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Art and Craft


This dissertation examines the craft of the book and it’s distinction between Art and Craft. Is it considered an art form… a fine art if you will, or simply a traditional craft? The intended, original purpose of the book, was to be used as a means of recording information, but soon developed to become a piece of literature used for education or to contain novels of drama, fantasy, crime and other assorted genre’s, eventually developing further into aesthetically pleasing objects of art. In this digital era our daily lives have become disengaged from touch and so the craft of the book is taken for granted, with no thought taken into how books are made, whether it is by means of machine or by hand.


The tactile nature and this production method of books… the traditional handmade method to be more precise is what drew me to this subject. I myself am an obsessive bookbinder, producing handcrafted books on a daily basis; there is a concrete sense of satisfaction felt in transforming sheets of paper or other media into a book. I am fascinated with this traditional craft and the aesthetic qualities the book possess, with the use of fine quality materials used and the traditional techniques and methods. However, more recently, there are now other uses for the traditionally bound book, one being the function as an artists’ medium, an art object known today as Artists’ Books. Having just recently discovered this art form, I feel more investigation is needed to distinguish what sets it apart from the traditionally crafted book. Is this genre of book art considered an art or craft?


There will be a number of key aims and objectives to this exploration of the craft of the book. However the primary objective of this study will be to determine the art and craft aspects of this handmade production of books, determining their distinctions. William Morris, a well-known figure in the Arts & Crafts movement, will be a vital key thinker in studying the traditional craft aspect of the book. Morris, going back to the traditional methods of the 15th century, produces books “…with the hope of producing some which would have a definite claim to beauty…”[1]

At the other end of the scale, Johanna Drucker, a scholarly writer in the book arts, will be a vital key thinker in exploring the art aspect of the book, more specifically the subject of Artists’ Books. Her book, The Century of Artists’ Books explores the Artists’ Book and its development in form and concept. She comments that Artists’ Books “…did not exist in their current form before the 20th century”.[2] That being the case, there is a possible transformation of the book from a traditional craft, to an expressive art form, which will be explored in the coming chapters, along with further exploration to discover the of moment of liberation for the book designer and the Artists’ Book.


The first chapter examines the historical significance of the book and its perceived appearance as a work of art. It will begin by reviewing the history of the book as a container of information, as a means of recording the past, touching on the various methods, techniques and technologies that were paramount in the craft of book production. Key thinkers involved will be Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin, in particular their highly credited book, The Coming of the Book. Along with other key thinkers in this field of study, they will assist in examining the development of the book and print culture, exploring the historical importance and emergence of the codex book that we are familiar with today.

The first chapter will also consider the work of William Morris, a leader in the Arts & Crafts Movement, and his interest in the craft of the book and the traditional methods of book production he used. Morris’s greatest achievement, the influential Kelmscott Press, will set the scene to explore the growth of the private press of the twentieth century. Does the private press of today meet the standards of early traditional book production? Can the handmade qualities of the private press be compared to the machine made? As David Pye comments on his theories in workmanship, the effects of the finish and the aspects of the handmade, “Some materials promise far more than others but only the workman can bring out what they promise”.[3]

The second chapter however, will be concerned with the book in relation to art, or to be more specific… the Artists’ Book. Here the referencing of Johanna Drucker, a key thinker and scholarly writer on the subject, will be useful as it will introduce the early forms of the Artists’ Book, focusing more on the development of the book as an object of art. As well as a select few artists that were paramount in the development of the Artist’s Book, the work of William Blake, Ed Ruscha and Dieter Roth will be explored along with the relationship between text and image, artist and author.

The third and final chapter offers a study of Fine Bindings being produced today, focusing on the work of Shepherds Bookbinders of London as great examples of contemporary bindings. The books in particular are a set of hand crafted, limited edition Ian Fleming novels… the James Bond series to be more precise. They are of high quality craftsmanship, although with aesthetic qualities that would consider them to be works of art. Compared to their paperback counterparts, the study of these books will aid in understanding whether the handcrafted books of today are considered art or craft.

The study will review numerous definitions of art and craft, which I shall discuss in the conclusion. Will a definitive distinction between art and craft be achieved? Will the craft of the book fit into either one of these categories, or even its own category yet to be named? The answers to these questions and more will be discovered in the coming chapters of this investigation.

[1] Ruari McLean, Modern Book Design: from William Morris to the present day, Faber & Faber, London, 1958, p.11

[2] Johanna Drucker, The Century of Artists’ Books, Granary Books, New York, 2004, p.1

[3] David Pye, The Nature & Art of Workmanship, University Press, Cambridge, 1968, p.2

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