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Re: If it's good, it's art ...

Welcome, Winston. My guess is a lot of us have worn or still wear many hats.
I'm particularly interested in your master's thesis project, as that's
something I feel I've been working on for all of my 15-plus years making
books, as well as writing about, lecturing on, developing events concerned
with books. Often I find this concern for what I sometimes call "the
physicality of meaning," of developing  visions for books (tactile,
structural, visual, etc.) through their texts, and of then seeing the
physical book as a kind of reading of or response to the text, has a rather
small audience. The literary folk like to think of the text as existing
without physicality (although there are plenty of exceptions); the book arts
folks, or many of them, have either abandoned the literary text altogether
or have developed their art as separate from such texts (thankfully there
are exceptions to this, too). So I'd be interested in what you find out in
your thesis, what kinds of things you are reading or looking at to support
it, etc.
Most of what I've articulated on this is in talks or side comments on essays
on other matters. The only essay I have which is more devoted to this, but
which is limited (I'd like to update it sometime) is "Notes Toward a Book of
Meaning," published in Sonora Review in 1987.

good luck with all of your hats,

charles alexander

At 12:33 AM 3/20/97 -0700, you wrote:
>A friendly warning...this message is a little longer than most. Skip at
>your leisure.
>Greetings Book Arts folk,
>I'm new to the list and seem to have arrived just in time for a juicy
>thread. While I was drawn to this list simply out of a love of books, the
>question of labels, titles and/or professional credentials interests me
>particularly because while I claim many labels for myself, I spend most of
>my time feeling like none fit me particularly well. As a student of words
>(among other things), I certainly recognise the power of words when used as
>titles and professional calling cards. But I also recognise their
>limitations -- they are, after all, only labels.
>First off, I am neither an artist nor a craftsperson when it comes to book
>arts. The closest I've come is winning a book sleeve design contest in
>sixth grade. I am merely a fascinated biblioholic who enjoys hearing about
>leather bindings and glue (or paste, as the case may be) from people who
>know the craft. I appreciate the art that results. Does that distinction
>work for anyone?
>I studied/study English Literature in university, and worked for the campus
>newspaper as production editor. I wrote essays, scholarly and creative. I
>wrote poems. I wrote editorials and drew an occasional editorial cartoon.
>Am I a writer? A poet? An editor? A hack? Now I am working on a Master's
>thesis in English on how the design and materiality of a book is integral
>to the meaning of the literature it contains. Am I a scholar? A
>bibliographer? A book design "expert" though not fully a practitioner?
>My "profession" (company? career? current job?) is that of "graphic
>designer" though I have but one week of formal training in the area. I do
>have many years of on-the-job training and now people pay me well to do
>this job. Am I an artist? A desktop publisher? A design professional? I do
>design book covers and interiors. Am I a typographer? A book designer? A
>book "artist" (a title suggested by the title of this list)? I am a member
>of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada. Does their approval qualify
>me to the "designer's" title?
>I also design web sites as part of my "professional" career. One title
>being bandied about nowadays is "information architect" -- the designer of
>spaces, flow, overall effect, not just the picking of colours and layouts
>for the "rooms" in the "site" like a virtual interior designer (not my
>personal judgement of interior design as art/craft/profession, but rather a
>reflection of the hierarchy I often see operating over who is more the
>artist). Yet there are high school students earning more than me designing
>web sites. Wherefore the qualifications? The "artistry"? The "craft"?
>If I could pick only one title, my business card would read "Winston Pei,
>Artist." Whether I am writing, designing, cooking, painting, sculpting,
>making pottery, gardening, drywalling, plumbing, computer programming, or
>perhaps one day "crafting" a book, I would strive to bring artistry to that
>particular project. To me, artistry by necessity includes professionalism,
>craftsmanship (if that is still an acceptable though non-PC term),
>proficiency and commitment, plus vision, inspiration, imagination. And
>sometimes a little luck, magic or divine intervention as your life's
>philosophy would lead you -- can anyone's skill, however vast, account for
>the one time the marbling on the end papers comes out _just so_?
>But then, that's just me. I do agree whole-heartedly with Charles
>Alexander, "it can be endlessly illuminating to ponder."
>Do pardon my verbosity. I'm new. I'm enthusiastic.
>Winston Pei
>Black Riders Design
>       mailto:info@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
>  or find us on the worldwide web at http://www.blackriders.com/
> "I like to look at it, merely sit and look at it,take it all in without
>moving an eye. It gives me more than rhymed poetry. It rhymes in my eyes.
>   Here are Black Riders for me at last galloping across a blank page."
>                          - Robert Carlton Brown
>                             on his optical poem "Eyes on the Half-Shell"
Light blue and the same red with purple makes a change. It shows that there
is no mistake. Any pink shows that and very likely it is reasonable.
     Gertrude Stein, from "A Substance In A Cushion," in TENDER BUTTONS
Charles Alexander
Chax Press

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