And lest you think that the field stops at this water's edge she mentions the concept of "artists' books" which today extend the very definition of books to include non-traditional forms that may be sculptural [and difficult to shelve] – slips of paper in a bottle, an accordion-fold sandwich with paper ham & cheese tucked in, even a laced corset.
Priscilla Juvelis of Maine, an important dealer in contemporary book arts, explains American collecting interest in the book as art this way. Previous to 1970, legendary American collectors such as J.P. Morgan, Henry Huntington, and Lessing Rosenwald collected European bindings, fine printing, illuminated manuscripts, books illustrated with original graphic art, etc. – all of which can be thought of as book arts. Since 1970 America has steadily developed a distinctive, even exuberant, style that today defines American contemporary book arts as a thing apart from its European roots. In this field, for its collectors, binders, printers and artists, the outcome has been a growing community of hundreds of individuals who today create art expressed as beautiful books often in bindings. The subset, "artists' books," where the author both creates the book as well as its text, has been a particularly vibrant part of the market. Book arts, encompassing the entire range of what may be considered the book as beautiful object is Ms. Juvelis' specialty.
Of the field today she recently commented - "The American book arts community is particularly strong at this time. We are living in an era where the sheer volume of artists whose aesthetic expression is combining with a level of craftsmanship not seen before. What was once the purview of kings, queens, cardinals, dukes et al. - books created for one patron to hold and enjoy – is now possible for most collectors." The art of the book is one of the most personal ways to enjoy art – and one of the most satisfying ways as well."
Bill and Vicky Stewart of Vamp & Tramp, Booksellers represent over 250 contemporary fine presses and book artists. "Our concern is with works of art where text (if present) and image/illustration (if present) combine with the physical aspects of the work to trigger the aesthetic experience. What to call these works - fine press books, artists' books, bookworks, sculpture, or simply books - is less important than the experience. In this world books are no longer just a container for information and story. The physicality of the book - the materials, the paper, the structure, how it opens or doesn't open - is an expressive component, just as important as the text and image. In any one book, one or two of these aspects may dominate, but all three contribute in some way.
"We feel that because of the nature of these objects, in order to be appreciated they must not only by seen and read but also handled. You have to play with them in order to appreciate and experience that physical component. No matter how good the catalog, the website, or the exhibition (where the books are usually displayed, for understandable reasons, behind glass with one spread only on view), there is no substitute for actually handling the books. Hence, we spend much of the year taking the works we represent to institutional and private collectors.