By Colorado Review Editorial Assistant Jennifer Rojas
I fell in love with book arts twice in my life.
The first time, midway through my first bookbinding class, I loved the artistry of it. I was in the Herron Art Library at Indiana University/Purdue University Indianapolis. Our professor, Karen Baldner, had pulled some of her favorite books from the collections to show us the possibilities that artists were exploring. Handling the books and experiencing the stories was like diving into a world in a visceral way, the physical shape and imagery—the very way the reader has to interact with the book—conveying part of the story. Yet, even as I created several pieces for that class, I was more focused on the artistic side of the book arts.
The second time, I loved how book arts made me develop as a writer. I was in Italy studying bookbinding and printmaking, creating my own book, my own story. As a creative writer and storyteller, I try to find the words to build a character, set a scene, and create an atmosphere. When trying to tell the stories through a piece of book art, every piece contributes to the story, evokes a response from the reader. The binding style, the choice of paper, the imagery, etc. must support the story being told. The need to consider that as I began to write and physically build my story made me more conscious of my choices as a writer.
My final book for that class depicted my exploration of the streets of Venice, and the Italian language I encountered while on them, via interlinking folds of paper with printed and handwritten text: a piece of creative nonfiction in three-dimensional form. Much like the twists and turns of the Venetian streets, the reader has to unfold the pages and navigate the labyrinth of text and page to experience the story, a story that might lose some of its essence in a two-dimensional format.
The forms that book arts can take are numerous—from entire books specifically designed to tell a particular story to an altered book where existing books are cut, painted, or glued to create something new. One of my favorite pieces, Glimpse by Julie Chen and Barb Tetenbaum, combines several different approaches to binding and presentation and explores the ideas of experience and memory through an individual’s story. There are other amazing book artists to explore as well. The Center for Book Arts in New York is one of the many organizations that is creating opportunities for artists who are exploring “the book as an art object,” defining the edges of what it means to tell stories and make books.