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Commentary Detail

Defining the Book
Commentary by: Nancy Kranzberg
Aired July 02, 2010


Webster's Dictionary defines a book as “a number of sheets of paper, parchment, etc. with writing or printing on them, fastened together along one edge, usually between protective covers. Based on that definition, however, the parameters of what constitutes a book has changed.

I attended an awards ceremony in the Illustrated Book Studio at Washington University. Students and graduate students won cash prizes for their renditions of illustrated books. One accordion-pleated book was wrapped around a person as an entry. According to Betsy Rogers, feature writer for the Washington University Magazine, "Traditional boundaries seem to dissolve between fine art and craft, for instance, or between academic disciplines, or form and content.”

Professor Ken Botnick, the head of the Washington University studio, says of the studio, "In the 1970s there was explosion of interest in book arts, there was the big back-to-the-land, back-to crafts movement. Ceramic programs, glass -blowing programs, things that had been traditionally been too 'crafty' for art schools suddenly had a real weight to them."

Botnick loves the creative process and sees making as thinking. He sees the students work as art of the book rather than book art.

A few years ago I was very impressed with an exhibition entitled, "The Book As Art: Twenty Years of Artists Books for the National Museum of Women in the Arts" In a podcast about the exhibition, the description of the exhibition states, "The aim of book art is to involve the reader actively in the viewing process, not only to see the words on the page, but also to think about how the words, pictures, and physical form of the object all contribute to the meaning. Artists' books assume many forms to include every artistic medium and method of book making.”

In tune with a growing interest in print and book art, a new gallery, dedicated to the art form called “Central Booking” opened in Brooklyn, New York's “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass”, or DUMBO neighborhood. The space is the brainchild of Maddy Rosenberg, a book artist and independent curator who has worked in the field for more than two decades.

Our region’s Buzz Spector, Dean of the College and Graduate School of Art at Washington University, is a multi-talented and multi-dimensional personality. Spector's works usually are based on literary references and he uses the book as both subject and object. It was once said by a friend of Spector's, "Give him a book and he'll destroy it." Spector says, "When I alter a book, of course I destroy it as a text, but in the service of transformation of one kind of value into another. I never intend for the alteration of an individual copy of a book to annihilate that book." Professor Spector's works have been shown in such museums and galleries as The Art Institute of Chicago, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, PA.

As much as I love to read books in their standard form, it’s still fun it is to see the book in a different way and how the book makers have used their imaginations to stretch the parameters and the definitions of the book.


(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)

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Nancy Kranzberg

Nancy Kranzberg

Arts Aficionado Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for some thirty years. She serves on numerous arts affiliated boards, including The St. Louis Art Museum, Laumeier Sculpture Park where she is the Co-Chair, The Sheldon Arts Foundation and the Sheldon Art Gallery Board, Jazz at the Bistro, The Missouri Mansion Preservation Inc., The Mid American Arts Alliance, and the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. Nancy was named Women of Achievement and was awarded the Distinguished Alumnae Award at Washington University Nancy is a docent at the St. Louis Art Museum and is an honorary docent at Laumeier Sculpture Park. At age 60 she became a Jazz singer. She performs with the Second Half which features Chancellor Tom George on the piano.

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