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Re: Book Art vs. Book Arts



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Cal Smith wrote:
"One more thing. I am thinking about one thing concerning what we call
craft: do
critics ever make it a habit of examining the quality of stretcher bars
or
methods of attaching canvas to frames when pondering the artistic
qualities of
a painting? The mark-making is good; the use of color, nice. But the
stretcher
bars look like they were purchased at Hallmark."

Yes, "craft" is the ugly-but-talented stepchild in the art world.

No, the critics don't comment on the stretcher bars, but when the work
enters the hallowed collection at MOMA, the conservators go to work and
that pre-stretched, pre-sized substrate is worked over with exacting
care and craftsmanship, to "preserve" the art which floats impermanently
on it's surface.

All those cubist collages of cardboard and newsprint weren't brown when
they were pasted together.  But you can be sure they have been
Ph-neutralized to ensure their maximum longevity.  The "craft" has been
applied, out of economic necessity, after the fact.

Impermanence and the transiency of the experience of art is one of the
great concepts of the late 20th century arts, from performance art to
zines.  At least, speaking as a craftsman, it is one of the themes or
concepts that excites me the most.  I gloat, knowing that the experience
of making can never be bought or collected, only the byproducts.

On the other hand, those byproducts have value to me as mementoes, or
windows in to someone else's experience, their time spent with materials
that I too love to spend time with.  When I can see or feel something of
that experience, that person's skill and intelligence and understanding
of their craft, I assign value to the object that communicates that to
me. =20

Whew, starting to get deep in here!  But the assigning of value (either
monetary or status/prestige) to art works is inherently problematic and
always has been.  Artwork itself arguably has no intrinsic value (unless
it is actually propaganda and created as such), and may even be a
(physical or monetary) liability if it is very fragile or awkward to
have around.  So when or how does something become monetarily valuable?
When we agree that it is!  Look at J.P. Boggs's drawings of currency,
which I read about in 'Shapinsky's Karma, Boggs' Bills', by Lawrence
Weschler.

In sum, my take is that you can't fret about whether or not you are
being accorded the status that you so richly deserve as a toiler in the
arts, no matter what you do.  You have to do it because you love it.
And yes, we all want to receive fair value for our labors but all
determinations of value are negotiated.  So if you aren't happy with the
deal, don't shake hands.  Set a policy to only sell your books to
museums if they are art first, books second.  Or only sell to libraries
if you pledge allegiance to access and the "Book Arts" label. =20

I heard a painter give a talk one time at a gallery, and someone asked
him how he priced his canvases.  He replied, "Well, I consider how big
the picture is, and how much time I spent on it.  I consider how good I
think it is, and what the going rate is for pictures by my peers.  And
then I think about all the years I painted without selling anything, and
all the paintings I sold for next to nothing.  And then I set a price."

Joel Benson
Dependable Letterpress
San Francisco

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