Manuscript for Quarry West June 5,1995
"VOCARE, VOCARE!" William Everson cried out like a tortured
soul, while I sat perplexed and bewildered in his Birth of A Poet class
at UCSC. "A vocation is what you are called to do with your life.
An avocation is something you do other than that." I was searching
for a direction in life, taking classes and struggling to learn the crafts
of papermaking and bookbinding. Everson also taught a class printing fine
press books on an old acorn shaped iron handpress in the McHenry Library.
I didn’t know what "fine press" was, but thought to myself,
"Since I am making books and paper, I should know how to print."
So I joined his class. I ended up working on three different Lime Kiln
Press books, and confirmed my vocation as a book artist.
As Everson’s apprentices, it was our job was to help bring his visions
into concrete forms. We did not have much creative input. He would bring
his ideas, brew on the problems till they were solved, then we would do
the work. Everson led us through the mysteries of the art in silences
broken by cries to the gods for mercy, and we produced books like Granite
and Cypress and The American Bard, books which combined masterful and
innovative printing with stunning bindings to create some of the first
books of a genre recently called the "Fine Press Artist Book".
To be a book artist one must be a pioneer. Art history classes do not
teach the history of the book. Artists are not trained in the aesthetic
of the book, or given a vocabulary for describing the medium. As an artistic
endeavor, the field presents both technical and aesthetic challenges.
Contrasted to a practice like oil painting, creation of a book requires
considerable equipment, which is expensive to acquire and challenging
to master. I was fortunate to have worked with a man of genius like Everson
when I was beginning, for his aesthetic influenced me profoundly. Today,
when I talk about the book arts or when I share my "Gospel of the
Book" with a fervor that honors his memory, I often hear an echo
of his cry "Vocare!"
The Gospel of the Book According to Peter:
The 'aesthetic correctness' of calling a book 'art' is often questioned:
"Isn't the book a media so mired by technique that it cannot express
the 'true sentiments' of art?" Art is often thought of as an individual
process: the lone artist creating masterpieces. The collaborative nature
of art is often denied. The book reveals the artist's reliance on others:
the papermaker, binder, printer, illustrator, author, or designer. The
book acknowledges that art and craft are interdependent.
The book is an artistic medium, but a book is not always art. Books produced
solely to convey information are receptacles. Books made solely to look
at are objects. Books created solely inspire an aesthetic response are
works of art.
The book confounds much of the art world, for the book is an intimate
art, intended to be viewed by one person at a time, and it challenges
the traditional precept that "real" art is viewed by the masses
in a public forum.
The book is the summation of all art. There is sculpture and architecture
in the binding, dance in the structure, music in the sequence of pages,
visual art in the illustration, literature in the text and drama in the
collaboration of skills required to realize the vision.
The book as art, when successful, is visually interesting wherever and
however the viewer looks at it. The illustrations are integrated with
the text, not just art work placed in a book. It is not required to have
a text. The book, as art, is not the same as a novel, pages and pages
of black text on white paper, for it is not just a book to read and a
masterpiece of this media will have a skillful combination of text, illustration
and form, and display a mastery of the craft required to produce it.