Zweig and Drucker

In Critical Issues/Exemplary Words Johanna Drucker states, “when I look at a book for the first time, I want to know (though it usually shows immediately in the work) whether the artist who made it has made books before, understands the form they are working with, and has the combination of intellectual and artistic skills to pull it off”. Most of the books in book set 5 and 6 personally seem to match these criteria. However, Drucker continues to argue that the phrase “’I am a book artist’ is subject to unholy abuse”. In Janet Zweig’s All Dressed up with no place to go she argues that “rare books from the past, more often than not, are valued by librarians for their content and their place in the history of ideas, not merely for their bindings. Why must the criteria change when the same librarians collect contemporary work?”

Wordswordswords by Edwin Schlossberg and Veinte Poemas de Amor y Una Cancion Desperada by Pablo Neruda are the books that I looked at from each book set. However, as I observed them up close for the second time (keeping Johanna Drucker and Janet Zweig’s criteria of a successful artist book in the back of my mind) I concluded that Schlossberg’s work may not be considered as effective as Pablo Neruda’s love poems.

Wordswordswords was a book that immediately caught my attention. Why? Because of its shimmering pages and diverse use of materials. As we all know by now, I am drawn to contemporary works that stand out for their vivid colors and use of mixed media. Experiencing each page one by one was a fun journey, but some of the materials used as pages made it hard to read the words printed on them and therefore that slowed down my pace. It was clear that the book wanted to play with the relationship between words and material. However, as both Drucker and Zweig stress, the right combination of artistic and conceptual skills is key to developing a good artist book. Edwin Schlossberg’s artist book may be aesthetically beautiful to look at as each page works beautifully with the one that lies underneath it, however, conceptually, does it hold content that is informative or legitimately meaningful? Not really. Is it a book that I would come back to again and again? Not really. Most importantly, ‘does it move my understanding from one place to another?’ not really. The balance is clearly off. Therefore, an artist book that I found personally compelling is one that would not be strongly considered a successful artist book in the eyes of Drucker and Zweig.

Veinte Poemas de Amor y Una Cancion Desperada by Pablo Neruda was another book that drew me in pretty quickly, because of its bright green and yellow cover. As I opened the book and turned the delicate, translucent pages, the shapes on each page fell together and formed silhouettes of a person’s face. The book already consisted of a strong use of mixed media. Additionally, the poetry within the book was put together in a flap like structure allowing each flap to grow a little bigger as the reader progressed from one poem to the next. This artist book managed to hold my attention by giving me elements to interact with but at the same time made my experience of the Neruda’s love poetry intimate and quiet. The dual visibility of the book as a whole and each individual flap made the book structure unique and interesting. This book form moved me. It took me on a journey that I would not mind going on again. It made me feel as though Neruda wrote the poetry specifically for me (the reader). Neruda added surprises to the book whilst I turned the pages keeping me captivated to continue forward. Neruda wanted his poetry to be read and experienced in a certain way and (with the help of Kim Keever and Gunnar Kaldeway of course) came up with a strong execution of the interplay between text and image. Would Johanna Drucker and Janet Zweig approve of this as a convincing artist book? I believe so.

In conclusion, both book set five and book set six consisted of books that I found to be aesthetically very compelling and engaging, however by following specific criteria, only a few would be considered different and worth collecting. However, I have to say, personally while I agree that an artist book must strike a good balance visually and mean something legitimate, I believe that if it is good enough to be remembered or referenced, regardless of the criteria, it is considered successful.

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