I’m excited to say that in a couple of weeks, I’m going to the Lakewood Art Council’s gallery in Lakewood, Colorado for a book signing event. These promotional affairs are still new to me, so I don’t feel cynical if I end up with only two or three people at my presentation. But I have to admit, I’m a bit nervous about this particular event because I’ve committed to doing an “art project.” Yikes!
Now, many of my friends know that I have been sketching and doing watercolor painting since Eisenhower was president, but to be honest, I’m not that great at it. I don’t remember if it’s cadmium yellow that stains a paper or winsor yellow. I’ve never achieved “vibrancy” the way professionals do. I mostly work hard at painting and have a ton of fun with it. There is no way I’m qualified to “teach” a bunch of artists anything about painting.
In desperate hopes I turned to the Internet for ideas. I typed in “books in art” because, after all, I’ll be doing a quick reading from my own book. The images I found were beautiful, but ancient looking. Hmm. Ancient. What could I do with that?
Finally it dawned on me that the whole concept of “book” is ancient. Johannes Gutenberg is considered one of the greatest inventors of all time because about 600 years ago he invented the printing press, and made reading available to all as a result. Until his books, people had to rely on oral history and tales passed from mouth to mouth and generation to generation for news and learning. Book printing was the “latest technology” and threatened to destroy campfire tales and other forms of storytelling.
Yet, here we are today with both books and storytelling still going strong. But a new threat to reading in a “traditional” sense is here. Books held strong through the advent of the radio, the television, and even the movies. But can books survive the invention of the computer and the e-book? Do they need to?
Let’s face it. Books are fun to read once, and if they’re exceptional a second or even third time. I remember my dad reading “The Night Before Christmas” every year as I grew up. But today, for the most part, we read to be entertained for a few hours, educated (at least through the final exam of a semester in college) and inspired to be a better person. When a book is complete it usually sits on our shelves collecting dust and acting as a gentle reminder of good times and thoughts past.
It occurred to me that doing something with books that we no longer use might make a good craft project, even if it isn’t art. In my internet search, I stumbled across such things as “book carving,” “bookmarks,” and “turning books into purses.”
In a way, this seems like a sacrilege. One time, when I was in grade school a kid came in with his subject report illustrated by pictures he’d cut from his parents’ encyclopedias. Oh the uproar! That boy had “ruined” great books! It didn’t matter that his folks could afford to buy new encyclopedias. It didn’t matter that every project Rene brought in was constructed with the finest, most expensive materials around. He had the audacity to treat an encyclopedia, an encyclopedia for goodness sakes, with irreverence! That scandal flashed through Vaughan Elementary with the speed of a summer lightning storm. And for every child who was not the hapless Rene, we trembled with the thought of destroying something as precious as a book.
Fast forward to my kids’ growing up (which is still ancient history). With my pack-rat tendencies, I always had plenty of magazines on hand to cut up for report illustrations. But even when a National Geographic magazine was years old, I had a hard time letting the safety shears and Elmer’s glue go. Some magazines were as precious as books.
Finally, when the kids had gone and I had enough spending money to be able to buy books regularly, I began to dispose of them. It remains hard to do, even today. My big break-through came when I was trying to decorate an office for a company my good guy and I started in 1999.
For the first time I bought a book with the sole intention of cutting it up. I used beautiful illustrations from the book to cut and glue onto computer discs. My goal was to combine the idea of gleaming technology and the beauty that is Colorado together. I ended up with about 10 of these discs mounted and framed. The project came out well, and for years we received compliments on pictures that would otherwise have been lost in a book on a shelf somewhere. Who knew I could do this?
So the question is, can we as artists, have a love of book and still create art with it? Is it bad to cut up books and repurpose them, or should we let go and move on to the compact nature of an e-reader, never to thumb through, smell the ink, or enjoy a quiet afternoon rolling around on the couch to find the most comfy position to read the next page?
If you’re in my area on Saturday, July 26th from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm, I hope you’ll join me for Literary Arts: Meet The Author at the Lakewood Arts Council Art Gallery, 85 S. Union Blvd (Union & 6th Ave. behind the Wendy’s burgers), Lakewood, CO. We’ll be talking mysteries and doing crafts with used books.