Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Artists' Books: The Book as an Art Form

What is an 'Artist's Book"?

Unlike an art book, catalog or monograph that tend to showcase artworks created in another medium, the term ‘artists’ books’ refers to publications that have been conceived as artworks in their own right. These ‘projects for the page’ are generally inexpensive, often produced in large or open editions, and are democratically available. The book is a medium that allows an artist's work to be accessible to a multitude of people in different locations at any given time. While artists’ books can take many forms, there are a few elements that are common across the practice. Understanding a book as an artwork invites a reflection on the properties of the book form itself. Much like any act of reading, an artists’ book is a physical experience that allows a connection with the medium that – while social in its implications – is individual and personal. The artists’ book invites us to hold it and turn through its pages. Whether the contents are visually or linguistically based (often a mix of both), physically moving through an artwork implicates notions of sequence, repetition, juxtaposition, and duration. The interplay of text and images, as well as considerations of printing process and the design of the book, allows for many exciting possibilities within narrative, media, and meaning that are specific to the artists’ book alone. (Continue reading from Printed Matter)

The Origins of Book Art

The first forerunner to contemporary artists' books is probably the British artist William Blake, who worked in the late 1700's and early 1800's. Blake was a poet, painter and printmaker. He wanted to integrate his visual and written work. While Blake produced traditional format books, he was radical in his desire to integrate the text and visuals on each page. He developed a new printing method that allowed for this integration. What is especially notable about Blake is his role as a predecessor of the sentiments expressed by book artists of the 1960's. Blake was "seeking a means of bringing the production of illustrated texts under his own control so that he could become his own publisher, independent of commercial publishers and letterpress printers." This independence is key to the creation of an artist's book. (Continue reading from Yale University Library)

Learn More

Artists Books (Smithsonian Libraries)

Book Art Resources (Yale University Library)

Artists’ Books that Break with Traditional Bindings (Hyperallergic)

About Artists' Books (Harvard University Library)

Artists' Books (Victoria and Albert Museum)

Artists' Books: Recommended Reading & Exhibition Catalogs (ArtBook)

Artists' Books (National Museum of Women in the Arts)

The Arts of the Book in the Islamic World, 1600–1800 (MetMuseum)

What Does an Artists' Book Look Like?
From our Collection