Someone on one of our groups asked this question recently. To paraphrase them: Why not just create art in a blank new book; why use an existing pre-printed book?
It’s a question that comes up fairly often. None of my close friends are into art at all, so I’ve had all too often the experience of telling someone about my work to be greeted with the look of horror and the gasped, “You did what to a book?”
I certainly understand the sentiment behind the question. There is definitely something taboo and a little shocking about the idea of altering (some might even say desecrating) a book.
It’s not the medium for everyone. Many people absolutely cannot get past the idea that they are destroying something valuable, even if it is to create something else that is valuable in its own right.
There are many other ways to showcase creativity that don’t involve starting with an existing book. And there are many book artists out there that make their own blank books to showcase their art in.
Still, asking an altered book artist, “Why not just use a blank book?” seems to me like asking a rubberstamper, “Why not just draw all your images?” It comes down to whether we’re focusing on the medium or the message in our work.
Some artists can communicate their message in any medium; their creativity allows them to explore the boundaries of many different types of work. If Picasso were alive today, would he still be working in oils, or would he perhaps be making collages in Photoshop?
On the other hand, some artists depend on the medium, using the limitations and the possibilities of it to create something unique and beautiful. Think of Shakespeare’s sonnets – would he have been as renowned had he been writing free verse?
Starting with a printed book allows an artist opportunities that a blank book, even a beautifully handmade blank book, simply does not afford – opportunities to interact with the original text, to engage (in a way) with the original author in something of a collaborative effort, even to incorporate the input of previous owners of the book who may have left their own marks in it.
No one is forced to be an altered book artist, but that is a choice for the individual artist to make. This is a legitimate medium, and it is a different one from art created in blank books. Both are equally valid and valuable expressions of creativity and many artists engage in both.
Why such a passionate defense of altered books? Because I can honestly say that this form of art helped transform my life.