Core III: From Materiality to Immateriality

For more than fifty years, artists have increasingly turned to the medium of the book for artistic expression. In this course, we examine historical sources, physical, visual and textual, from which they derive inspiration, utilizing the resources of our Denison and Honnold Libraries, the Scripps College Art Collection, and the Getty Research Institute. We see how digital applications revolutionized modern printing practice akin to Gutenberg’s contributions of the fifteenth century and led to the development of new forms of bookmaking, including the non-material, hyper-modern book. We question and analyze the motivation of artists and writers such as Mallarmé, Manet, Sonia Delaunay, Iliazd, Matisse, Ed Ruscha, Raymond Pettibon, Susan King, Betsy Davids and Claire Van Vliet in producing artists’ books. Bolstered by this underpinning, students create and exhibit their own bookworks by the end of the semester.

The field of artists’ books is relevant for intellectual inquiry because it is inherently multi- and cross-disciplinary. It includes complex visual and textual interplay, and there is a wide variety of subject matter addressed from a range of points of view. It affords an opportunity for students to survey the physical, textual and visual precursors to contemporary bookmaking and see historical contributions from a variety of cultures, e.g. Asian papermaking and printing, Egyptian cylinder seals, scrolls and Coptic codices, Islamic and Spanish leather decoration. There are significant resources on campus, all of which will aid students to find their own voice as they produce and exhibit their own bookworks.

There are two major projects for the course:

  • Project One: Develop a description of what an artist book is. Identify and claim as your own one of the genres of artists’ books specified by Johanna Drucker in her book, The Century of Artists’ Books. Write the description of the genre in your own words. Act as curators for an exhibition to be mounted in the Clark Humanities Museum selecting Granary Books that best represent each genre. Work with the books written by the Huberts and Betty Bright for further insights. Use the Kilgour text for background and study the selected readings. Identify and describe the eighty-nine Granary Books in the exhibition. Prepare labels for the cases, write the catalog for the exhibit, and install the exhibit. Videotape your presentations of the books to accompany the catalog.
  • Final Project: Develop and produce an artists’ book. It can be one-of-a-kind or produced in multiples. You can work individually or collaboratively. Work together to find a site for exhibition of the bookworks. Develop an announcement for your exhibition. Videotape your presentations to the class about the books you produced and add this to the DVD for the exhibition.

Readings for the Core III course

Main texts
  • The Century of Artists’ Books, Johanna Drucker
  • The Cutting Edge of Reading: Artists’ Books, Reneé Riese Hubert and Judd D. Hubert (optional)
  • The Evolution of the Book, Fred Kilgour
  • No Longer Innocent: Book Arts in America 1960-1980, Betty Bright
Selections from Supplementary Texts
  • The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding, J. A. Szirmai
  • Artists’ Books, edited by Joan Lyons
  • Artists’ Books in the Modern Era 1870-2000, The Reva and David Logan Collection of Illustrated Books, Robert Flynn Johnson, Essay by Donna Stein
  • The Art of the Book, from Medieval Manuscript to Graphic Novel, James Bettley
  • The Art of Written Forms, Donald Anderson
  • The Beginning of the World of Books, Margaret Bingham Stillwell
  • The Coming of the Book, Febvre & Martin
  • Cover to Cover, The Artist’s Book in Perspective, Rob Perreé
  • The Hand-Produced Book, David Diringer
  • Hypertext 2.0: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology, George P. Landow
  • The Liberated Page, Ed. by Herbert Spencer
  • Paper Before Print: The History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World, Jonathan M. Bloom
  • A Short History of the Printed Word, Warren Chappell
  • Understanding Comics, The Invisible Art, Scott McCloud
Suggested further readings
  • The Alphabet, David Diringer
  • A Book of the Book: Some Works and Projections About the Book & Writing, Rothenberg & Clay
  • The Elements of Typographic Style, Robert Bringhurst
  • Eloquent Witnesses: Bookbindings and their History, Miriam Foot
  • The Futurist Moment, Avant-Garde, Avant Guerre, and the Language of Rapture, Marjorie Perloff
  • Remediation, Understanding New Media, Jay David Bolter, Richard Grusin
  • The Russian Avant-Garde Book 1910-1934, MoMA
  • Speaking of Book Art, Cathy Courtney
  • Structure of the Visual Book, Keith Smith
  • Surrealism and the Book, Reneé Riese Hubert
  • Talking the Boundless Book: Art, Language, & the Book Arts, Ed. by Charles Alexander
  • Women and the Book: Assessing the Visual Evidence, Taylor & Smith