Book Art Review

Manifesto for New Book Art Criticism

Books have long been recognized as a key medium for artists. Mallarme wrote in 1895 that, “Everything in the world exists to end up in a book.” That is ever more true in today’s climate as the book form is leveraged to share ideas, perspectives, outrage, protest, humor, and beauty.

Book art production is more prolific now than ever before, yet critical writing about book art and specifically about artist books lags far behind critical writing about other media. Few publications devote space to writing about book arts. Reviews of artist books often consist mostly of descriptions of the book rather than a structured analysis.

We want to raise the bar! Book Art Review is our plan to make book art criticism more visible and more valuable, and to engage with a diverse group of writers and readers. Its main principles are:

  • Defining book art and artist books as broadly as possible, including digital and other novel and experimental forms.
  • Acknowledging that the way we tell the history of book art needs to be expanded, revised, and annotated because of our culture’s changing perspective.
  • Acknowledging that there is no single model for proper criticism, but that critical writing should generally entail thinking about subject; maker; image; text; typography & design; binding structure; printing method; other physical attributes; time and place of origin; and quantity produced.
  • Demystifying artist books and making them more accessible to a wider audience.
  • Encouraging dialogue about book art in as many forms and forums as possible.

Beginning in fall 2021, we will launch Book Art Review with a range of activities including:

  • Open public discussion about what artist book criticism should look like and what the field currently lacks.
  • Producing educational resources and classes for prospective writers.
  • A physical and online journal.
  • A prize for book art criticism.
  • Public outreach and education programs.

If you are a writer with an interest in writing about the book as an art form, we would like to hear from you. Email us at bar@centerforbookarts.org.

Megan N. Liberty
David Solo 
Corina Reynolds 

A New Manifesto for Book Art Criticism, designed by Studio-Set. The Brooklyn Rail, 2020

Learn More

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BAR Magazine

Book Art Review was launched with the aim of promoting and strengthening book art criticism by providing a forum for and recognition of writing that embodies the principles listed here. We believe that these evolving principles represent attributes of strong book art criticism and reflect the criteria we will use for BAR and prizes.

1. We believe that book art and artist books should be as inclusive a category as possible, ranging from traditional codices to digital and other novel and experimental forms and objects.

2. We must demystify artist books and make them accessible to a wide audience by ensuring that writing about those books uses clear language and adopts well-defined terminology.

3. We must embrace and support a diverse set of voices and backgrounds among both critics and makers to ensure the way we tell the history of book art reflects our culture’s broad and changing perspectives.

4. We understand that readings and interpretations of artworks may and will shift over time based on the viewer and changing cultural contexts.  We support these shifting understandings and aim to document the perspectives of our and past times so that future audiences and scholars have a fuller picture of the development of this field.

5. We believe there is no single model for proper criticism nor a right judgment and emphasize the importance of well-argued and supported assessments, even if they present contradictory views. 

6. We insist that criticism must express a judgment (and description as needed) and must provide an analysis that supports the judgment based on:

  • Evaluating formal elements including images, text, materials, typography & design, binding structure, and printing method 
  • Considering the time and place of origin 
  • Comparison with other book art 

7. We believe that criticism should primarily be about the object but may take into account and discuss both the viewers’ and makers’ background and intent.

8. We encourage critical responses in a wide range of forms, styles, and lengths, from short reviews to essays.

Book Art Review publishes two issues per year, with the first issue launching in Fall 2021. We want to raise the bar for book art criticism! Book Art Review is our plan to make book art criticism more visible and more valuable, and to engage with a diverse group of writers and readers. Our launching manifesto calls for “New Book Art Criticism,” and in building that, our magazine will showcase a new kind of writing about artist books, one that focuses on the material, paginated, object qualities of the book. These guidelines are meant to help you shape and write about artist books in that way. But, as with all new things, there will be growing pains. With the help of our editors, we are forging a new path in writing about the underserved book arts; the editorial process may be lengthy, but the reward will be great!

Pitch Guidelines

Please include:

Book details: the artist/author, book title, publisher, and year
Images or link to images of the book
Why is this a book? How does it work as a book?
What is your analysis, interest, or approach to this book?
Link to 1-2 previous writing samples/a note on your background or writing experience

Content Guidelines

Artist Book Reviews:

Reviews should address: Why is this a book? How does it work as a book? What is the historical context of the book form selected (ie accordion book or photobook)?
State a clear assessment of the book/object.
Any general description of the book should be brief.
Identify the decisions/elements made by the artist(s) (e.g. design, images, text, sequencing, materials, typography, format) and how they support the analysis. In particular, any “unusual” elements should be discussed covering how they impact the reading/reader’s experience.
Include comparisons with other work by the artist(s) or otherwise related books to offer context and contrast to the elements noted.

Offer historical context when needed. Observe significant differences in how the book might have been read at time of publication/creation or by different audiences over time.
Provide/select 2-4 images including the cover and the book open to spreads that illustrate analysis. As with the writing, these images should be images of the book and show the “bookness” of the book, not internal images and not spreads from PDFs or digital galleys. Please include required credit and permission guidelines

Book Exhibition Reviews:

Exhibition reviews should follow the guidelines above for individual analysis of objects in the exhibition.
In the case of exhibitions, the article should look at the question/premise underlying the exhibition (and potentially associated catalog) and how well the selection of books develops and interrogates the question and the resulting discourse or judgment.

The review should address, How the object decisions support (or perhaps contradict) the exhibition premise? The review may also discuss the presentation of the books (virtual and/or physical) and how well that works in allowing the viewer to engage in the discourse.

Features + Essays:

Features should follow all the above guidelines when considering individual and groups of books.
Features should make an argument about a larger cultural, social, or political topic and illustrate that argument with a selection of books, connecting it with our principles.
Features should answer: How do these books show your point? Why are books (and their specific book qualities) the best objects to demonstrate this?

Individuals interested in writing for BAR should reach out at bar@centerforbookarts.org


Programs

Over the past year, BAR’s founders have moderated and participated in a number of public programs related to book art criticism. Learn more about our past activities and tune into upcoming events below.

Upcoming

Past

  • The Photobook Sessions, May 20, 2021
    Co-organized by David Solo and Duncan Wooldridge on behalf of the Kraszna-Krausz Foundation and Camberwell College of Arts, UAL
    • Criticism and Language
      Featuring Tanvi Mishra (Pix; Caravan Journal); Christiane Monarchi (Photomonitor; Hapax); Eugenie Shinkle (C4 Journal). Chaired by David Solo (Kraszna-Krausz Foundation)
    • Distribution and Community
      Featuring Ana Casas Broda (Hydra + Fotografia), Anne Nwakalor (No! Wahala), Daria Tuminas (Fotodok). Chaired by Shoair Mavlian (Photoworks)

Workshops for Arts Writers

TBA


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