Eli Was A Book


The term "artist['s] book" has come up several times recently in reference to HM publications. One instance was a course at Smith College in which The WunderCabinet was one of several books examined by students for "how they either align or go against [Janet?] Zweig and [Joanna] Drucker’s criteria" for what constitutes an artist's book. The term could be applied to  any & all of the images shown on this post. How could a phrase that sounds so benign have become be so treacherous?


Let's start by acknowledging that it's always nice to to be included in a discussion like this. Thanks. It might, however, be interesting for the participants to know that neither Barbara nor Claudia would ever call The WunderCabinet - or any of their books - an artist's book. (To begin with, it would have to be an artists' book. This lack of clarity around the apostrophe's place in the term is the first sign that a dark, bottomless pit lies ahead.)


At least one of the Smith essays used the terms livres d'artiste and artist books interchangably (the kid actually wrote "livres d'artiste books"), which Drucker & Zweig probably would be the first to correct. The terms might be analogous, but they're definitely not synonymous. HM would (proudly) admit to some kinship with the French tradition of éditions de luxe in the early part of the last century, if only for attention to production and materials. But never artist books.


A lot of writing has been done about artist books, especially what they are, almost as if they were more thought experiment than actual book. There is an interesting blog by a prof at U Dub (what they call the University of Washington) focusing on applications of digital & social media. This page on a Matisse site has images & info about books created by an artist who had a understanding of & appreciation for the form. And here's an interesting article about the spectrum covered by using the word "artist" as an adjective modifying "book."

In the Smith postings, it was heartening to see several of the students call BS on the whole "what is an artist's book" distraction; here's one and here's another one. Just to put it on the record, HM does not publish artist/artist's/artists' books. We simply publish books. The only adjectives we acknowledge are "good" (aspirationally) and "elusive" (practically). The book is already one of the koolest, endlessly versatile & practical things ever invented. We're happy to do our best to continue the tradition; we don't need to try to make the book something other than it is.