Tag Archives: No Longer Innocent

The Trojan Horse of Art?


This post is part of an ongoing series of discussion based on my reading of No Longer Innocent – Book Art in America 1960-1980 by Betty Bright.

In the introduction, Ms. Bright refers to Walter Hamady’s idea that artists’ books are “the Trojan Horse” of art. That books, a familiar, comfortable and trustworthy media, have the opportunity to be approachable, and at the same time controversial, in a way that another media might not.

What do you think? Have you made artists’ books that look pretty on the outside but have shocking content on the inside? Or artists’ books that appear to be about one thing but actually cover a more difficult topic?

I agree with Mr. Hamady’s idea that artists’ books are the trojan horse of art and I often use that convention in my own artists’ books. Sometimes my content is thought-provoking, such as in Virtual/Reality where beautiful landscape photographs are paired with poetry questioning our social trend towards experiencing everything through a screen and, sometimes the content is shocking.

For my BFA show, which was largely about violence against women, I made a set of books where each page of each book has a news story from that day about violence against women. January 1, January 2, etc. I paired them with images on alternating pages and, most importantly, I’ve bound them in a traditional post binding with a beautiful floral cover. (Which ironically a reviewer didn’t get – they said the covers should have been plain.) The first impression is a pretty book. As the viewer begins to read the stories it is shocking, sad and physically draining. But the books underscore the reality that violence is happening against women every single day. And, by making them pretty on the outside, people were more willing to approach (even though the content of the rest of the show hinted at what might be inside). Interestingly enough, I never saw anyone leave a book part way through. Although it was exhausting, the viewers stayed with each book, every page, until the end. Many of them looked at all three books or three months of stories. Did the book format encourage this? Was the trojan horse aspect of pretty cover and difficult content the reason for the success of the books? Did the images I put in after each story give the viewer enough of  a rest to soldier on to the next? Here are some sample pages from one of the books, Paying for what was not her doing (January 2010):

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What format decisions have you made to help a reader handle a difficult topic? Are your books subversive in some way? What do you think of Mr. Hamady’s idea?



What is an Artist(‘)s(‘) Book?


As I mentioned in my last post, I think an interesting part of being an artist is learning about what has come before. I know there are a group of artists who think that art history is a waste of time and we shouldn’t care what happened in art before they came along. I respectfully disagree.

So, I thought I’d share with you about No Longer Innocent – Book Art In America 1960-1980 as I read it. If you’ve read it, or this makes you curious enough to pick it up, let’s discuss it as we go along.

Obviously I can’t outline the whole book for you as I’m sure that Ms. Bright would not appreciate that. You’ll have to read the book. But, I have to admit, it’s very interesting reading so I’m hoping to tempt you to try it for yourself. If you learn something along the way, so much the better. I can tell you that after having read only two chapters so far, I feel like I have a much better understanding of the Book Art world and its history. Whereas I was dreading beginning the book, I’m now looking forward to the next chapter.

So, here we go:

In the introduction, Ms. Bright talks about the pre-occupation, by both artists and galleries/museums about the definition of artist’s books. And, she’s quite right. If you belong to the Book Arts ListServ you’ll know that this discussion comes up regularly. What is an artist book? Does the apostrophe go in front of or after the s? (Artists’ book or artist’s book?), etc. I’d recently read Alisa Golden’s discussion in her blog called, Defining Book Art: What’s in a Name?, and loved her last sentence, “I sigh and say, ‘look at my website.'”

Then, out of curiosity, I Googled “What is an artists book” and found that this is a subject written about over and over by book artists and libraries. Here are some of the more interesting blogs I found:

Artist’s Books – For Lack of a Better Name by Angela Lorenz (I love her opening statement: “WARNING: Artist’s books should come with a warning label. Once you know what they are, be warned, you have the burden of trying to explain them to others.” I also particularly like her list of what artist’s books are not.)

On the Book Arts Web, you’ll find a discussion thread from March 1998: Definition of the Artist’s Book; What is a Book, BSO’s (Book Shaped Objects); Art vs. Craft. (BSO was a new term for me. One of my favorite posts in this thread includes the questions: What is an artist? How do we define “read”?)

And, in case I haven’t lost you yet, here are several more:

What is an artists’ book by the State Library of Queensland

Artists’ Books by the Victoria and Albert Museum

What distinguishes an artist’s book from an art book? by the Lucy Scribner Library (While you’re there, use the sidebar on the right to browse their collection of 100 Artists’ Books. You’ll be inspired.)

What is an Artists’ Book by the Oberlin Art Library

Squirrel? I didn’t actually tell you much about Ms. Bright’s book, but I think this post is long enough. Already we’ve launched off into researching and pondering – which is the point of studying anyway.

How do you define an artists’ book? Please feel free to share in the comments.