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Re: [BKARTS] "Artists' Books" in Literature Departments
Dear Richard etal,
I had a feeling that this cfp would draw some response. Richard, thanks
for your support of the panel! I couldn't tell from your e-mail whether
you thought that *I* agreed with locating the starting point of the
artist's book with Ruscha etal, or if you were simply worried that I was
perpetuating a false notion. Long, neurotic explanation follows:
Regarding the wording about the artist's book's history or "starting
point": I absolutely agree with you! It is absurd to focus as much on
Ruscha or the early sixties more generally as a critic such as Clive
Phillpot does, or as many writers do when they "summarize" the history of
artists' books in other articles. Please note that this is a call for
paper aimed at literature folks, not artists' books folks, and my
"summary" is very general. I'm tossing in terms there to keep my academic
readers focused on two things: first, that this panel is not about
Tristram Shandy, which as you point out is already in the English
department, or fine press editions of the fifties, which get plenty of
bibliophilic and otherwise snooty attention, but work since the sixties
(this in part because it's much easier to have a panel accepted that is
somehow limited in scope); and second, I wanted to set up a firm contrast
with the sentence that followed, so as to emphasize a fact that many
people who read that CFP will have never considered: that artists' books
are often deeply literary in their concerns. I will not add a rant here
about how much work it has been to convince my colleagues that I don't
really want to be getting an art history PhD. I see the CFP as having a
secondary function of educating the random people who will read it despite
being unfamiliar with the genre: a victorianist or medievalist will likely
skim over terms like "fluxus" and "conceptual art," which will mean little
to many of them, but will hopefully absorb the idea that these books are
of concern to literary studies.
In retrospect, with attention to a broader audience, I should have
clarified further in the sentence following the offending one, by saying
"But the possessive term "artist's book" *, as well as the emphasis on
particular art movements,* belies two important facts: first, that many
experiments with book form produced before and after the sixties have been
deeply influenced *not only by a range of art movements but* by literary
movements as well as contemporary debates in literary-critical and
bibliographical study..." etc.
But in writing the cfp, I was worried about cluttering what is meant to be
an informational e-mail for literary scholars with so much qualification
that the key points would be lost.
As you can see in the lines that follow the paragraph intro, I suggest a
huge range of books with potential for study in the session that are
antithetical to the ideals of 1960s canonical artists' books, including
_Griffin and Sabine_, book sculptures, etc.
Honestly, I'm all for tossing the word "artist's book" out the window at
this point, as it merely leads to misery and confusion and as you are no
doubt aware, when one attempts to explain these materials with
non-specialists, wearying discussions about the limits of the term that
keep us from actually talking about the books themselves! Early on in my
work, I was in support of the word being used as broadly as possible, to
encompass all sorts of experiments. Now, in my dissertation, I only use
the word artists' book in my introduction when I explain why I'm not using
it (or any term with the word 'art' in it, for that matter: book
experimentation is my preferred term, with its embrace of the *reader* as
an experimenter as well as the maker.. Of course, it's got its problems
too...but that's another issue). I am pointedly not writing a history of
the artist's book in my own dissertation, but writing about five works
only (each receives at least thirtyfive pages of close attention). This
is, as far as I know, unprecedented.
I do think after all the research I've done, however, that it was only in
the late sixties that a "critical mass," as I call it in the cfp, was
reached--this is borne out in the retroactive appellation "artist's
books." I imagine that twenty years from now another critical mass will
be recognized in the last decade's amazing production of brilliantly
experimental trade publications, book sculpture and installation, and book
arts centers all over the country.
Also, in defense of the use of the word "outgrowth": I meant to imply by
that word that this was the first stage in the contemporary blossoming of
book experimentation; this is not to say that it was the *only* kind of
work going on at that stage (see Dieter Roth's work of the same period for
the best known examples of more sculptural work with the book). But the
success of conceptual art and fluxus in the art world, and more
importantly the ways in which, again, "canonical" artists expanded their
work beyond the tenets of communication that you mention in your e-mail,
can only have helped other artists who ended up taking the book in vastly
different directions. And the following is I think a very important
distinction: while the *intent* of so many conceptual books may be the
communication of ideas, the *effect* might be, in constrast, a reader who
is newly conscious of book form, and is in fact prompted by the objectc
(rather than the artist's intentions) to think about the book's
imaginative and aesthetic properties anew. Not to mention that movements
are not schools and are decentralized, and the very range of ways
in which artists who identified with particular movements attempted to
reinvigorate art through the book is vast.
Whew. That's all I have the energy for this morning. I haven't even had
my coffee yet!
On Thu, 19 Feb 2004, Richard Minsky wrote:
> 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
> all over it and is from the FIRST MAJORITY COSMIC ELDER CONSCIOUSNESS.
> 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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*Postings may not be re-printed in any form without the express
consent of the author - Please respect their contributions & ©*
Archive maintained and suppported by Conservation OnLine