Date of Award
As an artist, I want to be flexible.
I’ve sat in front of this screen for about ten minutes, terrified to write a single word because an “artist’s statement” feels like something I’m not allowed to change. But as I change and grow, my art should change with me.
When I first began studying book arts, I did not think of myself as an artist. I thought of myself as a writer, and I did not think that the roles could be one and the same. I think I was drawn to book arts (and later printmaking) particularly because it was a form of art that combined visual design and text. Book arts felt like a “practical” art, because books are not just to be looked at, they are to be opened and read. I could use technical skills I learned in my Book Arts class to publish my own writing in just the way I want it, without going through anyone else. I was raised thinking of art as paintings or objects that were pretty, but book arts is the medium that showed me that art is more than that.
Now, I admire books for their multidisciplinarity as well as for the fact that they exist in multiples and require movement. The multiplicity of the book is something that also exists for prints. Both books and prints are made in editions. The artist creates more than one. This allows for greater access to the art/text/book, as more than one person can own the book or share it with their friends. The movement of the book is something unique to it. In order to experience the book, to see it or feel it, a person needs to open it. The book itself requires human interaction.
The three elements of my Honors project (an essay, my Wilson project, and an artist’s book) have been brought together due to the fact that in the time of this Coronavirus pandemic, human interaction is not possible. This led to me having to be flexible, and having to accept that what I meant to produce may not come to be. From the time my Honors project was conceived to the time it was completed, the project evolved from being product-based to process-based. This, I feel, was ingrained in the project from the beginning, but I just failed to see it. The texts I had written for Printing Farmington were all about process: taking words from other people and refining them and refining them until I got something new, and something strange. Taking after Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, I created poetry focused on sound and word play rather than being narrative or lyric poetry. I started to experiment with my poetry, and that also led to experiment with the concept of a book.
But what even is a book?
A book, to me, is a container for information (whether that information is words, text, images, music, feelings, colors, anything) that is bound somehow (thinking of “binding” more loosely than with needle and thread) following or in context of or while thinking about the history of the book and book arts. This makes it difficult to think of the book outside of the codex form, which is the most common and generally “standard” book form. It is part of my wants as an artist to experiment with and stretch the book as a form.
It is hard for me to think of books as doing/being more than containers. If books do not contain, then they at least hold things. Books are things held together by a binding. But “binding” as a concept can be loose. Heck, I’m a person that left business card-sized WOE prints around a town and called it a book. What bound the prints together was the town.
Another link between the elements of my project is the town of Farmington. I chose not to leave Farmington when the Pandemic became serious and a stay at home order was released because my work on Printing Farmington was so ingrained in the town. Staying in Farmington led to the essay, A Change in Plans, as well as the artist’s book, WOE, which was quite literally bound in Farmington. But a concern of mine throughout my project was the accessibility of it. Taking people’s words and making it into experimental poetry, while poetry is already a medium people are intimidated by, made me afraid that the people it was made for (people who love and know Farmington) would have trouble with it. But the texts of Printing Farmington share with the poems in Tender Buttons two things that make them more accessible: they take the shape of prose (and are not lineated like most poetry) and they have humor in them. Just the writing of the poems themselves was what I imagined for the entire book: bringing together academia and the town, two separated things that exist in the same space.
As an artist, I want to be flexible.
My work this semester has taught me to be willing to change plans. My usual approach to my study and my work has been overturned by the COVID-19 pandemic. But before the university campus closed in March, I was already learning to be more flexible with myself. When making my technical examples of a pamphlet-style binding, I made sure I had enough paper for extras. This was beneficial, since I ended up needing to replace a marred book with a new one. I discovered how to cut Japanese paper with water and that I shouldn’t underestimate how long it takes to fold pages for a stab-bound book. The books I had meant to make as part of Printing Farmington have changed because of my loss of access to work space and materials. How I understand myself in relation to book arts now is that book arts, like all arts, reflect in them the lives of the people creating them. As I change, as the world around me and the place I’m living changes, my books will change and my concepts of what a book is could expand, too.
My art can change as I do. And with any kind of change in plans, it means the product may not be what I expected. But that’s alright. What’s most significant about my Honors project is what I learned and accomplished during the process of drafting each element. In writing the essay, I practiced discipline, writing two pages every day for five days. While working on Printing Farmington, I communicated, appropriated and experimented. In making WOE, I got out of my comfort zone while placing art around town and expanded my thinking about the book as a medium. All of these things are experiences I can take on in my future practice as a writer and artist.
Schulze, Sylvia, "“Woe is Me”: A Response to Life in Farmington During COVID-19 Isolation" (2020). Honors Theses. 7.