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Re: Book Art vs. Book Arts

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> From: "Wood, Susan" <swood@CSU.EDU.AU>
> Date: Sat, 25 Aug 2001 11:15:32 +1000
> Subject: Re: Book Art vs. Book Arts

> I've recently read Howard Becker's book 'Art Worlds' and found some of his
> comments very illuminating. One of the points he makes is that a healthy
> 'art world' requires all levels of practice. Those people who make 'pretty
> books' are necessary - they provide critical mass to ensure the continued
> availability of supplies, they are the clients of those who need to teach to
> supplement their income for sale of work (as several people have indicated),
> and as their consciousness is raised they become part of the market for your
> work.

I very much agree with these comments. I started making my own books because
I was frustrated by the way publishers failed to take my design ideas into
consideration, not to speak of the ridiculous editorial censorship they
wanted to impose. I thought that by showing them how a book could look, I
would change their minds. Well. They just crossed me off as a fool.

In 1977, a friend brought my work to the attention of Martha Wilson, founder
of Franklin Furnace Archive, a pioneer in the area of book-like works by
artists, who gave me a show in 1978. I went to New York for this and was
quite disappointed, as Franklin Furnace looked like a Chinese laundry, only
not quite as sophisticated.

Now, however, the Franklin Furnace Archive is in the Museum of Modern Art,
New York, and so am I! Despite this, my works are hardly professional
examples of the craft of bookbinding, but rather the rough-hewn artifacts of
a self-taught artist who for much of his life has lived in the kind of
remote locations where they pack in your luggage on the heads of native
bearers. Now these places are tourism resorts such as Cancun and I am on the

It seems to me that much of the underlying philosophy of the debate about
how to define art really derives from class structure and power politics.
When I was in high school (1953), I thought modern art was peachy keen, but
I still preferred representational art. The rise of abstract expressionism,
however, seemed to me to be some kind of symptom of abnormal psychology.

In the course of my research for "The Human Robot: Essays on the Emotional
Effects of Industrialism" I discovered that the critical acclaim for
abstract expressionism was carefully cultivated by the CIA as a way of
attacking socialist realism. I believe that Clement Greenberg, the
prominent American art critic whose slashing reviews devastated many a
career, was a CIA agent.

If you search http://www.google.com on "Clement Greenberg" CIA, you'll find
ample references supporting this belief. Although many claim that he was an
unwitting dupe, the history of the CIA's Cold War in art is described in
great detail. See "Art and Power: Abstract Expressionism" (part of a course
description, Curtin University of Technology, Perth)

I am aware that Jackson Pollock may very well have been a great artist.
Clement Greenberg's political agenda did not necessarily invalidate his
astuteness as a judge of talent. One does not effectively carry out a
propaganda campaign by relying only on political criteria. Nonetheless,
abstract expressionism was used as a tool of political propaganda by the CIA
just as socialist realism was used by Stalin.

I think we should be very suspicious of art criticism in general, and always
be aware of its economic and political context. Art has always been an
instrument of power. Our church is industrialism and our Medici are
corporate power brokers. When realism becomes heresy and abstract
expressionism is enshrined because it is meaningless, we do have to think
about what those choices imply.


JULES SIEGEL Apdo 1764 Cancun Q. Roo 77501

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