Friday, April 20, 2018

Book Arts as Egalitarian Practice

We like to name and sort, it helps us make sense of the world. One of the earliest stories of naming is in the Bible when Adam is asked to name each animal. It would have been cumbersome to say "the black one with wings that hops around" or "the one with four legs that comes up to my knees and barks." 

But in some cases, we don't have to agree on the names or properties of things. Is weeding also gardening? You aren't growing anything, you're pulling it up. But, of course weeding is necessary to enable the plants you want to grow. With many activities, we don't have to codify and standardize what they are and are not. They just are. Bureaucracies organize and reorganize/rename to gain power or money, among other things. Historians tend to classify and create movements and groups that may or may not have existed formally. It helps organize theories and timelines, and may make a more coherent story.

What I've always liked about book arts and the book arts community is the open and inclusive nature. So many different practices work side by side under the umbrella of the book. Papermaking, printmaking, letterpress printing, bookbinding, boxmaking, painting, drawing, textiles, sculpture, and more—you can make any kind of book in your own quirky way. We share some common terms in order to understand each other, but overall, the boundaries are loose.

The community has no king or queen, no hierarchy. There are no book art police. Sure, people judge, but that happens no matter how you live your life.


Part of this fluidity comes from the wealth of talent and creativity from a variety of media, each with its own focus. There is some codified information, mostly that derives from longstanding traditions of craft guilds and apprentices. But in making a hard cover, for example, one teacher may teach the application of glue to the boards, another may suggest applying glue to the paper or book cloth. 


Another part of the openness is from the generosity of the makers and the sharing of information. We don't keep secrets; we are excited to pass along what we have learned, created, and discovered.

We know that naming can be powerful. But occasionally structures and techniques are invented simultaneously and named differently. Once taught and over time, structures and terms also may be renamed. 
The structure many of us learned as "Secret Belgian Binding" for example, was actually named "Criss-Cross" by its creator, Anne Goy, but many people continue to call the binding by the name they first learned. While it helps to have names that we all understand, it doesn't take long to discover one person's X-book is another person's O-book. In this case, the diversity of practice and of naming can open a conversation, and it may actually inspire new ways of seeing.


Thank You
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