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Re: [BKARTS] Reflections on bookart and commerce

Here's my take on all this, for whatever its worth.
To the outside buyer, the difference between your book and a trade
paperback, is that you intended your book to look that way. People have to
"get the joke" of your intention (I don't mean that what you are doing is a
joke, but that they have to understand and appreciate your intention.) That
seems to me to be a difficult thing to hope for. Unless your intention is
for them not to know that you intended it to look like a trade paperback
which is getting a little more dada than I can handle on half a cup of

Then you go on to say that "Ultimately, this book will find a mainstream
publisher who will give it the larger audience I think it deserves." So then
you will have a trade paperback edition of a book intended to look like a
trade paperback.

Then you have the line "Nonetheless, the value of my book does not lie in
its physical craftsmanship, but in the way the sophistication of its content
reflects the author's individuality." which seems to me to undermine your
angst about the book's physical appearance, or am I taking content too
literally? So we have serious, sophisticated contents in a mimicked,
industrial shell.

Jules, you've given me something to think about this morning. thanks.

Kevin Driedger
Lansing, Michigan

> I am puzzling through a technical problem that I guess really goes under
> marketing. It's a little complicated, so bear with me as I try to explain
> what's on my mind.
> I am very close to finishing a book called "Mad Laughter, Fragments of a
> Life in Progress," <http://www.cafecancun.com/download/laughter.pdf> (2.7
> mb), which I've mentioned here before. A prominent dealer has agreed to
> ten copies (and could take more), but because he believes that his clients
> judge value primarily on the basis of craftsmanship, he'd like me to do
> in hard cover, as richly produced and bound as possible.
> This presents a problem for me because the book is really a very subtle
> exercise in what I guess would best be called conceptual art. It's a
> home-made version of a trade paperback. The books will be printed on a
> Docutech in a friend's copy shop. Other than cutting and trimming, which
> done in a local print shop, I bind them at home using minimal binding
> technology and methods. When finished they are indistinguishable from a
> standard trade paperback -- and that's my point.
> It's an exercise in what I might call the cult of the ordinary, which goes
> back to the Dadaists, and in our time was exemplified by Andy Warhol's
> Campbell Soup Can. Here's a common object, the trade paperback, that is
> result of great personal love in even the most commercial version. People
> who make books love books, no matter how lowly the instance. Start with
> author and then take it all the way through the myriad steps that go into
> producing a book. Consider the intense discussions on this list on what
> outsiders would consider arcana, such as the use of methyl cellulose in
> binding adhesives.
> So what's different about Mad Laughter? Something absolutely basic. It is
> the work of one person, whereas the trade paperback is a communal project
> involving many other individuals. If I wanted to go to the expense, I
> rent or purchase the appropriate laser printer and buy a paper cutter and
> make these books myself. Each book would then be the exact equivalent of a
> serial work of art such as a serigraph or an edition of photographic
> Even so, my books are more mine, I think, than Escher's works were his
> as they were executed by end-grain wood engravers, and hence are really
> interpretations.
> Producing them in other people's shops is still infinitely more individual
> than all but the most individual self-published print-on-demand book, as
> these are usually designed according to strict rules laid down by the
> printer. And, of course, the author is very far away from the printing
> process itself, whereas I am right there watching those pages roll out. My
> worst fear comes when they are cut. A worker in the print shop ruined a
> a few months ago because he had just sharpened the knife and failed to
> the cutting oil, which stained the cover. At first I decided, well, that's
> what makes it an individual work of art, right? Then I removed the cover
> very carefully cut a new one and glued it and trimmed it by hand.
> Mad Laughter, in a sense, goes directly from my mind to the printed page.
> I'm not unique in that regard. Many others on this list are doing similar
> projects. But I think that most are much more deeply involved in the
> Blake's idea of the book as a work of hand craftsmanship with a history
> rooted in the illuminated manuscript going all the way back to the
> papyrus. Their inspiration -- to me -- seems to come from the mediaeval
> of the book as a great treasure. Hence the elaborate bindings, the pearls
> and gold fittings and so on.
> I consider the book as a modern technological object. It's cheap. It's
> industrial. It has the machined precision of brushed stainless steel, or
> Saran-wrap. Until recently, achieving that precision required cooperating
> with the industrial system in a way that was often very damaging to the
> creative process. Corporate political policies combine with the technical
> requirements of the distribution system to shape the product in ways that
> cause great pain. I don't want to go into the details of my own
> which have been quite heartbreaking. Suffice it to say that Mad Laughter
> my attempt to escape what I perceive to be a spiritual prison.
> Nonetheless, the value of my book does not lie in its physical
> craftsmanship, but in the way the sophistication of its content reflects
> author's individuality. Those who have downloaded the pdf will, I'm sure,
> appreciate what I am saying. I'm still refining the typography and layout,
> but they aim at the look of the museum catalog or the best of the
> press. The text and photographs adhere to the highest modern commercial
> standards. The effect is very deliberately the opposite of Kelmscott. The
> physical instance -- the book that you hold in your hands, however -- is
> humble. It's just any trade paperback. That's my point.
> I can do a hardcover, and it will be beautiful, but much more rustic,
> because I am not a technically accomplished bookbinder. There are a couple
> of bookbinders in Cancun, so I'm sure that if I worked with one of them we
> could come up with a book that would faithfully mirror a standard trade
> binding, which would be closer to my concept of the book as an ordinary
> industrial object (especially if glued rather than sewn). Something in me
> resisting this; yet I want this dealer to take my work. He's very
> influential. It could be exactly the break I need right now.
> I understand his argument fully. All other factors aside, he can probably
> get, say, up to $350 each for a hardcover book in an edition of ten
> but would be hard-pressed to get $50 each for a trade paperback. Ideally,
> he'd like me to do an edition of 200-300 copies, beautifully bound and
> cased. But even an edition that large of a trade paperback would be quite
> challenge for me. I am capable of producing tiny quantities of technically
> modest books. That's all I really want to do for now. Ultimately, this
> will find a mainstream publisher who will give it the larger audience I
> think it deserves. Right now, all I am trying to do is finance the search
> for that publisher by selling my hand-made copies.
> To me, the dealer is missing the point. The collector is not buying the
> frame but the painting. If you look at this from the point of view of
> someone who collects first editions or bound galleys (a very important
> these days), the value of my book lies not in its physical glory, but in
> rare it is: first printing, first edition, not merely signed by the author
> but made by him. It's a lottery ticket. If the concept connects, this tiny
> first edition could be very valuable indeed one day.
> Well.
> So what do you think? I am being hopelessly impractical? I would
> be interested in the opinions of the curators and collectors. Should I
> go along with his idea? Or is there anything that I can say to him that
> might get him to go along with mine. Remember that this is a very
> conservative and busy person, who is one of the leaders in his field, and
> don't want to blow him away by being a pest. Also, maybe he's right.
> Any help will be deeply appreciated.
> --
> JULES SIEGEL http://www.cafecancun.com/bookarts/times.htm
> Apdo 1764 77501-Cancun Q. Roo Mexico 1[52-998]883-3629

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