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Rare Books Virtual Lecture — The New Art of Making Books

The Rare Books Department invites you to view its most recent virtual lecture, The New Art of Making Books

Amy Pirkle
Tuscaloosa, AL: Perkolator Press, 2008
N7433.4 P58 S5 2008

If this is your first introduction into the world of artists’ books you may find yourself at times stumbling over definitions. What is an artist’s book, exactly, and how do we recognize it from any other book? But even the definition of a book comes into question. A book is something so familiar that we often don’t think of it as an object that requires a definition. We all know what a book is, right? Or do we?

Perhaps just as abstract is the concept of art. Not all agree on what art is and what art isn’t. But if you were to bring your definitions of book and art together, what would that look like?

Lise Melhorn-Boe
Kingston, Ontario: Transformer Press, 2018
N7433.4 M46 M46 2018

For a definition of artists’ books I often defer to Ulises Carrión. Carrión was a Mexican artist who was widely known for his decisive role in defining and conceptualizing the artistic genre of artists’ books through his manifesto, “The New Art of Making Books,” first printed in 1975. But, as Carrión was a member of the avant-garde, his definition of the term is abstract, obscure, and perhaps a bit eclectic. For Carrión,

“A book is a sequence of space. Each of these spaces is perceived at a different moment — a book is also a sequence of moments.
A book is not a case of words, nor a bag of words, nor a bearer of words.
A book is a space-time sequence…
In the old art, the writer writes texts. In the new art, the writer makes books.
To make a book is to actualize its ideal space-time sequence by means of the creation of a parallel sequence of signs, be it linguistic or other.”

Wendy A. Fernstrum
Minneapolis, MN: Fernworks, 2009
N7433.4 F466 C58 2009

To paraphrase Carrión, when one reads an artists’ book, one has to consider all of its components, and one of the most important components of the artists’ book is its structure. In the “The New Art of Making Books,” Carrión continues: 

“Every word exists as an element of structure — a phrase, a novel, a telegram. Or: every word is part of a text.
Nobody or nothing exists in isolation: everything is an element of a structure.
Every structure is in its turn an element of another structure. Everything that exists is a structure.
In a book of the old art, words transmit the author’s intention… in a book of the new art, words don’t transmit any intention;
they’re used to form a text which is an element of a book, and it is this book, as a totality, that transmits the author’s intention.”

Marie Dern and Danielle Giudichi Wallis
Fairfax, CA: Jungle Garden. Press, 2012
N7433.4 W357 C7 2012

It is helpful to have a dictionary of terms that allows us to talk about the artists’ book, its structure, and other components related to its production. This virtual lecture refers to book terms found on the website Opening Artists Books, a collaborative project established by the Marriott Library’s Book Arts Program Using terms such as codex, accordion, collage, and assemblage, the lecture focuses specifically on the physical qualities such as structure and form, but also discuss ideas related to content, text and image.



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