Book Sculptures

I haven’t settled on a view of “book art”, but I’ll admit that my natural inclination is to dislike it. To me, books are containers for readable art, and while there’s nothing particularly wrong with making the book itself a work of art, it does seem a little like gilding the lily. Still, book art seems like a wide field, so it isn’t fair to lump it all together as overkill.

One type of book art that I do think of as overkill (so far!) is the sort that relies on unusual materials for housing the content. I found plenty of books made from egg cartons, envelopes, and other found objects that fit this bill, and while clever, I can’t say I would want to own or read any of them. They’re often ungainly and don’t seem very well suited for reading. “But they support/reflect the content.” Yeah, but do they do so in a meaningful way that’s worth the bother? The story mentions eggs, so the pages are housed in an egg carton. What does that really net you besides maybe a “oh, cool/clever”? It seems like a novelty item, which again is fine, just not what I look for or want in a book.

Then there is book art that eschews reading almost entirely; the kind that is a design or sculpture made from actual pages, covers, etc. Sometimes, it looks pretty neat:153

But you certainly aren’t going to read it, and I’d have a hard time buying that this particular shape is in someway a reflection of or statement about whatever type of content you used to be able to read here. At best, it seems like a cool little art piece for someone who really likes the physical qualities of books. This type of book art is more palatable to me because it doesn’t use bizarre materials or cumbersome presentation styles for the questionable goal of reflecting/enhancing the content. Instead, it repurposes one piece of art into another.

So yes, finally, we come to the book art I found and liked. Apparently there’s a book artist in Scotland who leaves very elaborate book sculptures in unexpected places around the country. The sculptures are scenes from famous books made from pages of the stories depicted. Here’s one for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island:

Book sculpture: Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island

And here’s J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan:

Book sculpture: JM Barrie's Peter Pan

These sculptures look great, and I like that they are physical depictions of written scenes constructed from the written scenes themselves. Yes, you can’t read it, but it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t reflect the content in a superficial yet lovely sort of way. As a book, it’s awful; as book art, I dig it.

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1 comment
  1. meredithpurvis said:

    Thanks for sharing your impressions and these great pieces of art. It is interesting to think about how these more sculptural books still have value as books, and it is fair to question at what point they move from books to art made from books. We’ll spend plenty of time this semester discussing the question of whether or not a book form enhances the contents of a book or not. Some of it is a matter of intent and purpose on the part of the artist or binder–do you want to showcase the text or the binding? If showcasing the text, we’ll look at how you can create a binding that honors and enhances the content without “gilding the lily” as it were. I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts this semester!

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