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The Fine Press Artist's Book
1/12/03 Written for show at the Santa Cruz Art League
As book artists we live in exciting times. With the invention of printing, the book replaced the spoken word as the primary means for conveying information. With the invention of the computer, the book has been freed, for the first time since the invention of the printing press, from servitude to information. The book, no longer literatures sole handmaiden, can be an object; an art form.
When I view a book first I consider the form, its shapes and colors. If I can pick it up I feel the textures of the cover and pages. I explore how it functions. Part of the aesthetic appeal of a book is its tactile nature. I turn the pages, to sense the artist's direciton...what style of types are used, are there illustrations, is the page cramped or spacious... I look at the title page, which names the work, and the colophon, which acts as an artist statement, revealing what the maker wants to make known. Then I may read the text. I am not suggesting that text is unnecessary in a book, it is only that I consider it last.
Book artists must develop a vocabulary for the book. Art cannot be discussed without common words and meanings. Books have both form and content. Usually the object appeals to the visual and tactile senses. The text provides content and appeals to the intellect. But as in sculpture, the object can provide the content and as a painting, the text can be visually Armageddon a page. A book has sequence. The artist works with consecutive pages, has a front and back cover to create within. Only in music does an artist have this control over the audience.
There have been two directions for the book as art. One is known as the fine press book, the other as the artist book. The fine press book follows the traditions of the early manuscript or printed books. Its aesthetic is impeccable craftsmanship and attention to detail. The fine press book exists to support and reveal the text. The artist book values concept over craftsmanship. Text can have a personal or undecipherable meaning. Emphasis is given to visual impact and structure rather than function is usually the prime consideration.
I believe the book can only succeed as an art form when these two approaches are merged. A book will prove an artistic masterpiece only when design, concept, materials and execution are all equal and all the highest quality. The book must be able to sustain interest from page to page, from beginning to end. It must have aesthetic content, visual impact, quality craftsmanship and a text worthy of publication. In a fine press artist book all aspects are important. It must touch the soul.
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