By Roisan Rubio
Let’s take a quiz before we begin.
In each set of images posted below, which is an example of scrapbooking and which is an example of an artists book?
In each of the above examples, the image of an artists book is on the left and the scrapbook image is on the right. The artists books images are all from Vamp and Tramp. The examples of scrapbooking were found in a Google search of scrapbooking images. Obviously, the examples were deliberately chosen to blur the line between the two categories.
To my mind, this is a classic example of an artists book, any of the works by Julie Chen.
Again to my mind, this is a classic example of a scrapbooking project, an image found on the Intertubes.
There isn’t much discussion, if any, to be found in books or on the Intertubes regarding the intersection of scrapbooking and artists books. In any case, I haven’t found it. So let’s begin the discussion here. It may be that artists book makers are so busy trying to define the term that they don’t have time for an interloper trying to wedge itself into the discussion. It could also be that artists book makers are so dismissive of scrapbookers that the idea of discussing the similarities is beneath them. There a caste system in the world of art and the world of craft.
Art, with a capital “A” has no clear definition. Some like to refer to high art and low art. At the top are artists whose work sells for millions, if not hundred of millions, of dollars. At the bottom is the “art” produced by kids and posted by parents on the refrigerator door. Somewhere in between is art produced by art students, folk art, primitive art, auteurs, and semi-professional artists with or without formal art training.
This discussion will not include the merits of the above classifications of art. I doubt there will ever be agreement on “What is Art?” Artists books and the books arts are relatively new fields in the spectrum of art. They have long be classified as crafts but some artists book makers like to think of their work as art, not craft. Bookmaking has long been called a craft and some in the field are trying to wedge artists books into the field of art, not craft (although it may be both).
While almost everyone can agree on the definition of a scrapbook, there is still wide disagreement on what is or isn’t an artist book. There is still no formal definition of an artists book that pleases everyone—from those who create artists books to those who curate or buy it. Librarians wonder whether an artists book is a book or a work of art. Some argue that it is both, but some artists books stretch the definition of what most would call a book. In 1998, there was a long discussion (185 email threads) on the Book_Arts-L listserv about the definition of an artists book. At the end, there was no agreement.
Enter scrapbooking. Some artists call scrapbooking a hobby or craft. Wikipedia states that “scrapbooking is a method for preserving personal and family history in the form of a scrapbook. Typical memorabilia include photographs, printed media, and artwork. Scrapbook albums are often decorated and frequently contain extensive journaling.” This description could easily be part of an artist’s statement for an artists book.
The line between artists books and scrapbooking can be blurred, depending on an individual’s preferences and creativity. There are simply no fixed rules about can or can’t be done when making an artists book or when scrapbooking. Scrapbooking is the “creative art of taking books with blank pages and adding photos, memorabilia, journaling, and embellishments.” The “primary purpose of scrapbooking is to preserve memories for future generations.” Someone can create art or visuals in an artists book or via scrapbooking. Anything and everything goes: text, printing, painting, drawing, pen and ink, doodling, stamping, photos, and collage can be used in either medium.
Artists books move beyond the traditional book and scrapbooking moves beyond the traditional photo album. But is there an intersection? When does a scrapbook project move into the territory of artists book and vice versa? Is it just a label that is placed on the piece by the maker? Is an artists book made by someone who doesn’t consider themselves to be an artist—a piece of art or truly an artists book? Formally trained artists tend to denounce scrapbooking as a hobby performed by bored women (it seems to be mostly women, but a male can occasionally be seen the scrapbooking aisle at Michael’s.
Does it come down to restraint? Some artists are dismissive of scrapbooking because its makers are not trained in art and because many scrapbookers do not know when to stop with the embellishments. There is a lot of kitsch associate with scrapbooking. So, when does a scrapbook project move into the realm of artist book? When does an artists book become so kitschy that is moves into the realm of scrapbooking?
I have always avoided the scrapbook aisle when I am in a store like Michael’s. But I recently decided that I will start perusing those aisles—not because I suddenly became a scrapbooker or a devotee of the craft—but because I believe all those 12” x 12” decorative papers would be great as end sheets for handmade books.
Book_Arts-L listserv, 1998. Definition of the Artists Book (Yes, Again).
Julie Chen website: http://www.flyingfishpress.com/
Scrapbooking entry in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrapbooking
Art Journaling vs Scrapbooking: keepinganartjournal/a/art_journaling.htm