English 430: Literature & the Visual Arts

December 13, 2009

The Presence of the Creator in Artists’ Books

Filed under: Uncategorized — elizjurgen @ 11:33 pm

In reading  the first chapter of Drucker’s “The Century of Artists’ Books, I was struck by a comment she makes near the end of the chapter: “There are no specific criteria for defining what an artists’ book is, but there are many criteria for defining what it is not, or what it partakes of, or what it distinguishes itself from” (14).  An artists’ book appears, then, to be in the category of “I know it when I see it” – and this type of category, while gloriously open to freedom of interpretation, also invites much speculation and argument. So, I will go ahead and jump into the fray, and add my two cents – much like we did in class, when we tried to answer the question “what is a book?”

My own definition of artists’ book comes closest to what Drucker describes as a space at which the elements or activities the artist employs intersect (2).  As I mentioned in class when discussing books in general, what for me defines a book is an intention – whether it be to tell a story, impart wisdom, share experience, or challenge existing paradigms. The ubiquitous codex has for centuries been the model for what we call “book,” probably because it ultimately developed as an easily reproducible and cheap method of carrying information. But it is the intention carried within the words or images on those pages which makes the book come into existence in the first place; without the initial vision and creation of the writer, the book would never exist. The intention is what creates both the literal and figurative “space” of the book.  Artists books are to me no less an example of an intention. Artists have the additional capabilities of including their own handwork in the “book” they create; it could perhaps be argued that an artists’ book contains an even stronger intention, that it take up more figurative “space” because it engages the hand of the creator beyond writing the words and having someone else set them in type and print them up.

If this argument is followed through, an artists’ book then pulls the reader/viewer into the same “space” that the artist occupies, and the audience becomes a part of the book as well, forming a dialogue between artist and reader/viewer. This is a powerful place for an intention to reside, and perhaps explains why artists’ books became an accepted 20th century genre, and elicit such strong responses, not only from their audience but between other artists as well (as we learned at the Getty when we viewed the photos one artist had made of the burnt scraps of another artist’s work!).

If we use the idea of an artists’ book as a space which is occupied by an intention, then we could perhaps include all books within this category, which of course brings us back to Drucker’s comment that we know what an artist’s book is not, though not necessarily what it is. And I agree with her that an artists’ book is not a standard “book” in the form of a codex filled with type and bound between two covers.  l lke Drucker’s use of the words “elements and activities” which she says occupy the space of the book, for an artist certainly uses elements – paint, paper, wood, etc. – and activities which shape or manipulate those elements. And those with artistic talents express themselves most clearly when allowed to bring all of their creative craftwork into play.  Blake’s work would be tepid were it only to include his poems or his images – the poems would be pleasant to read and ponder, and the images pretty to look at, but it is the two together, with the mark of his own hand in creating the plates and printing the pages himself, that give them their power.

That to me is ultimately what defines an artists’ book – the “hand”of the creator is very present in the finished work, whereas in a printed volume, the mind of the writer is sensed, but not their physical effort and presence. Both, to be a “book,” must carry a cohesive intention, but the artists’ book carries the additional weight of the creator’s presence.

Symbols in Picture!

Filed under: Uncategorized — mojde @ 11:22 pm

I got this in my emails a while ago. I just wanted to share it here. I’m wondering if at this time anybody would check the blogs, but I would love to see what you think about this and I hope to see some opinions. Related or none-related to our subject matters in the course?

December 3, 2009

The Book as an Artform

Filed under: Uncategorized — vegajaneth @ 2:11 am

I belive we are living in times where experimentation in art is thriving and books as an artform are becoming more noticeable. We are also living in an age where technology will facilitate the exploration and experimentation in books. I do agree with Drucker when she states that we can’t limit the book as an art form because I do belive you can’t set limits on art. Exploration expands limits and it is interesting to see how the book as been able to go beyond the limits most people want to set on it. It is also interesting to see how comfortable we are are setting categories and how this categories can account for so many limitations. Art, doesn’t matter in what form it appears, has the special function of breaking rules and why shouldn’t the book be included since it is some sort of physical expression of an idea or emotion. Why should it be categorized and labeled according to its functions?

I know this might sound contradictory or fickle but, I also have to take into account if there is any blurring of the lines when we take out limitations. Drucker wrote about the book as a personal experience. Yet, can we explore this art form so much to the point of destroying it? We might not be able to destroy but, we might be able to transform it in such radical ways that the whole definition of a book might change.  In the fast paced world of technology, this might be possible sooner than we think. Yet, this art. We must question what we value most Art or art form.

December 2, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — keliayr @ 6:16 pm

The artist’s book is a novel concept (so to speak) because of its diversion from the standard way of thinking about the book and its function. Author Johanna Drucker talks about this in her article “The Artist’s Book as Idea and Form,” saying that “an artist’s book is a book created as an original work of art” (2) and that “it is a book which integrates the formal means of its realization and production with its thematic or aesthetic issues” (2). Artist’s books then are a unique genre within the book publishing industry because they are a work of art which incorporates the form of the book as part of the overall vision. This distinguishes artist’s books from the livre d’artiste which, Drucker says, “are productions rather than creations, products, rather than visions, examples of a form, not interrogations of its conceptual or formal or metaphysical potential” (3). In this way, the artist’s book becomes a unique form of artistic expression, one which is a combination of art, text and the book form itself, and is designed to make an artistic statement: “The idea of making the book a tool of independent, activist thought has been one of the persistent elements of the mystique of the artist’s book” (7).

In fact, using the book as an artistic form of expression the way book artists do, changes the purpose of the book altogether. Usually, a book is designed for displaying photos on a page, as in a coffee-table book, or for reading, as in a work of literature. But, artist’s books intentionally combine art, text and book form into one means of expression. In this way, they are combining several forms of expression — writing, artistic creation and even sculpture (with their manipulation of the book form itself) to make a statement. Drucker says that artist’s books have “served to express aspects of mainstream art which were not able to find expression in the form of wall pieces, performances or sculpture” (8). This is because artist’s books combine three forms of art together, giving the piece the potential for a triply effective means of thematic expression.

But, as Drucker says in her article, the decision to use the book form to convey a message must have a specific intrinstic purpose for the piece: “Ultimately an artist’s book has to have some conviction, some soul, some reason to be and to be a book in order to succeed” (10). Then, the final step in the artistic process is to find what Drucker calls an “informed viewer” (9) who can “determine the extent to which a book work makes integral use of the specific features of this form” (9). In other words, when all is said and done, the true test of the artist’s book is: Does it do its job? Does it successfully use the book form, the art and the text to make a statement, convey a vision or show a purpose? Does it inspire thought and introspection which could only be understood using the book form? Is the message clear? These are the questions which make the artist’s book a unique form of artistic expression and yet still tie it to its sister forms of expression: writing, art and sculpture.

Doodle Does A Body Good

Filed under: Uncategorized — mfcoley @ 12:20 pm

Linda Barry’s What It Is is remarkable and brilliant. I loved how she captivated my mind with the colors and images, while at the same time taught and allowed my creative to come forth and flow. It’s wonderful how it works both as a scrapbook type journal and then becomes a sort of instructional book. Barry’s own life is saddening, but to see how she pulled herself through and finally believed in herself and her creativity was inspiring.

 I like how she used mellow page colors for her narrative section and then bright ones for the instructional one. The blue’s and green’s helped convey a feeling of melancholy. The constant use of spiders and octopuses during the narrative position also created a somber, almost trapped-like atmosphere.

Changing to pink during her instructional section sparked a feeling of hope and determination; however, the question that struck me the most in this section was “why do people doodle?” I had never really thought about that. I have observed countless people doodle and create wonderful drawings. In fact, after I thought about it, I remember thinking how different my doodling was from others (void of creativity, dull). Nonetheless, after reading her question and recollecting my negative thoughts in regards to doodling, I set forth to follow her intrusions. I cleared my mind and though of just one word… from there my mind just “took” off. I wish we had more time in class to discuss it, for it is definitely worth it.

Office hours to the end of the semester

Filed under: About the course,Scheduling — charleshatfield @ 8:28 am

Following are days and times when you can be sure to find me in my CSUN office, Sierra Tower 735:

Wednesday, Dec. 2, 1:00 to 4:00 pm
Thursday, Dec. 3, 1:00 to 3:00 pm
Tuesday, Dec. 8, 1:00 to 3:00 pm
Wednesday, Dec. 9, 1:00 to 3:00 pm
Thursday, Dec. 10, 1:00 to 3:00 pm
Monday, Dec. 14, 1:00 to 3:00 pm
Tuesday, Dec. 15, 10:00 am to 12:00 pm; 1:30 to 7:30 pm

Please make note of these days and times. I may be available alternate times as well, by appointment, but these would have be worked out with me in advance via phone or email.

Graduate students may schedule their final consultations with me on any of the above days, or on Wednesday, Dec. 16, or Thursday, Dec. 17.

As a reminder, your handmade books will be due in class on the day of our last meeting, Thursday the 10th from 5:15 to 7:15 pm. Don’t forget to visit me next semester so that you can retrieve them! Also, no new readings or blog postings are required from this point forward.

November 28, 2009

Drucker’s Argument

Filed under: Uncategorized — andrewbelinfante @ 2:35 pm

In reading the excerpt from Johanna Drucker’s “Visual and Literary Materiality in Modern Art” one may see that there is no strict way to define what an artist book is. She allows readers to understand that there are specific traits that do not constitute an artist book, but what is most compelling in her argument is the idea that certain rules cannot be enforced as an artist’s creativity should not be inhibited. Her idea in this article is based on the fact that these types of books do not represent something, but are something. She comments, that “there is a single common central theme of attention to materiality as the basis of autonomous, self-sufficient repleteness so that artistic forms are considered to be and not to represent” (Drucker 50). In order to understand the artist book itself, a reader must involve him/herself in the process of understanding what it is rather than what it aims to achieve. Furthermore, the artist in this situation may be attempting to do away with creating something that is representative rather than something which exists alone. This may be why Drucker resists the notion that rules can predetermine what will eventually be an artist book as the author/artist may be creating something brand new.

Johanna Drucker discusses in great detail the legacy of Stéphane Mallarmé and his incredible work A Throw of the Dice as he played with texts in a way that had never been done before. To see an example of his work, go here: A Throw of the Dice. As Drucker explains he explores the “use of a figural, visual, mode. This figuration is a kind of bringing forth, an appearance, that is radically antigrammatical” (Drucker 59). Enjoy his work!

The argument here I find most intriguing though and the one which has already been brought up in a previous post by another classmate is as follows, Drucker says:

Activist artists often give little thought to financial return or careerist investment…Much activist work is topical, politically or socially motivated in its thematics, and distributed through inexpensive editions as cheaply and widely as possible. Artists with a social or political motivation for their work have frequently turned to the inexpensive multiple as a means of gaining a wider audience for the work. Books, because they have the capacity to circulate freely, are independent of any specific institutional restraints (one finds them in friends’ houses, motel rooms, railroad cars, school desks).

From the trip our class took to the Getty Research Institute and from information we received there in addition to that which Drucker has presented, I find this argument to be an interesting glimpse into the world of the artist creating artist books. I also want to mention in addition to the Drucker quote here, the perishability of artist books as a reason a mass publishing house or bookstore could not carry such items. Even if they are expensive, or inexpensive, I am not wholly convinced that that is a proper argument for how or why they may (or may not) be circulated.

November 26, 2009

Book Arts: Julie Chen, plus an animated film

Filed under: Contexts & resources — charleshatfield @ 10:02 pm

Thanks to all for your enthusiastic attendance at the Getty Research Institute last Thursday!

My wife and I were watching television last weekend and came upon the PBS series Craft in America, specifically Episode 5, titled Process, which discusses how and why artists pursue careers in craft. The episode focuses on both individual artists and school programs that are helping students gain the knowledge and skills needed to become craft artists.

Book artist Julie Chen is profiled at length in this episode, and, after our trip to the GRI and our discussions of the visual and material dimensions of books, I thought you all might find it interesting to see her demonstrate and talk about her working process. Plus, you can see examples of her finished work in the episode as well:


BTW, both the Getty and our own Oviatt Library have collected works by Chen. I would also recommend visiting the website for Chen’s publishing house, Flying Fish Press:


Julie Chen is amazing!

Oh, and unrelated to Chen’s work but definitely book art-related, and fascinating, is Going West, a short animated film by Maurice Gee produced by the New Zealand Book Council. Check it out; I’ve never seen a book used quite this way before!

November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Week

Filed under: About the course,Scheduling — charleshatfield @ 11:59 am

Prof. Hatfield here, wishing you all a lovely Thanksgiving week. Of course we’re accelerating toward the end of the semester, with lots of work yet to do, so the break will be good for us all.

As a reminder, I’m taking a furlough day on Tuesday, Nov. 24, and therefore will not be holding my usual office hours on that day. I had hoped to hold office hours today, Monday, Nov. 23, but I’ve come down with what I hope is only a cold, so I’ve decided that I had better stay home. This means, unfortunately, that I will hold no office hours this week.

Do enjoy your break!

November 18, 2009

To Be or Not to Be: Visual Poetry

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sochy @ 4:39 pm

Does an emotion or idea exist prior to becoming perceptible among us? Must it then find a form of expression to exist? If this is the case, the expression of thought and experience must then rely on the languages and tools that we have. Given her/his tools the artist must find a way to represent these emotions, ideas, and the world with, what appears to be, certain constraints. She/he must figure out how to do this.

Johanna Drucker explores this concept with poets that experiment with typography in their work. Typography is used as a method to enhance poetry’s abilities and work beyond these limitations. Instead of merely representing something – it is to “be” that thing. It is a step away from mere imitation and towards an immediate and essential materiality. The sound, the visual appearance, and the form of the poetry become important on their own. The role that the visual depiction plays in the interpretation and reception of the work is important, and so the interplay of visual and verbal form becomes crucial. An artist then has to be both poet and painter – drawing from combined resources to articulate their concept.

As a subscriber to POETRY (Poetry Foundation), I’ve noticed that typography has become increasingly popular. Half of the poems in the magazine are represented in this fashion now. Truth be told – I was never drawn to them despite the beauty and complexity of many of them. It seems that form takes precedent as opposed to the synthesis that it ideally is meant to be. Form of course, is what you see first and that already establishes a conception of the piece. I can’t help but wonder then if form steers the entire piece? Then of course, the form is sometimes not strong enough to represent the poem, and then shape seems to serve merely as a frame to the poem. This type of let down in the experimentation of visual poetry makes you wonder if this type of thing is just an experimentation that is far better in idea than execution. For example, poetry written outside of this experience is still capable of achieving the same purposes for me. In fact, it is still able to evoke emotions within me that works of typography are not able to. I would say that the best type of visual poetry – is when it is not so contrived or concrete. Poetry that trickles subtlety for example is real effective in giving the effect of raindrops or tear drops that kind of thing. Subtle movement is always a little more effective for me because it doesn’t feel like it’s just doing what it does for the sake of it, but rather for the purpose of conveying something that can only be done visually.

I am however a fan of the idea of experimentation, and working towards representing things in their essential truthfulness. I think poetry should be appreciated in its totality, and there is certainly a visual element to it. Poetry should never be dissected only for content, and I think that typography plays to this point. It’s not meaning, but being. All faculties must be mobilized and utilized in order to experience a poem.

Socheata San

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