The Tangible Tome


“Books should always remain available in print,” Gracy Howard maintains:

When art enthusiasts enter an art gallery and survey freshly painted works, their first reaction is sensory. The canvases still bear the musty smell of pigments and glisten with wetness. In that moment, the spectator feels close to the painter. While an art aficionado can access Picasso’s paintings online, no one could argue such viewing is equivalent to firsthand observation. When Picasso devotees walk into a gallery, they are solely fixed on the artist and his reality.

Similarly, physical books limit readers and force them to ignore distractions. They enter the world of the author, and are obliged to forget or ignore the world outside. An e-reader allows easy shifts from reading to Facebook or a game app. But for the physical book reader, one must enter another universe.

Rachel Arons notes how lovers of physical books must increasingly reckon with craftspeople who re-purpose the printed page in the name of art:

Internet literary culture has also seen the flourishing of [a group] that celebrates books neither as precious physical objects nor as utilitarian vessels but uses them as the raw materials for works of art. The forms are varied—some are sculptures made from individual books, others use books as the building blocks for larger structures, while still others make books the canvas for paintings or drawings—but these projects have in common a way of playing off the near-spiritual aura that many of us associate with physical books, both augmenting books’ specialness by using them to make something beautiful, and undercutting it by ignoring their original purpose. …

The paper fetishists and text fetishists alike might view this kind of work as sacrilege—it does, after all, involve the destruction or deconstruction of books, and the disconnection of books from the act of reading. And yet, these works serve, perhaps more effectively than more straightforward forms of book worship, as moving expressions of our transforming relationship to books—and the potential for beauty, as well as loss, in that change.

Recent Dish on art crafted from books here and here.

(Image of “Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure” by book sculptor Justin Rowe)