Books As Art

February 13, 2012 § 1 Comment

The most interesting insight I’ve heard in the e-reader vs. traditional book debate is that as the traditional book grows in rarity, the production and making of these paper bound books will become more and more an art form. The book itself – much like illuminated manuscripts hundreds of years ago – will become a piece of art.

Former Soft Skull editor Richard Nash spoke with the Boston Review about  the current state of publishing. “What we have witnessed over the last fifty years is the progressive shittification of the book as an object,” he says. Because it’s been about mass producing books and making profit, we’ve lost some things about books that make them beautiful to display as well as read, that give them the quality of something we’d want to keep.

There are many authors and artists exploring this idea already. Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, published a book last fall, Tree of Codes, mixing the art of die-cutting with story-telling for an interesting novel and an intriguing piece of visual art.

Julie Chen defines herself as a book artist. She says:

For me, the physical manifestation of the book is often of equal importance to the visual and textual ideas expressed within the pages in conveying meaning and in affecting the experience of the reader/viewer. My personal definition of the book is quite broad, with boundaries that are in constant flux. At the core of my interpretation is the act of reading, and the element of time that is essential to this act.

Maryline Poole Adams in Berkeley, California, prints and publishes miniature books like the ones below.

Makoto Fujimura, a contemporary painter in New York, harkens back to the days of illuminated biblical manuscripts through his collaboration with Crossway Books on a new edition of the four gospels.

Designer Cardon Webb redesigned the covers of six books on neurology by Oliver Sacks, so that each cover could stand alone or go together in a collection.

I’m interested to see how this art form will grow. And I rather like the question of physical bookish materials below, posed by poet Elaine Equi.

“The Libraries Didn’t Burn”

despite books kindled in electronic flames.

The locket of bookish love
still opens and shuts.

But its words have migrated
to a luminous elsewhere.

Neither completely oral nor written —
a somewhere in between.

Then will oak, willow,
birch, and olive poets return
to their digital tribes —

trees wander back to the forest?


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§ One Response to Books As Art

  • Very interesting. I’ve only jumped partially on board with the e-book downloads.

    That being said, the biggest reason I buy print books still is for their disposable quality – highlighting, bending pages, re-gifting, and so forth. I just can’t take an Ipad to the beach or leave it on a table while making a trip to a Starbucks restroom!

    About two years back, I bought a stack of old classic books from a rummage sale… not because I’m going to read them, but just because they look neat. Definitely an art to the way some books have been printed.

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