The Necessary Unification of Form and Content: An Aesthetic and Linguistic Approach to Artists' Books

Bradshaw, Bethany Anne

Abilene Christian University, Texas, US.


Artists’ books, which are books functioning as works of art by combining text, graphics, and often even their binding and construction to produce an aesthetic effect, have played an important role in shaping the artistic culture of the 20th century. However, they have received surprisingly little attention from critical theorists. This anomaly may be due, in part, to the breadth and variety of the genre, which do not make it particularly conducive to objective analytical approaches. However, Johanna Drucker, the forerunning critic of artists’ books, analyzes the unification of form and content as the key to a successful artist’s book, which facilitates a further method of analysis drawing on previous theories of representation. Since artists’ books frequently incorporate both visual and textual elements, a suitable form of analysis can be drawn from established aesthetic and linguistic theory. John Ruskin’s theories about representative art and the linguistic theories of Ferdinand de Saussure, which focus on linguistic representation, can be used to frame a more comprehensive analysis of this aesthetically and linguistically conscious genre. This paper demonstrates how Ruskin’s and Saussure’s theories, when hinged upon the constructed nature of representation that undergirds both, can be used to more productively analyze and evaluate an artist’s book.