Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Tea break chat

During one of the few tea breaks in the studio (we like to work) we embarked on a topic that is very close to my heart.

Technique over Art. The general opinion was that many of the established fine designer bookbinders, in the Uk at least, was that some are perhaps not able understand the art of the book.
By this I mean that though good technique is important, the function of the book (within the realm of fine, designed bindings) is not compromised. That the manipulation of the materials, surface decoration and over all impression of the book works as a whole.

Where this can fall down is when the technique becomes the important thing. I am sure that we have all looked at a fine binding, perhaps by a 'Master' that is a self masturbatory exercise in technique. The sort of work that the viewers look at the work and say something like ' oh he/she is so good at...........' what the viewer is saying is key. That the technique has overtaken and suppresses the art. The 'master' on hearing this sticks out their chest, and with a smug look thinks themselves to be the best. It is easy to see how they can start to believe their own press, to produce work that is a series of banal exercises. In the end creating wall paper. As this 'master' begins to get a gather a sycophantic and vocal clique, more and more people are beguiled into believing the press and aping the 'master' thus propagating the myth.

One of the potential problems is that when this 'master is then paraded as being the best, it can stifle true creativity within the genre. For the binder who acknowledges the technical skill and strives to perfect their own but also balances this with the art of the book, life can be difficult. It would seam that this binder is going against the norm, being a bad boy/girl of the bookbinding world.
The banal has become the expected norm, anything that bucks that norm is castigated, derided as being non bookbinding, as not respecting the craft of the genre - not being true to the tradition. The banal 'master' is safe in the knowledge that his or her status is safe, that their individual approach to the art and craft of the book is the only one of any merit.

This is surely bad for any binder who wants to move forward, to be able to express what they are able to draw from the text, to be able to share with others the art of the book. The banal sycophant is unable to understand the work as it is not what they have been told is correct, therefore, in their eyes, it is not correct. There is also the case of the of the sycophant rejecting the work as worthless, as their work apes the 'master' and must be the correct form.

The general opinion in the studio was that there has to be a healthy balance between the trad and the contemporary, that the 'master' should recognise and applaud the new work as should the young bloods recognise the contribution that the 'master' has made in the past. The sycophants should get their faces out of the 'masters' arse and get a life.

Thus the rest period ended and work resumed.


Paul said...

Your judgment is too harsh. Substitute “artist” for “master” in the third paragraph and you’ll recognize that the counterargument also holds. Disliking sycophants is too easy; they are narrow minded people who stifle progress regardless of whether their puffery supports the craftsman or the artist. It seems as if you’re describing a continuum from pure technique on one end to pure art on the other, then arguing where to be on that scale and how to act towards people who have landed in different places.

I suppose the first thing to consider in all this is the definition of what you’re trying to address. Is it book arts? Is it bookbinders who design bindings? That definition simply defines the range of the continuum you are addressing, however; it shouldn’t dictate your reaction towards others outside your preferred range.

Where would you place yourself? You very clearly have a well-grounded skill in technical capability, yet you reach far to the other side for artistic inspiration. But never so far that you don’t end up with a recognizable book. Too much respect for the craft of bookbinding itself?

I don’t understand how you can say that the function of a book shouldn’t be compromised when you won’t let people touch your finished work? That’s a strange sort of book by my definition. I went to an exhibit last weekend, where most of the “books” really weren’t. They were art masquerading as books – accordion books shaped like animals, a tree book, books you opened up in a complete circle to stand as a memorial to the Twin Towers, etc. One book artist even went so far as to have his book bound by someone else. If Rodin can have his bronzes cast by a foundry and still be called an artist, why can’t a book artist also have his books done in a bindery? That is clearly towards the pure art end of the spectrum whereby the form of a book is merely a foil for the art. (I like that phrase. You can use it if you want.)

As you can tell, I’m alive and well. I have some photos of my last book to send you now that I’ve figured out how to take semi-decent photographs. My travel is limited lately because the company only made 1B USD last quarter! Clearly need to cut back on expenses. Isn’t capitalism wonderful?


the bookbinder said...

Dear Paul,

Good to hear from you, we hope you are well.

You raise some very good points. Perhaps we do see things in a very black and white way. There are so many shades of gray between the two that it can be very confusing. You are right in saying that all should be respected as each and all contribute in their own way.
To judge others is a difficult path and one that is trod with care.
The point at which the artist and the crafts person join and part is always going to be a topic for conversation, agreement and disagreement.

You have highlighted a good many points. One that is always a bone of contention is that with many fine fine bindings it can be difficult to fully engage with them in the exhibition arena. If a book is damaged during a show the work can not be sold. The viewer is unable to engage in the tactile nature of the work, catch 22.
One show that does go some way to reach a half way house is the FLOW show, books are on open display and viewers are invited to engage, with care.

We are glad you are well and look forward to seeing your new work.

Mark and the studio

Mia said...

Excellent post. I don't find it harsh. It's not philosophical pondering, it is to the point what happens and how it is in the area where we try to balance.
Great blog, Mark. You say things like they are. Keep going.

the bookbinder said...

Dear Mia
Good to hear from you. The world of the bookbinder is so small. Sometimes it is better to take a step to the side to see what is really happening.

The various organisations are good but it must be remembered that they serve the members not the individual. For the individual to fulfill their own self, one has to help oneself.

Whatch this space .....