Saturday, May 05, 2007
I've started working on a new book, "Beasties of North America," and the first chaper is finally completed - "Elephants." This turned out to be a practice run before diving into the full book, which will include chapters on birds, squirrels, manatees, and raccoons. "Elephants" is complete as its own chapbook, and I like the format so much I may end up making all the chapters into their own chapbooks (instead of one whole book), and offer them each individually or as a complete set.
The book begins with a quote from Michael Russem (of Kat Ran Press), from his recent article "The Failure of Fine Printing" (published in the February 2007 issue of the Caxtonian - download it here for free). In this article, he talks about his surprise at discovering that one of his long-time collectors buys his books, but never actually reads them. Realizing that I am also one of those very people who love to admire fine press books, but very rarely read them from cover to cover, I've decided to make this book for that very purpose - to look at, not to read. So, my job in this endeavor to to make a luscious, beautifully printed and bound fine press book, but with intentionally boring text that will hopefully discourage the act of reading. Basically, I don't want the content of the text to distract the holder of the book from noticing the craft involved in the making of the book.
Did someone just feel Beatrice Warde rolling over in her grave? I think she might actully agree with me on this; in her article "Printing Should Be Invisible," published in 1932, she says that "it is mischievous to call any printed piece a work of art, especially fine art: because that would imply that its first purpose was to exist as an expression of beauty for its own sake and for the delectation of the senses. Calligraphy can almost be considered a fine art nowadays, because *its primary economic and educational purpose has been taken away*; but printing in English will not qualify as an art until the present English language no longer conveys ideas to future generations, and *until printing itself hands its usefulness to some yet unimagined successor*." (stars added are mine)
So, now that fine print's "primary and economic and educational purpose has been taken away," and we have those "yet unimagined successors" such as digital prints and blogs, can we finally call fine press art? Or even (gasp) fine art?