Book Art and Formalism

I fear I’m not versed enough in the genre of book art to find an artist that speaks to me in one week’s time. With every artist, be they film directors, song writers or other genres I am much more knowledgeable of, there are pieces I don’t much care for. Robert Zemeckis’ What Lies Beneath comes to mind. It is going to take me longer than a week’s worth of research in a genre as new to me as this class to find an artist that speaks to me. Not to mention that I am coming into this class as somewhat of a cynic.

That said, I turned my cynical eye to the world wide web to get inspired. And there were a few pieces of book art that did indeed inspire me. To expand on my cynicism, I should say that there are pieces of art I find very captivating or intriguing or impressive. There were books that were opened to a page and had a dragon attacking a boat coming out of the page. I consider this art using a book as the medium, not necessarily literature. Although these were fun to look at and I may one day display something of the like on the top of my piano, I was looking for some sort of book art that could also be considered literature.

I came across a piece called “Library of Alexandria” by Ania Gilmore. The book has been altered to look old using beeswax. The front cover opens to reveal a hollowed out inside, packed with rolled up scrolls of different sizes, also looking aged. I could appreciate this book on a different level than most of the book art I’ve run across because it could double as literature.

Reading further, Ania actually talks about the relationship between form and content with this piece. This is a concept called formalism, which is pretty much the only thing I remember learning from film school. Formalism is the marriage of form to content, and basically means that films, music or any other art gets it point across stronger if the form falls in line with the content. I like to use Natural Born Killers as an example. It’s a film with very violent and disturbing content that is shot to feel very violent and disturbing. Conversely, if a song about a death of a lover one is sang in mostly major chords, it sends a mixed message. Last Kiss by Pearl Jam is a decent example of this, though a lot of people like it for some reason.

Getting back to Ania, her comment leads me to believe that there is indeed content in those scrolls, and content worthy of being rolled up like a scroll and aged 200 years. If nothing else, I can imagine there is content in there, and that’s good enough to serve as inspiration for me. For my final project in this class, I want to make sure I don’t lose the content in the form of the book. Never once in Creativity class did I feel like the content mattered at all, and that was not a promising start to the program. Projects like “Library of Alexandria” remind me that there are ways to fulfill the form of the assignment while maintaining good content, which can get lost in classes like this.

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1 comment
  1. meredithpurvis said:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Dustin. I particularly appreciate your comments on formalism/the relation of form and content. It can be rewarding and worthwhile to focus on form alone to explore what a book can become (in a sense, this is book as sculpture, whether the book existed before and was altered or was newly created), but I find the most successful books wed form and content to create a full experience the reader/viewer. And that is one of the challenges of this class–you’re all being asked to take on the dual role of a writer/publisher of content and book binder/artist, which means you’ll be placing importance on both content and form.

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