How an Artist’s Book is Not Like a Picture

I’ve been pondering ways of conveying the progression of time and movement in books. I was recently re-skimming parts of Keith Smith’s Structure of the Visual Book. He talks about how the structures of artists’ books relate to those in “music, poetry, story-telling and cinema.” He then cautions:

Carryover of past concepts is often inappropriate… Revolutionary ideas must be realized when starting to work in a new medium. The basic problem in making books is approaching it as if it were many single pictures, and it is not . . .┬áThis error comes from working in one medium, and carrying over principles to a new process, rather than discovering what is unique about the new medium.

As someone who used to work largely in single pictures, this is something that I’ve found to be both exhilarating and vexing about making artist’s books.

I was listening to a talk that Bea Nettles gave at Duke University (thanks to a link posted on the Book Arts List). She mentioned how in one of her books she partly conveyed the slow, subtle process of aging by gradually transforming the background color of the book’s pages. As the book progresses and the subject grows older, each page becomes ever so subtly more purple. By the end, the viewer realizes that the pages have become deep purple, hinting at how a person almost imperceptibly ages from day to day, slowly evolving into an older person. Now that’s the sort of thing that makes a book unlike a painting.

2 thoughts on “How an Artist’s Book is Not Like a Picture”

  1. Very interesting post. Working with the time and process aspect of the book is the most interesting aspect to me. I love that book by Keith Smith – such a grasp of what the medium has to offer and so much inspiration. I'll head off and have a listen to Bea Nettles now. Thanks Chipmunk!

  2. Thanks Amanda! I'm glad to know this resonates with you too.

    The Bea Nettles presentation was about an hour long, but I was almost sorry when it was done. A really absorbing tour of her work, I thought. I hope you enjoy it.


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