Tag Archives: You’ve Come a Long Way Baby

Learning about What Has Come Before: Book Art in America

When I was at San Jose State University, some of my favorite classes were art history. I know. Snooze. But I had the gift of three amazing professors who love art history and made me  love it, too.

Dr. Max Grossman’s enthusiasm for art history was a defining moment for me. What seemed dry and drudgery became interesting, even compelling. In his Medieval to Renaissance class, Dr. Grossman talked about the art and artists as if he had been there. His knowledge of the backstories of great works of art made them come alive and had a lasting effect. Now at museums I recognize work we talked about, I understand its place in the history of art, and its significance to work that followed. I’ve become a better consumer of art because I’m more educated.

Dr. Dore Bowen‘s class Contemporary Art: The Thing sounds like a good name for a horror flick. Instead it was a thought-provoking journey through the art world from Duchamp’s Fountain to Jeff Koon’s Puppy and far beyond. And, while I didn’t always like the art (or even agree that it is art), I did learn to really think. Not just about the visual impact, but also about the intent of the artist, the social and cultural context when the art was made, and the influence of that art on all that follows. This class also led to two of my artists’ books, Rocks and You’ve Come a Long Way Baby.

Brian Taylor‘s History of Photography changed everything for me. I’ve loved photography since I was a little girl (I have the “heads cut off” photos to prove it) but, until this class, I had no idea about the incredible artistic range of this medium I thought I was good at.  As I learned about Anna Atkins, Edward Steichen, Imogen Cunningham,  Jerry Uelsmann, Alexander Rodchenko and too many others to name here, I realized that I knew nothing about photography and that I need to begin again. This class also led to new work including The Heaven Project and Ode to Anna Atkins.

Why have I spent four paragraphs reminiscing about art history classes? This rather long-winded introduction leads me to my current foray into art history, reading No Longer Innocent: Book Art In America 1960-1980 by Betty Bright. I’ve had this book on my shelf for quite some time but I’d never actually opened it. One day I realized how much I was missing the reading and discussions from school and decided that this book would be a good start. I know a lot now about the histories of painting, sculpture, photography, but what do I really know about the history of my own media, book arts? So here goes, a self-directed art history class about book arts. I suspect, as the above mentioned classes changed how I view and make art, this book will also have an impact. I invite you to read along with me and join the discussion.



You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

This is a new artists’ book, You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby, that was inspired by an ashtray I found in my grandma’s things after she passed away. You can see the ashtray, open, in the middle, with the little flip book in it. The ashtray, called a Silent Butler, was named after the device used in the late 1800s to collect table crumbs and ashes.

I found the little ashtray interesting and decided to make a book to go in it. One thing led to another and pretty soon there were two books and a custom matchbook that go inside a vintage purse.

The matchbook has a vintage ad on the back and stats on the front about a depressing term called YPLL. Years per life lost. In the case of smokers, the CDC estimates YPLL of 12 years per person.

The cigarette pack has the accordion book inside with vintage advertisements, aimed at women, from the early 1900s to the 1970s juxtaposed with passages from medical books from the same timeframe as the ads. There is a paragraph from a 1960’s era medical book that informs ladies that, although they probably won’t feel like smoking for the first three months of their pregnancies, they’ll be fine to resume in the next trimester.

The book in the Silent Butler ashtray is a flip book with a girl about the age my grandmother was when she started smoking. She is holding a cigarette and as you flip the pages her lungs change from pink to an unhealthy shade. It ends, perhaps a bit melodramatically, with a gravestone.

The last element is a handkerchief I made using printable cotton. It’s quite lovely and took the inkjet printing very well. It has the colophon printed on it along with a dedication to my grandma, Virginia Elizabeth Ginn.