Book sets 5&6 show many different examples of books which exist in the livre d’artiste genre. Having moved onward from the older European livre d’artiste books from book set 4, we were able to explore a wide range of what currently is being done with the genre. In our readings we encountered two important criticisms of artists books one of which was by Janet Zweig. The consideration of her critique of artists books in “All Dressed Up With No Place to Go: The Failure of Artists’ Books” factored largely in my viewing of these two book sets.

One book that stood out to me was  Walasse Ting’s 1 Cent Life, which proves itself to be an excellent book when viewed through both of these critical lenses. For it to appease Zweig’s criticism we must ask “does it [the book] contribute anything to the knowledge of the reader, does it present a new way of thinking?”  I would argue yes, it does. First we can considered it as a book of Pop Art, pop art was largely a form of social commentary, a reflective exercise in considering consumer culture during the 1940s and 50s. A number of pop artists contributed prints to Ting’s poetry which, in and of itself did great work as form of social critique. A specific example of a page that stood out to me was p12 which showed a depiction of lynching alongside Ting’s poetry. For me, this experience was striking. So rarely up until this point had I seen any works attempt to address the issue of race. It was a powerful experience having both a visually striking book and a book which confronted people with important political issues. By all means, it certainly passes Zweig’s test.

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Another book Wordswordswords by Edwin Schlossberg, was also in the set. And while, it did not move me in the same way as Ting’s 1 Cent Life, I do believe it to still be of value. Zweig hints at the existence of such a book in her article lamenting, “Purchased for 4,500, it consists of a single word, the word “words” printed over and over on many pages (…) If you‘ve got a thing idea, it may be best to let form and content unite by producing a humble thin thing” But, how does she know it was a thin idea in the first place?

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Zweig’s frustrations with the genre are not entirely unfounded. It is not wrong to ask art to elicit some sort of reaction from the viewer. However, we have to question our system of valuing those reactions. So that books with socio-political impact are included and valued but also, that books which exist in the tradition of art for art’s sake may also have a place. Both Scholssberg’s and Ting’s books resonated with me but, for completely separate reasons. If we forced all books to exist as socio-political commentary then we might run the risk of limiting ourselves. Zweig begins her article with the question of whether she would bring a novel or an artists’ book with her on a deserted island. But, I would challenge this question with another question: “What novel?” Just as some novels are crafted to address matters and some are merely exercises in writing. Does not the same standard hold true for artists books? Some may be just for viewing and move us by the simple fact that they are beautiful while others, can use beauty to confront us with other important ideas.

 

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  1. Just to clarify, when Zweig takes a swipe at an overproduced book with a text consisting only of the word “words” repeated over and over, she isn’t aiming at Shlossberg’s Wordswordswords. She’s disgusted with a series conceived by Peter Koch (the MRBR has a version with a traditional early binding of white handmade paper). I suspect that both Zweig and Drucker would like Wordswordswords.

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