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Artist Books

Artists' books are specially designed books that are often produced in small editions for independent publication. Artists' books are often a way for artists to combine their medium of choice with the written word, and allow for a tremendous amount of creativity. The books can be formatted traditionally, or simply reference the shape or idea of a book.

The idea of sequence and serial format is important to artists' books, though occasionally, artists' books are left unbound so that each page can stand alone as a work of art. The first books originated in France at the turn of the century, and became popular in the United States in the 1960s. By the 1970s, book art was seen as a legitimate medium, and only a decade or two later, several institutions offered courses or even degrees dedicated to the practice.

Museums began to establish large collections and study centers for the book arts, and a contemporary practice thrives in artist communities. Artists' books are popular in photography, as photographers can publish their works in a series with a similar theme, with a more cohesive result than a portfolio. The artist book is often seen as a form of conceptual art, as the ideas represented are conveyed by language rather than images alone.

Quick Facts

  • A precursor to the modern artists' book was an illustrated book called the "livre d'artistes," in which each page was designed and produced by the artist him or herself
  • American artist Ed Ruscha was important to the development of the artist book in the 1960s, as he published small editions of a series of photographs as an independent artwork
  • German artist Dieter Roth was tremendously important to establishing the artist book as a popular medium. Roth experimented with deconstructing the form of a book, and incorporating found materials within it to redefine how the viewer interprets them

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