The power of paper

Back in March, I wrote about why I love paper and real books more than e-readers. In that post, I shared some of the artwork of a book artist, Brian Dettmer, who takes a scalpel to books and transforms them into works of art.

This past weekend, I got to see Dettmer’s work in person at Pulse Miami, just one of many art festivals that took place in the Miami area as part of a larger celebration of art, Art Week Miami.

Now, I love art, and experiencing art is one of the ways my life flourishes. But I don’t generally love ultra contemporary art, and since Pulse Miami is billed as a contemporary festival, I wasn’t sure what to expect. As my husband and I walked through the expo halls, we were wowed by some of what we saw, unimpressed with other works and horrified by others that seemed nightmarish or vulgar only for the sake of being nightmarish or vulgar. 

Some of the art I liked least was photographs presented on LCD panels, some clearly Photoshopped or otherwise manipulated, others video loops with odd, random motion. I guess I just prefer “old school” ways of presenting art – paint piled onto canvas, beautiful photographs printed on paper, drawings and, yes, books sculpted into art.

My relief at finally finding Dettmer’s work was almost palpable. His work – in the fourth of the five exhibit halls we visited – was like a moment of serenity and comfort in an otherwise frenetic kaleidoscope of people moving around odd bits of stuff. The pictures I had seen of his work on the Web don’t do them justice, and neither will these that my husband took, but I share them with you just to give you a sense of Dettmer’s art.

Here’s the front view of one of his works. You can see the levels of word on word, and illustration literally embracing the words.

This is not traditional art, but it’s art I can appreciate because it appeals to my senses and sparks my curiosity. How does the artist decide which sections he’ll carve out and which he’ll leave intact? How does he choose the books he’ll carve?

Does he envision the final outcome as a modern Michelangelo – freeing the sculpture not from a marble slab but from the book’s pages? Does he approach it analytically? How long does it take to complete one of the sculptures?

I’m pretty sure that if I took a scalpel to a book, all I’d end up with is a mess worthy of the recycle bin.

To the right, you can see the same sculpture from the side. I love this view because it shows more clearly the intricacy and the detail of pages left and pages cut out.

The visual level upon level of interest are what make this art so appealing to me. It’s what gives it power.

The power of paper
Books and paper have power and purpose – whether you’re an artist cutting them up or a writer putting words on paper or a printer binding the book and cutting its pages. And I want to keep that power at my fingertips.

I saw a friend of mine today who is a printer, and he bemoaned the bleak outlook of his industry. He told me I’d be writing someday just for e-readers, making his printing business obsolete. I hope he’s wrong.

I hope that when I am old, paper and books will still be around in full force. I want a bookstore where I can browse books on a shelf. Ones of different shapes and textures and weight with pages I can leaf through. Picture books with pop-ups and textures that will delight the children in my life.

And I hope that I will still send and receive birthday cards and Christmas cards and letters for all occasions printed on paper – ones that I can display throughout the season and then keep in a scrapbook as a memory of family and friends through the years. And if that makes me old fashioned, then fine, call me old fashioned.

A different sort of Christmas tree
Last week’s post described a different kind of Christmas tree I’d still like you to consider buying, and no, in case you’re wondering, I still haven’t put up the first Christmas decoration. But I’d like to leave you today with a link to yet another kind of Christmas tree. I include it here because it takes library books and shapes them into a Christmas tree. You can see a step-by-step building of the tree on the creator’s flickr channel – definitely worth checking out. It’s art and books and Christmas trees all rolled into one, and I think that’s something worth celebrating.

1 thought on “The power of paper

  1. I share your love of paper and "real" books. Thanks for this. I'm intrigued by your photos of this sculpted book, but I'm not sure I get it. So he starts with a bound, printed book? Does he glue all the pages together first?

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