Do you know about TED talks? They’re wonderful, informative presentations on a wide variety of topics that take about 20 minutes or less to watch. The website recently featured a talk by one of my favorite book artists, Brian Dettmer.
The video is only a little over six minutes long but it’s full of great points to ponder, especially the last half of Dettmer’s talk. While I was watching, the first point that struck me was when he said, “I think of my work as sort of a remix, in a way, because I’m working with somebody else’s material in the same way that a D.J. might be working with somebody else’s music.”
When he mentioned the word remix it reminded me of the author Austin Kleon and his book Steal Like an Artist, which covers the idea of remixing, where you selectively “steal” ideas from other artists you admire and combine or remix them. The end product then becomes your work. If you have time watch Austin Kleon’s TEDxKC talk.
By remixing, Brian Dettmer is making something “more new, more contemporary.” He also goes on to say, “I’m thinking also about breaking out of the box of the traditional book and pushing that linear format, and try to push the structure of the book itself so that the book can become fully sculptural.”
People learn by copying, then combining and remixing to create their own work. However, once you have been working on something for some time, you begin to evolve and your unique voice/perspective emerges. By pushing boundaries the artist again creates something new.
Would you ever destroy/rip/throw away a book? Dettmer explains that people generally are disturbed by the thought of destroying a book because “we think about books as living things, we think about them as a body, and they’re created to relate to our body, as far as scale, but they also have the potential to continue to grow and to continue to become new things. So books really are alive.
I’ve heard of the phrase “words come alive” but I’ve never thought of the book as alive. I’m still ruminating about the book as a living body.
My favorite part of Dettmer’s talk was during the last minute or so:
And I think of my work as almost an archaeology. I’m excavating and I’m trying to maximize the potential and discover as much as I possibly can and exposing it within my own work. But at the same time, I’m thinking about this idea of erasure, and what’s happening now that most of our information is intangible, and this idea of loss, and this idea that not only is the format constantly shifting within computers, but the information itself, now that we don’t have a physical backup, has to be constantly updated in order to not lose it. And I have several dictionaries in my own studio, and I do use a computer every day, and if I need to look up a word, I’ll go on the computer, because I can go directly and instantly to what I’m looking up. I think that the book was never really the right format for nonlinear information, which is why we’re seeing reference books becoming the first to be endangered or extinct.
So I don’t think that the book will ever really die.People think that now that we have digital technology,the book is going to die,and we are seeing things shifting and things evolving. I think that the book will evolve,and just like people said painting would die when photography and printmaking became everyday materials,but what it really allowed painting to do was it allowed painting to quit its day job. It allowed painting to not have to have that everyday chore of telling the story, and painting became free and was allowed to tell its own story,and that’s when we saw Modernism emerge, and we saw painting go into different branches. And I think that’s what’s happening with books now, now that most of our technology, most of our information, most of our personal and cultural records are in digital form, I think it’s really allowing the book to become something new. So I think it’s a very exciting time for an artist like me, and it’s very exciting to see what will happen with the book in the future.
When e-books first appeared I heard/read a lot about how the book may become obsolete. Dettmer’s analogy of what happened with painting after cameras and printmaking were introduced is a hopeful, exciting way of looking at the book’s future.
What do you think about the future of books?
Bonus: Here’s another video featuring a paper engineer and book artists respectively, Matthew Reinhart, Andrea Dezso, and Carole Kunstadt. Also, if you’re interested in seeing more book arts related material online have a peek at my Pinterest board. Thanks for reading!