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In sharp contrast to the principles of functionality and social purpose that have guided so much 20th century design, there are plenty of individuals and firms producing “art for art’s sake” and upholding aesthetic values and standards of bygone eras. Fine press endeavors and the decorative arts are alive and well in the modern age, with artisans in all trades producing work intended purely for enjoyment, contemplation and collectability. Artists’ books are books or book objects created for such purposes. These works can be solo or collaborative, taking many different forms, and typically incorporate a range of bookmaking and illustration techniques, including binding, papermaking and engineering, letterpress, printmaking, photography, collage, and more. Print runs are usually limited, as each copy is hand-made, at least in part. Artists’ books may be intended to be read cover to cover, or they may be abstract, interactive, or contain individual loose components. There really are no rules that dictate what an artist’s book should look like or contain. Most have distinct messages that are conveyed through image and text, but that doesn’t always have to be true either.
SCUA holds a sizable collection of artists’ books collected over several decades. Highlights include: everything produced by the Janus Press, started by SDSU alum Claire Van Vliet; a growing collection of titles produced by the Brighton Press, co-owned and operated by SDSU instructor Michele Burgess and her partner Bill Kelly; titles from various California presses and makers; student work spanning 15 years of bookmaking instruction under Michele Burgess; and professional work by former students. Shown here are just a handful of the many titles held by SCUA. While it’s difficult to fully appreciate the craftsmanship, meaning and interactive nature of these works online, viewers are encouraged to visit SCUA and experience these unique works of art in person.