To begin this analysis, it should be made abruptly clear that the book itself is a medium. Now our understanding is that the convention of books are a medium of literature, which can be true. However, a medium isn’t limited to one form of content. To put it simply, when discussing artist books vs. experimental literature, one must look from two perspectives, the book as a medium of literature and the book as a medium of visual art. For starters, what is our normal perception of a book? Well what we often envision when we hear the term book is a thing we call “the codex”. Jonathan Drucker defines the form of the codex as two things in his The Century of Artists’ Books; for the sake of the paper and because it’s more in line with the conventional notion, we will use his first definition, “At one extreme, the codex is a set of uniformly sized pages bound in a fixed and intentional sequence.” (123). Both experimental literature and artists books go against the grain of this fixed form idea, but with their own goals and purposes in mind.

Drucker explains that an artist book is “a unique work. A highly limited edition, or an inconsistent edition, and still be a work which is a direct expression of aesthetic ideas in a book form. And these works do not have to fall into the conventions of livres d’artistes or fine printing.” (93). So does this mean that artist books are merely works of art that uses books instead of canvas? Not necessarily. Drucker’s definition can be traced back to the first inception of artist books around the 20th century. The original intended purpose of creation for these books were as a means for artists to reach a wider audience. An audience that couldn’t go to a gallery, so they would utilize the medium most portable and accessible at the time, books. However, the goal was also to challenge our notion on what we consider the format of the book to be. Interestingly it creates a dynamic that artist books are inaccessible as literary books but accessible as works of art. Take for instance the “books” from the special collections in the University of Miami Library. A lot of these books were not in the traditional codex form, often taking other forms such as sculptures, pamphlets, even a deck of cards. However, there is one piece that jumps out which serves as a perfect example of utilizing literature, something very accessible to the public, as a means to make visual art accessible as well. It was a “book” that was four vials containing strips of paper that when put together formed a whole story. It was brought up the intent of this piece was to demonstrate the idea of “preserving our literature.” I’ve also brought up that possibly due to it being four different vials, that maybe the intent was also that all vials don’t go to one person and that they’re distributed, allowing this literary work to bring people, in this case the possessors of the vials, together with literature.

Now how is this different from experimental literature? While experimental literature is itself a work that challenges the traditional convention of the codex, its goals and emphasis are much more different. With experimental literature, there’s more an emphasis on the challenge of form for the sake of creating a more innovative narrative. Something that arguably, creates a distance from the general public, but in doing so challenges them to experience something unique. While artist books create the emphasis of utilizing a book’s aesthetics to create a visual work, experimental literature utilizes it to create a fresh narrative that in a sense presents the audience something new.

Exam Questions

1- How has the artist book aided the book’s longevity as a medium?

2- How have visuals been effectively utilized in this unit to deliver their book’s message or reach the audience?

3- Using support from one of our secondary sources, Would you catagorize Galerie de Difformité as an artist book or experimental literature?