through interdisciplinary collaborative work in the Library Book Arts Workshop at Dartmouth; 7 course instructional sessions/projects are planned for the winter of 2022. A few of those collaborations have involved environmental studies, Latin, English, and Native American Studies courses.

    A student (Tia Yazzie, ’19, Navajo) from Native American Studies course, Pen & Ink Witchcraft holds up the postcard she just printed using the studio’s Cherokee syllabary type. The text is from Cherokee artist and poet Jeff Marley and it says, “Your words are not fleeting”.

    One of these courses, ENGL 52.18, Netflix and the Victorian Serial Novel, provided an interesting opportunity for students to engage through the Library Book Arts Workshop during the lockdowns at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Students were able to explore the topic of seriality and its historic and contemporary implications on readership/viewership through the creation, production, and dissemination of serial pamphlets, created in collaboration with Smith and the Library Book Arts Workshop. The course HIST 96.08 Seminar: Pen and Ink Witchcraft: Native American History Through Treaties collaborated with the Library Book Arts Workshop to engage students through the tactile experience of printing Cherokee type, drawing meaningful and tangible connections to historic injustices through letterpress printing and written communication.

    The Book Arts Lab, Wellesley College, Margaret Clapp Library, directed by Katherine Ruffin [3]

    Students made paper in the Papermaking/Screen Print Studio at Wellesley College.

    Differing slightly from the previous two book arts programs, the Book Arts Lab at Wellesley College hosts for-credit courses within the visual art and writing departments taught by BAL director Katherine Ruffin, typically 1 full class per term. These for-credit courses include ARTS 112 Introduction to Book Studies, ARTS 109 Two Dimensional Design, ARTS 222 Print Methods: Typography/Book Arts, and WRIT/ARTS 115 Word & Image Studio. Additionally, these courses are offered in conjunction with BAL instructional sessions for other academic courses. Much like the course support/instructional sessions offered by Smith at Dartmouth and Thomas at Richmond, in developing and facilitating instructional sessions Ruffin acts in a similar fashion to a librarian subject specialist, coordinating with faculty to build rich and meaningful content in support of course curricula. Ruffin and collaborating faculty use the BAL and library resources as jumping-off points for bringing disparate disciplines to form deep and meaningful enduring understandings through book arts driven content exploration. Each semester Ruffin will coordinate 10-15 instructional sessions per semester.

    A faculty workshop being hosted in the Book Arts Lab.

    The juxtaposition of book arts studio environments to library stacks, special collections, and archival material (not to mention maker spaces) has the potential to build and support information literacy, promote learning, and provide entry points to information in ways that may not have been previously supported by traditional library settings. Ruffin points out that the BAL’s proximity to special collections, archives, and other library resources creates unique creative synergies that encompass both historical and contemporary research.

    An additional facet of Wellesley’s BAL worth mentioning is that it is also home to Annis Press, a literary and fine art press originally began in the late 1940s under the imprint of Red Bud Press. While not overly active, Annis Press on occasion will produce work with students, faculty, and visiting writers and artists such as Kiki Smith, Toxicology, 2009. [4]


     [1] Clark, Kyle, and Jen Thomas. Book arts in college and university libraries. December 16, 2021. Personal interview conducted over Zoom.

    [2] Clark, Kyle, and Sarah Smith. Book arts in college and university libraries. January 5, 2022. Personal interview conducted over Zoom.

     [3] Clark, Kyle, and Katherine Ruffin. Book arts in college and university libraries. January 7, 2022. Personal interview conducted over Zoom.

     [4] Smith, Kiki. Toxicology (letterpress and relief printing), Annis Press, 2009, Whitney Museum of American Art,

    Kyle Anthony Clark is an artist and educator living in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Kyle works at the University of Michigan Library’s conservation laboratory and as an instructor in the Book Arts Studio. Kyle maintains an independent practice and teaches courses and workshops on artists books, bookbinding, letterpress, and papermaking.

  • 01 Feb 2022 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    Clive Phillpot, former head of the library at the Museum of Modern Art, loosely defines artists’ books as: “distinguished by the fact that they sit provocatively at the juncture where art, documentation, and literature all come together…. What really characterizes artists’ books is that they reflect and emerge from the preoccupations and sensibilities of artists, as makers and as citizens”[1].

    Kyle Clark teaching students the fundamentals of letterpress and pressure printing at the University of Michigan Library’s Book Arts Studio. Photo by Alan J. Piñon, director of Communication & Marketing at the University of Michigan Library.

    “[A]t the juncture where art, documentation, and literature all come together”[1], libraries have and continue to be defined as centers for learning and growth that extend beyond the covers of the Book, or traditional information media. To many, the integration of creative tools within library resources encourages creative freedom and more engaged forms of learning and growth. Book arts studio environments, encompassing a variety of book arts related tools and resources (i.e. letterpress printing, print media, bookbinding, hand papermaking, calligraphy, etc.), have emerged in several college and university library settings within the United States as places that facilitate creative research opportunities and engaged forms of learning. These book arts studio environments provide students and researchers with an opportunity to make critical connections through artistic and scholarly processes while also allowing these library patrons to produce creative work (artists’ books, prints, book art objects, etc.) as both research process and product through varied arts-based inquiry and research methodologies.[2] In a college or university library setting (or a public library setting) this mode of creative engagement lends itself well to providing opportunities for collaboration across disciplines, academic departments, and external communities.

    Among the American colleges and universities with library embedded book arts studio environments are institutions such as Wellesley College, Dartmouth College, University of Richmond, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, Oberlin College, University of Utah, Colorado College, and several others. Each of the college and university libraries that host book arts studio, workshop, or laboratory spaces have a common grounding in their relationship to libraries as hubs for information, research, scholarship, and creative output. It is relevant to note that a few of the above-mentioned library-based book arts environments incorporate small press models for artist book and fine press publishing (i.e., those at Colorado College and the University of Utah).[3] The small press model within library settings, separate from academic departments, creates an environment where free expression can take place, transcending academic and artistic disciplines.

    In an effort to better understand the place of the book arts in current college and university libraries, I was fortunate to have been able to have conversations with the directors at three of the above-mentioned book arts environments: Katherine Ruffin, director of the Book Arts Lab at Wellesley College; Jen Thomas, director of the Book Arts Studio at the University of Richmond; and Sarah Smith, director of the Library Book Arts Workshop at Dartmouth College. Each of these programs is unique, serving their home institution through a combination of book arts programming. Such types of programs include: course instruction/instructional support, non-academic workshops in the book arts, and in some instances providing open studio times for students and library patrons to work on class or independent book arts projects. One of the main commonalities of note within the library-based book arts programs of Dartmouth College, Wellesley College, and the University of Richmond is their collaboration with faculty (from a wide range of disciplines) in order to provide instructional sessions through their respective book arts environments. This type of engagement allows students to explore topics and themes from their coursework through the lens of book arts production, including through the production of artists’ books, prints, zines, and related book arts objects. Sometimes elements of book history or the study of the book as material objects are incorporated into these instructional sessions, as was described by Katherine Ruffin of Wellesley College.[4] In other instances, the book arts serve as a tool or methodology for critically examining complex areas of study. The latter was described by Jen Thomas at the University of Richmond in which a group of students from the University and local HIV community members explore and record narratives through the creation of artists’ books.[5]

    For the next Book Art Theory blog post I’ve written short vignettes highlighting the library-based book arts programs at Dartmouth College, Wellesley College, and the University of Richmond based on conversations with the directors of those three programs. Within these brief overviews, I have attempted to bring attention to aspects that are unique to each program while describing creative projects and/or the programming central to their operation within academic libraries and higher education.


    [1] Lauf, Cornelia, and Clive Phillpot. Artist-Author: Contemporary Artists' Books. 31. New York: Distributed Art Publishers, 1998.

    [2] Rolling, James Haywood. “A Paradigm Analysis of Arts-Based Research and Implications for Education.” Studies in Art Education. Routledge, n.d. doi:10.1080/00393541.2010.11518795. If you are unfamiliar with arts-based research methodologies, this is a nice place to start. As an artist practitioner-educator, I find an enormous amount of value in the work that has been written on arts-based research and its implications for creative scholarly communication.

    [3] “The Press at CC.” Colorado College, April 1, 2021.  “Red Butte Press.” Red Butte Press - Marriott Library - the University of Utah, January 4, 2020.

    [4] Clark, Kyle, and Ruffin, Katherine. Book arts in college and university libraries. January 7, 2022. Personal interview conducted over Zoom.

    [5] Clark, Kyle, and Thomas, Jen. Book arts in college and university libraries. December 16, 2021. Personal interview conducted over Zoom.


    Kyle Anthony Clark is an artist and educator living in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Kyle works at the University of Michigan Library’s conservation laboratory and as an instructor in the Book Arts Studio. Kyle maintains an independent practice and teaches courses and workshops on artists’ books, bookbinding, letterpress, and papermaking.

  • 14 Jan 2022 1:09 PM | Virginia Green (Administrator)

    In our previous post, we rounded up existing infographics about artist books and encouraged our readers to plot them on a Venn diagram of our own. Then we each did this exercise as a way to get our collaborative conversation going. Things are slippery in the book arts world, hence the many versions of diagrams attempting to wrangle these objects and publications. We decided to lean into these different versions of categorization and post two versions, with a bit of justification.

    Levi Sherman’s proposed categorization of artist book infographics.

    Only one section of our Venn diagram remained unpopulated: infographics that deal exclusively with artist intent or audience. The book arts field seems to emphasize books rather than the people who make them or read them. This is notable since related fields had turned their attention to social, political and economic relations around the time many of these infographics were made. The best-known example may be book historian Robert Darnton’s 1982 “Communications Circuit,” which tries to account for the creation, reception, and survival of a book through all the humans that interact with it, and through the book with one another.

    Darnton, Robert. “What Is the History of Books?” Daedalus 111, no. 3 (1982): 65–83, figure 1.

    Hiding beneath a misleading title, we did find one infographic that takes a similar approach: Kione Kochi’s “Clive Phillpot's diagram updated to illustrate new complexities in the age of digital publishing.” At first blush, Kochi’s corrective seems to be technological and thus a matter of materials and processes (a trail of ants march away from Phillpot’s fruit, each carrying a digital publishing technology). However, Kochi’s real innovation is populating Phillpot’s diagram with people and institutions (dealers, collectors, distributors, commercial galleries, chain bookstores, gatekeepers, museums, book art organizations, and artist publishers). Inasmuch as Kochi’s infographic deals with digital publishing, it is about changing relations among players in the field rather than the evolution of the book object itself.

    Kochi, Kione, “Clive Phillpot's diagram updated to illustrate new complexities in the age of digital publishing,” Temporary Services / Half Letter Press, 2015.

    Kochi’s intervention demonstrates the influence Phillpot’s fruit diagram has had on the field, so we were interested to see its evolution over time. One version differs from the fruit diagram only in the phrasing of “literary books” as “just books” and the use of simple geometric shapes instead of fruit. Did the fruit diagram dominate the discourse simply because it is more fun, or is there an important observation that, while art and books exert equal force on artist books, they are fundamentally different from one another (apple and pear rather than circle and circle)?

    Likewise, the fruit diagram organizes books into unique and multiple, whereas another version groups them by visual, verbal, and verbi-visual. Does the preference for the former reflect (or create) a field more interested in materials and process than conceptual organization and subject matter? Perhaps the utility of Phillpot’s fruit diagram is its ability to define or describe the field for outsiders, while other infographics we found do more for those already inside the field. Kochi’s ironic update is certainly meant for insiders, and so is Daniel Mellis’ “Handmade-o-Meter,” which was published in the Journal of Artists’ Books. By contrast, Ulises Carrión’s interdisciplinary media theory and Philip Zimmermann’s analysis of photobooks bring readers in from other fields.

    AB Gorham’s proposed categorization of artist book infographics.

    One could argue Manuel Portela’s diagrams capture the artist’s intent, although originally we hadn’t put them into that category. Portela is attempting to visualize the conceptual and textual strategies of the Danielewski text in a way that feels like a “close reading” but with visual workflow.

    Throughout our exercise, we thought of the infographics as either primarily verbal or primarily visual, but then decided to demarcate those infographics that make use of text and visuals equally. For example, there is a clear distinction between Philip Zimmermann’s photo-bookwork chart (which is essentially a list) and most of the other infographics, but some of the Phillpot diagrams are combinations of simple geometric shapes and concise wording. This may seem less important than the subjects of the areas of the Venn diagram, but it is certainly a part of the argument and perhaps reveals something about how the design of infographics affects the field.

    As mentioned above, Kione’s introduction of “digital publishing” to update the classic Phillpot infographic could itself probably use an update to address the myriad ways that digital media is being incorporated into the artist book world. It would be interesting to see how means of digital publication could become a set of categories for classifying artist books. What would these categories look like? What about books with apps, books with video components, books with digital soundtracks or video games connected to them?

    Ultimately, this structural exercise isn’t about finding the correct answer to our Venn diagram question. It’s about using the data collection of existing book arts (and book-adjacent) infographics and diagrams to get an understanding of the ways in which artists and theorists are thinking about book arts and publication. In this way, these diagrams are as much about the present state of the book and publication arts world as they are about the future — let’s focus on the gaps.

    Levi Sherman is a PhD student in Art History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and the founder of Artists’ Book Reviews.

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

  • 01 Jan 2022 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    There is a prevalence of infographics about artists' books. Infographics that display an inheritance from dematerialized/conceptual art; infographics that describe and demarcate the field of artists’ books; infographics that fulfill the need to communicate about a medium that is both spatial and time-based; infographics that function to teach bookbinding and letterpress printing (book arts). Why are there so many infographics about artists’ books? What do they tell us about or offer to the field of book arts?

    Is this unique to artists’ books? Are we in a field obsessed with defining itself? And what we might learn by surveying them?

    In order to answer some of the preliminary questions we looked at a set of example infographics and attempted to organize them according to "circles of meaning." Being that infographics are spatial, playful, and reductive, we agreed to start with mimicry in order to better understand how they function.

    In terms of data visualization, the relationship between the bookbinding worksheet and a manual for machinery is that both are pragmatic and a sort of meta-publication. Maybe this connection is related to design practices. Design practices stem (partly) from necessity (the need to organize and plot out on paper where to print, fold, bind when there are so many planes of existence in a book format), but also include the artistic impulse to visually manifest an abstract idea or emotion. It’s possible that these book arts infographics are a result of the artistic/design impulse to create a visual, as well as practical, guide for a field that has its foundations in an existing form or medium (the book). The inherent interdisciplinarity of artists’ books and its conception/metaphorization as a “field” or a zone of intersection lends itself to spatial representation, and, the ongoing concern with self-definition and self-examination continues to produce infographics in this vein.

    We evaluated the sample infographics and placed them into 3 large categories: Materiality/Process; Conceptual Organization/Subject Matter; Artist’s Intention/Audience.
    The resulting diagram brings up a few key ideas:

    1. artists' books are interdisciplinary, so it makes sense that the liminal spaces and boundaries will be important (even if they aren't represented)

    2. the point of a structuralist exercise might be to see the limits of discourse, i.e., what positions in the graphic ought to be populated and, if they aren't, what (social or material) factors are preventing them from being populated? 

    3. if the infographics are indeed reductive, how has that affected the field's self-conception?

    We propose using this Venn diagram to gauge infographics about book arts in the same way we would use those book arts infographics to gauge the bookishness of art or the artiness of books. Maybe this infographic becomes a way to talk about the types of critical theory and language used when discussing book arts and brings up larger ideas about the gaps. It will be interesting to see how people plot the various infographics on the structure we’ve created; we anticipate that some will be straightforward and others will be controversial. For example, Smith's conceptual books could be all about artist's intent and thus about artist/audience...but of course that is inherently contrasted to materiality and process, etc.

    In the spirit of book arts as an experiential art form, we would like to take this opportunity to ask the reader to participate in this exercise by deciding where each of the linked diagrams might fit. 

    Levi Sherman is a PhD student in Art History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and the founder of Artists’ Book Reviews.

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

  • 15 Dec 2021 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

    James Joyce’s final book Finnegans Wake is simultaneously the most resistant and the most generous artwork that exists. 

    Resistant because although Joyce said that he could justify everything within it, this circular linguistic extravaganza remains labyrinthine, intransigent, and largely impenetrable to anyone approaching it (exactly, I think, how Joyce wanted it, overflowing as it is with riddles and inventions, and cross-historical and instantaneous perambulations). 

    Generous because it is continuously inviting us into its expansive, ubiquitous, and welcoming sui generis existence (this process, as Ovid and Giambattista Vico and Nature itself inform us, has to be continuous because that is the way the world effortlessly and insistently and without cease reprocesses and recreates and repossesses itself). (And what do artists do except reprocess, recreate, and repossess?) 

    I’ve been reading Finnegans Wake for about 45 years and still have a long way to go.

    Some years ago I decided to annotate the book for myself, and to draw upon (both drink from and decorate), and to disrupt it – sticking my inquisitive nose where it wanted to go, intertwining my meandering musings with its body, and jabbing it with marks and colours (and various found objects, including the whole range of bodily fluids and humours) as I saw fit and as I hoped would fit. 

    Yoking together my twinning interests in the illustrative and the intellectual, the verbal and the visual, the pallet and the palette, LOTS OF FUN WITH FINNEGANS WAKE, my current multi-year artwork, is a way for me to have some fun with the book that Joyce spent 17 years building.

    The tree outside my window is a simple place to start. Covid-bound as I am, it’s often the first and last thing I see. In the midst of my own idiosyncratic glossings – I integrate the research of various guidebooks (my knowledge of Persian, Rhaeto-Romanic, and Shelta is pretty shaky, to say nothing of my familiarity with the artificial language Volapük) and then embroider the text with my own specific amusements – I’ve painted and depicted various versions of this tree onto the pages. 

    The roots and the trunk and the crotches and the branches: trees can take on an uplifting amount of words and weight. I jigsaw as I go, fitting a few letters or words here and there, crafting the edges just so, making room for the thing to breath, and then trying to prevent myself from following my natural horror vacui instincts.   

    So is my artwork an artist’s book? At the end of my project (if such a thing will or should exist) I’ll have one copy of 628 pages of words and colours. But some of the originals are already being dispersed, so the entirety of LOTS OF FUN WITH FINNEGANS WAKE may never be entire. If I think too much about that, I begin to tire. So I just keep marking the time.

    Who knows what an artist’s book is? Do I know? I’ve always been partial to Marcel Duchamp: “It’s an artist’s book if an artist made it, or if an artist says it is.”

    Peter O’Brien’s most recent book, Dream Visions: The Art of Alanis Obomsawin, was published in October 2021 by Viggo Mortensen / Perceval Press. His next book, Love & Let Go, will appear in March 2022. He has been working on LOTS OF FUN WITH FINNEGANS WAKE for about six years. More on the project:

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