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Artists' Books: Artist Books

Artist books are books created as original works of art. Mason Libraries own a growing number of artist books in Special Collections.

Overview of the Collection

Mason Libraries currently houses over 350 artist books in Fenwick Library.

The artists' books collection began in 2010 and now includes over 350 book in addition to a selection of commercial pop-ups, broadsides, and zines. This teaching collection includes a variety of structures, materials, and subject matter. The books range from miniatures to pop-ups/moveable books and sculptural books. The range of materials includes handmade paper, photography, mixed media, and letterpress printing. The collection focuses on issues in the arts, sciences, and the social sciences. Highlights from the collection include artists' books from the DC Metro Area and Virginia.

These books are purchased by the liaison librarians for the School of Art and the English Department, but for conservation reasons they are housed in Special Collection and Archives on the second floor. These books can not be checked out of the library, but you can set up an appointment to see the collection.

Asian American ? Project by Irene Chan. Washington, DC: Ch'An Press, 2007. Image take by Anne C. Smith, MFA graduate of George Mason University

The View is Daunting by Helen Frederick (Associate Professor & Director of Printmaking at George Mason University)

Image from the artist's website

So what is an artist book, anyway?

Artists’ books are not easily defined. Simply put, an artist book is a piece of artwork in book form. The content and form of artists’ books are inescapably tied together. As a result, they are able to communicate ideas on multiple levels.

Artists have been creating books for centuries, but artists’ books comprise a new field. The term "artist's book" was originally used to describe books created in the conceptual art movement of the 1970s.

Artists’ books today stand out from earlier creations because the books themselves are considered works of art and not just ways to display art. A typical artist's book is handmade and a limited edition.

Artists’ books defy the traditional book format by going beyond simple text with visual images, unfolding pages, unusual bindings, and molded cases.

They come in a range of shapes, sizes, materials, and subjects. One book may be created out of handmade paper, one out of metal, and another out of wood. Some artists’ books are miniature and others are gigantic.

Author and artist Johanna Drucker provides a thought-provoking explanation of artists books below.

Defining Artists Books

"Artists' books take every possible form, participate in every possible convention of book making, every possible "ism" of mainstream art and literature, every possible mode of production, every shape, every degree of ephemerality or archival durability.

There are no specific criteria for defining what an artist's book is, but there are many criteria for defining what it is not, or what it partakes of, or what it distinguishes itself from...

Artists' books are a unique genre, ultimately a genre which is as much about itself, its own forms and traditions, as any other art form or activity. But it is a genre as little bound by constraints of medium or form...It's an area which needs description, investigation, and critical attention before its specificity will emerge."

From; The Artist's Book as Idea and Form by Johanna Drucker

Subject Guide

Jen Stevens
Fenwick Library
Fairfax Campus

Fall 2015 Walk In Office Hours:
Women and Gender Studies Center -
Tues, 3-4 pm, Thurs, 11 am - noon
English Department Office -
Thurs, 1-2 pm

Who do I contact for more information?

If you would like more information about the artists' book collection in Fenwick Library or if you would like to set up an instruction session, please contact the Visual Arts Liaison Librarian.

If you would like to set up an appointment as an individual researcher, you can contact the Special Collections Department.

Library News & Notes