Objets d'art


Here is an interesting public art project, which I stumbled across some months ago on a trail of links from bloggers I know: PostSecret.

The anonymous on-line confessional is an interesting phenomenon, ranging from the voyeuristic and whiny to various stripes of pious knock-offs and post-modern Protestant spins on an ancient sacrament. It speaks, I think, of the deep human need to escape the burden of our private guilt, and the deep human fear of actually owning our misdeeds to a real human being, someone who might agree with us that there was something wrong with what we did, who might hold us accountable for future deeds. Who might be a channel of God's grace.

But I like PostSecret. I like the idea of using art, and not just words, as a means of expressing a burden. I like the sense of community, real if superficial, of recognizing ourselves in other people's confessions, of sympathizing with strangers.

The books spawned by the PostSecret project also make great coffeetable books, at turns hilarious and poignant. One caveat though: many secrets are about taboos, and many taboos are about sex -- so the books probably aren't appropriate for the coffeetables of all households.

I have a few postcards in the works. But I can't tell you what they are, because then they wouldn't be secrets anymore.

***

Another artistic phenomenon I find intriguing and evocative is Altered Books -- art objects built upon a discarded book, using a variety of techniques (painting, printing, collage, etc.) to transform the pages and cover of the book into a visual and tactile expression that may incorporate words on a page, but goes beyond the soldier-like marching columns of text.

Altered books as a concept touch a cord with my life, my personality, my values. I love books. But I appreciate their limitations. I struggle to live a full, three-dimensional life, even if it is more safe, more comfortable, to retreat into the stable and controlled world of the written word. Making art, with color, with texture, out of the staid platform of paper, cardboard, cloth, and glue that constitute a book at once honors the value of books and comments upon their limits as a cultural medium.

I am fascinated by books not just as vehicles for ideas, but as physical artifacts. I laugh at the qualms some critics express about the "defacing" of books to create a work of art -- many books are not worth the paper they're printed on (old Reader's Digest Condensed Books, for example), so if they can be recycled into works of art, that has greater dignity than being added to the city dump. Educated westerners have access to an embarrassment of bookly riches, and books are not sacred simply for being books, whatever the pro-reading movement of our elementary school days tried to impress upon us.

The cultural snob in me is a little bit turned off by the way Altered Books have entered the commercial crafty mainstream of late. I found this booklet at a recent library bag sale, and upon flipping through it, found none of the projects remotely appealing. Granted, introductory how-to books should present projects that are mimic-able by beginners, but shouldn't these samples reflect at least as much artistry and design sense as a junior high school yearbook? The booklet was not so much an introduction to an art form as an extended advertisement for the various pricey collage "embellishments" offered by the authors' company. I felt that the authors' pretty much missed the point of altered books. (As though an art form has one definable "point.")

But when I look at images like these and these, I am inspired by the possibilities of the art form. One of the things that I find especially compelling about the medium is precisely that the artist is not starting from a blank page, but the book chosen both constrains and inspires the artistic process. Yesterday I woke up from a dream with a strong impulse to create, so I have started work on an altered book of my own.

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