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Re: women/men in book arts

Gwen J Miller wrote:
>>"There is less prejudice against women in  book art, so there is more
>>opportunity, because the art establishment doesn't take it seriously."

>I find this statement very interesting. This becomes a two edged sword.  It
>allows more women (or anyone) to create freely in this medium, but their
>art has no place/home outside the book art community.

Of course, anyone can create freely in any medium, if they have no other
agenda. And even if they are "playing" to the establishment, that is a
medium in itself, as is the commercial sector. Andy Warhol. But yes, we are
a self-contained system for the most part. I don't expect much outside
recognition during my lifetime (and I get more than most book artists). Use
archival materials. Maybe in 500 years someone will get it. ;>)

>Do men tend to only work in mediums the "art establishment" accepts, or are
>men "the art establishment?"

I'm not there, but have observed many men in the art world struggle for
fame, power and money. I've aslo seen some women in it. Testosterone may
play a part. I've been away from the art establishment for a few years, so
can't give you today's story about who it is. It used to be that sexual
politics ruled (and some drug politics as well), and gay men had a lot of
power in the curatorial sector. That's why, for example, Basquiat got famous
and Gerald Jackson didn't (Basquiat "popularized" what Jackson developed,
and wasn't averse to certain activities).

>When there is a predominance of males does it
>become an excepted art form?

If that's a typo and means "accepted", it's a hard one to answer. It's more
about money than anything else, and the development of a secondary market
for the work. Then collectors and dealers can measure success by auction
prices, and trustees can hire curators who make their collections more
valuable through museum exhibitions (or, like the Rockefellers, building a

It also relates to the propaganda value of the art, like in the late
40's/early 50's, when the relationship between MOMA and the USIA resulted in
the promotion of Jackson Pollock abroad as an example of American freedom of

>Is the "art establishment" response because it is just a "bunch of women"
>or because it is a new medium that they don't quite know  how to display or
>critique or both?

Bunches of women can achieve establishment approval if they have a market,
or if, like Guerrilla Girls, they are anti-establishment, which sort of
makes them them the Yin of the establishment Yang -- the establishment sort
of likes it because it makes them feel more established. Books are an old
medium. Perhaps the oldest examples we have of a medium (then again, I call
cave painting book art (http://colophon.com/gallery/minsky/intro.htm). The
display question has been resolved for some time. Mindy Dubansky did a lot
of work codifying this.

The critique part is more significant. If there is no way to tell which work
is better, or whether an artist is the originator of an idea or copying it,
then it is hard to create a trading environment to boost value. Until the
value goes up, the big players won't have any interest. Curators are
rightfully scared of it, because if they promote something and it turns out
they showed derivative work and some writer slams them for it, that could
have career implications.

I've seen many works in galleries and museum shows that were obviously 2nd
or 3rd generation derivations, and more importantly, did not not add to or
advance beyond the original. It's one thing to make a work which builds on
someone's ideas. But if the original has more metaphoric power and
originality of form, what's the point of showing the derivative. Usually
it's because of ignorance.

>I see a lot of parallels to the struggles of the fiber art medium.

In the 70's and 80's Craft Horizons magazine devoted many pages to what was
called "The Art-Craft Connection." The editor, Rose Slivka, brought together
panels of artists who used traditional craft media to explore form and
content (such as "The Decade: Change and Continuity" Craft Horizons, June,
1976). Among its problems, fiber art became popular as corporate art because
it's "safe," which may have stigmatized it. I don't think that's exactly the
book art issue.

One of the problems we face is that the book art audience is the most
sophisticated of any art medium. It requires textual and visual literacy. It
is tactile, time-dimensional and interactive. It's not something you
generally color-coordinate with a couch. It's private rather than
ostentatious. Maybe a Gutenberg Bible can "compete" with a de Kooning. If
you think about contemporary book art the art world would say Anselm Kiefer
long before the name of anyone on our list. For the cost of one de Kooning
you could buy a collection of the best work of all the major book artists,
if you could figure out who they are, and it could occupy the same amount of
space on the wall.


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