Friday, October 9, 2009

Size Matters - Five Thoughts on Art Books

Dear Readers,

Paging through new art book catalogs, I conjured a few rules that publishers might like to hear. I don't consider myself an expert, but I've learned a few things by accident in recent years

(1) Try to represent your artist's work.
We know artists not only through their images, but through the sizes, shapes, and textures of the art objects they create—so print your Rothko images big, your Bôsais small, your Francis Bacons on rough paper and your Ingres on glossy. Help readers understand what these art pieces feel and look like... If an Hiroshige print charms viewers because of its minute and dense detail, why would you enlarge it to twice its size? Why?

(2) Make yourself useful.
Anyone can print off an artist's complete work from Wikipedia, but your publishing house should rustle up something new—new information, perspectives, resources, unseen images—that will help people access the artist as never before. Try to include a remarkable bibliography, introduction and other material that will make the book not only a good finished product, but also a good jumping off point for other researchers.

(3) By the way, "complete" collections don't necessarily offer a complete picture.
Sometimes, printing an artist's complete work can actually confuse people. If her most important and productive years occurred late in life, should you really reproduce the dumpster loads of early junk she fumbled through? Would she want that? Will all of it , en masse, help us understand her impact on the arts? Focus. Otherwise we'll think you're trying to compensate for your tiny house by printing a big book. (Unless you're printing The Big Penis Book because you're Taschen and people know for sure that you're big, so you can flaunt it).

(4) Sometimes, the book makes the artist.
You want to sell 50,000 copies of a book, any book, so you run yourself to death looking for the next big artist because you think that a big artist will make your book succeed. Maybe that's the wrong way to go about it. Sometimes, an overlooked artist will reach people like never before when his/her work is presented in a well handled book. Look at Blackstock's Collections for a perfect example of this—a small smart publisher found some small smart work and gained attention for all involved.

(5) Sometime an artist predates another artist, without "predicting" him/her.
Michael Phelps is younger than me, and I bet that I was dog-paddling before his first sink-bath. But I won't say that my early swimming efforts "presaged", "predicted," or even "foreshadowed" his later swimming triumphs—because I would look silly if I suggested such a thing. If your introduction says that Jane McArtist "paved the way" for Cubism, or "utilized elements of Impressionism long before Impressionism" etc., you better be prepared to show a deeper connection, or you'll look like a name dropper. From now on, let us admire the Lascaux cave drawings for their own value... not because they predicted Giacometti.

Best regards,

Maxwell Heller, Editor

No comments:

Post a Comment