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What is An Artists' Book?

For many students and scholars who are new to the genre of the artists' book this seemingly simple question - how do we define an artists' book? - appears to warrant a simple answer: we define it as art in book form. However, as scholars such as Anne Evenhaugen, Joanne Drucker, and Clive Phillpot have demonstrated it is not quite so simple. Many artists' books scholars have trouble agreeing on where to place the apostrophe used in the term artists' books let alone finding agreement about how to define the boundaries of this genre. In order to begin to establish such boundaries we must first confront the confusion around how the term artists' books itself has been mistaken with or subsumed within such terms as: "book art, livre d'artiste, illustrated book and painter's book" (see Palacios for further reading on the differences between these terms). In order to classify something as an artists' book one must consider not just the physical object but also the intent behind the creation of that object. As Evenhaugen describes it:

  "An artist’s book is a medium of artistic expression that uses the form or function of “book” as inspiration. It is the artistic initiative seen in the illustration, choice of materials, creation process, layout and design that makes it an art object. A book that only contains text is simply a book; even if authored by an artist, it would be a book that belongs in a book store or the shelves of a library.... What truly makes an artist’s book is the artist’s intent, and artists have used the book as inspiration in a myriad of ways and techniques, from traditional to the experimental" 

Genres such as book art and livre d'artiste do not fall within the category of artists' books as they are books about art rather than artworks themselves. Artists' books are unique in how they continually challenge the "idea, content, and structure of the traditional book" (Evenhaugen). 

Our site demonstrates a variety of methods for using artists' books in the classroom, in public exhibition spaces, and in personal research. We have also compiled a short "Suggested Reading" list to assist our users in further exploring the parameters of this complex genre. We invite visitors to not only spend some time with our scholarship, but to explore our catalog of artists' books all of which are available for viewing through the Stuart A. Rose Library.