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Re: [BKARTS] "Artists' Books" in Literature Departments

Molly Schwartzburg  wrote:

>Identified by most critics as an outgrowth of the Fluxus and
>conceptual art movements, the artist's book is now recognized
>by art historians as a significant contemporary art form.

Molly, please send me your e-mail address off-list.  I read your message in
the archive, which strips off the domain from e-mail addresses. This is a
great session concept!

I hope Betty Bright and Judith Hoffberg will be presenting papers here!
It's about time the myths propagated by certain 1980's factions in the
artists' book world were debunked.

Anyway, I feel a RANT coming on. It's got MAGGOTS and DINOSAUR SHIT written

I don't get this inclination among American art historians to start the
history of artists' books at 1960. Those who entered the field after 1980
or so have been presented with a published body of "history" that has
become "canonical," to use Molly's apt expression. Of course there were
predecessors to Ed Ruscha's strips of this and that. And I don't mean
Jean-Louis Kerouac. As many of us have observed over the decades, famous
artists tend to get credit for ideas they popularize. And it's not just
today's society or Book Art.  Listen to J.S. Bach.

If you want to look at the forerunner to Ed Ruscha's "Twentysix Gasoline
Stations (1963)," look at Ando Hiroshige's "Fifty-three Stations of the
Tokaido" or "Sixty-nine Stations on the Kiso Highway." Just because it was
Japan and over 100 years earlier doesn't make Ruscha's the first artist's
book. Unless, of course, we prefer an American postModern Chauvinist
interpretation of art history.

Fluxus and Conceptual Art certainly were movements that employed books as
tools. If "most" critics today believe that the artist's book is an
"outgrowth" of those movements it's a sad day for art criticism.  Of course
"most" critics ignored artists' books for so long that some artists feel
any attention is better than none.

Let's keep in mind the tenets of Fluxus and Conceptual Art, and just
include in their descendants the artists' books that fit in those genres.

Lucy Lippard got the title right in "The Dematerialization of the Art
Object." "Artist's books" that document dematerialized conceptualizations
become oxymoronic if one attributes their material form as being their
subject. Books just happened to be a cheap and convenient way of presenting
that information, and existed at that time. But it's not about the book,
it's about the concept. Nowadays that sort of information is more
effectively presented and distributed on the internet. And is way more
cool, since the flow of electrons is closer to being a dematerialized form.
Fluxus websites are also out there.

Albert M. Fine was the Center for Book Arts Artist in Residence for two
years in the mid-70's. He was there every day.  The Center's first weekend
event was a meeting of Ray Johnson's Spam Radio Club.  These were my
friends in 1974, when I started the CBA. Dick Higgins was there. But they
did not invent the artist's book. For a historian to dump all book artists
into the Fluxus category would be an error. These are artist's book

Tristram Shandy is in the Literature Department. And it's in English! Some
grad student could do their entire dissertation on artists' books descended
from Laurence Sterne's 18th C. prototype. And that includes commercially
successful literary artist's books, like Nick Bantock's "Griffin and

Rather than stop our timeline with Fluxus, let's go back past Dada -- past
the 1947 Surrealism catalog with the soft breast that makes art historians
who don't know Mary Reynolds say Marcel Duchamp just because he did it,
past Vollard, past the Futurists and Constructivists, and stop for a moment
in England at the Kelmscott, regarded by some as an abomination, and by
others as salvation. Then across the channel to Delacroix, and back again
to William Blake.  Take it all the way back to Lascaux and Altamira.

But you wanna know an influential name from the 1960's you may never have
heard of that has led to the forms used by many book artists? Emanuele
Casamassima. He was the Director of the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale when
the flood came in 1966. He brought in Peter Waters and 120 technicians, and
that led to sweeping changes in the concepts of conservation, book triage,
etc. Those changes in how we think about books led to such remarkable
inventions as Hedi Kyle's "Flag Book," which has become one of the forms
most used by book artists today.

When creating a history of artists' books, let's keep all this in mind.
Form and Content. There are many types of artists' books, and artists use
forms from many periods and locations to convey the metaphor of their
subject. There there are artists who do books, and there are book artists.

There are a lot of questions. To what extent do the structure and materials
of the book art work influence the perception of the metaphor? How does the
existence (or absence) of pages influence the continuiity of the narrative?

It's exciting that a(n) MLA session is proposed to include such subjects as
"visual and tactile experiments in narrative form." The inclusion of
congnitive theory and visual literature in the study of  modern languages
makes a lot of sense.

Those book_arts-l members who are interested in these issues may also be
interested in
click on: Issues in Coevolution of Language and Theory of Mind
You also may want to click on: Workshops on Art and Cognition

These are the people who created


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