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Book Art

A guide to artist's books (books created or altered as original works of art).

Artist Brian Dettmer on YouTube

What is an Altered Book?

A subset of the artists' book is the altered book, in which the starting material is an already published book. Any book, old or new, can become an altered book. The transformation can involve any number of interventions—from adding materials to erasing and cutting out bits of the original. Thin pages can be glued together to create supports for collages, painting, and other materials; bindings can be snipped, pages cut and burned, folded, and subjected to all manner of treatments.

Books can be subjected to the elements, left to rot in the rain or to disintegrate in the ocean. The degree of alteration can be minimal, even delicate, creating a kind of palimpsest through which the original can be glimpsed. Or the transformation can be a total obliteration of what was there.

Medieval Italian monks scraped clean the pages of old manuscripts and wrote new texts on the valuable parchment. William Burroughs’s method of writing involved a disruptive violence toward the printed work on the pages of books; he cut pages into pieces and rearranged them so that the text came together in new ways.

Debra Riley Parr. “What Is an Altered Book?”. Fiberarts v. 32 no.1, 2005

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