This month we take a look at the world of Book Arts. Marina Vaizey, art critic, collector, and Chairman of the Trustees of the ACE Foundation, provides a personal introduction to this wonderful but lesser known art form, and we are grateful to Sarah Bodman of the Centre for Fine Print Research for contributing the second in our series of Insight articles, in which she examines the nature of artists’ books in the 21st Century.
Over the past ten weeks we have been running our own introductory course on Book Arts, directed by ACE artist-in-residence Candida Bradley. The artworks created during the course will be on display at the exhibition Between the Books at Cambridge Central Library, see the link on the right for more details. Candida is creating an art book of her own using raw materials collected by participants on ACE Cultural Tours, extending the now century old tradition of Found Art, originating with Duchamp and the Dadaists, with an interesting juxtaposition of the local and the exotic.
For musicians, we are pleased to announce five new music playing days for 2011, all available to book online now and catering for clarinets, saxophones, strings, flutes and bassoons, with even more to come soon!
The Art of the Book
Some of the greatest artists in the world have invented and contributed to the evolution of the art of the book. In the histories of civilisations, as the current Book of the Dead exhibition at the British Museum so brilliantly exemplifies, from Asia to India to Islam, the book as manuscript is among the most marvellous and meaningful of art forms. Each culture has an imprint, leading to striking diversity from illustrated and narrative scrolls, pages and leaves of intricate, elaborate and significant calligraphy to the exquisite miniature.
In the West our visual history moves from the monastery scriptoria which painstakingly illuminated medieval Books of Hours, missals and other devotional books, to such modern masterpieces as Matisse's Jazz, 1947, with 20 paper cutouts reproduced in what Matisse regarded as a 'chromatic and rhythmic improvisation'. And the art of the book has a fascinating amateur history: it was a particularly beloved pastime and artistic outlet for those upper class ladies who were so heavily socially restricted in the 19th century. In the 21st century you don't necessarily need elaborate materials, just an unfettered imagination and some manual skill (the first can be energised, and the second can be learnt).
Contemporary artists' books can take many guises and be priced, for the collector, at many levels: affordable runs and more costly limited editions, and of course unique one off objects too. Book as object is an inspiration to the artist, both as illustrator and inventor, and there are specialist shop outlets and publishers, beyond the gallery and museum, not to mention exploring the internet for examples world wide. Book as object can also be literally stupendous: contemporary and world famous sculptors such as Anish Kapoor and Anselm Kiefer have made book objects which need whole galleries to themselves. The range is extraordinary, the spectrum enormous.
For the domestic collector (and I have been one) the delights are many, but the most relevant perhaps is the replication of the physical relationship you have with a book: sitting, turning the pages, pausing, moving on, matching text to image or simply enjoying all the kinds of amazing things from origami-like folding to cut outs-and-ins that inventive people can do with paper, and divers other materials from cloth to plastics. The artists' book is handheld, in which the spectator has an active role: a work of art like no other.
Chairman of the Trustees of the ACE Foundation.