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A guide to artist's books (books created or altered as original works of art).
Last Updated: Nov 30, 2016 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Defining artists' books

Artists' books take every possible form, participate in every possible convention of book making, every possible "ism" of mainstream art and literature, every possible mode of production, every shape, every degree of ephemerality or archival durability.

There are no specific criteria for defining what an artist's book is, but there are many criteria for defining what it is not, or what it partakes of, or what it distinguishes itself from...

Artists' books are a unique genre, ultimately a genre which is as much about itself, its own forms and traditions, as any other art form or activity. But it is a genre as little bound by constraints of medium or form...It's an area which needs description, investigation, and critical attention before its specificity will emerge.

From  The Artist's Book as Idea and Form by Johanna Drucker


So what is an artists' book, anyway?

  • Artists’ books are not easily defined. Simply put, an artist book is a piece of artwork in book form. The content and form of artists’ books are inescapably tied together. As a result, they are able to communicate ideas on multiple levels.
  • Artists have been creating books for centuries, but artists’ books comprise a new field. The term "artist's book" was originally used to describe books created in the conceptual art movement of the 1970s.
  • Artists’ books today stand out from earlier creations because the books themselves are considered works of art and not just ways to display art. A typical artist's book is handmade and a limited edition.
  • Artists’ books defy the traditional book format by going beyond simple text with visual images, unfolding pages, unusual bindings, and molded cases.
  • They come in a range of shapes, sizes, materials, and subjects. One book may be created out of handmade paper, one out of metal, and another out of wood. Some artists’ books are miniature and others are gigantic.

Podcast Interview Featuring Johanna Drucker Care of the "Bad at Sports: Contemporary Art Talk" Web site, Duncan MacKenzie interviews Johanna Drucker, chatting about her exhibition at the Center for Book and Paper Arts (at Columbia College Chicago, through December 2012) as well as her experience as a scholar and creator of artists' books.

A Brief History of Artists' Books Yale University Art Library provides a concise history of the artist's book, focusing on its historical precedents and mentioning its various incarnations over time including the illustrated books of William Blake, livres d'artistes and contemporary artists' books.


Artists Books: A Definition for the 21st Century

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