Loyola College in Maryland
Visual Arts

Book Arts & The Artist's Book


The book as a contemporary art form includes a vast range of visual and conceptual aspects which revolve around the idea of sequence and visual narrative in both literal and abstract terms. What sets artists' books and bookworks apart from other forms of visual art is their need for physical manipulation and an intimate contact with them on the part of the viewer, much in the way we interact with common books.

The metaphor of a book and its parts, and a play upon the concept of reading is at hand in an artist's book. The challenge for a book artist and the success of a work largely rests upon whether the book also becomes good art and vice versa.

The craft of a bookwork or artist's book may reference roots and methods which date to the beginnings of recorded language, such as the making of clay tablets, stone carvings, palm leaf and papyrus records, and paper. It may include Eastern and/or Western sewing and binding techniques. Artists' books may also reinterpret/reconsider contemporary objects and ideas and present them in book form. Copier machines, computers, and the use of the Internet as a means of holding images or thoughts together are tools which broaden the possibilities for exploring image/text-making and sequencing the results.

Artists' books tend to be adventurous as artworks. They may involve painting, drawing, printmaking, collage, and aspects of sculpture. They may be fine or crude. They may be made of materials other than paper. Their form grows from the inside out such that the materials and the overall "look" of the work reflects the content. They may address any topic–be it serious, humorous, or everything inbetween.

Artists, bookmakers, scholars, conservators, librarians, purists, and non-traditionalists may find themselves drawing different lines of demarcation concerning what they feel meets the standards of "bookness" as well as good art. Some get quite hot under the collar over book arts issues, particularly as the form has come into its own in this century and a complex and fascinating history may be traced for it. It is a genre very much alive, and rich with practioners who continue to break new ground and set increasingly higher standards.

©2002 Prof. Janet Maher