Unlike an art book, catalog or monograph that tend to showcase artworks created in another medium, the term ‘artists’ books’ refers to publications that have been conceived as artworks in their own right. These ‘projects for the page’ are generally inexpensive, often produced in large or open editions, and are democratically available.
The book is a medium that allows an artist’s work to be accessible to a multitude of people in different locations at any given time. The more copies produced the more widely the work can be distributed; it is this potential to reach a larger audience that lends the book its social qualities and increases it’s political possibilities. In this way, the artists’ book can be an incredibly powerful communicative force.
The simplicity of a book that is small in scale, costs relatively little to produce, and is easily replicable allows the work to flow outside of mainstream channels and reach an audience without institutional or commercial consent. The artists’ book offers a criticism of and alternative to these systems by circumventing them.
While artists’ books can take many forms, there are a few elements that are common across the practice. Understanding a book as an artwork invites a reflection on the properties of the book form itself. Much like any act of reading, an artists’ book is a physical experience that allows a connection with the medium that – while social in its implications – is individual and personal. The artists’ book invites us to hold it and turn through its pages. Whether the contents are visually or linguistically based (often a mix of both), physically moving through an artwork implicates notions of sequence, repetition, juxtaposition, and duration. The interplay of text and images, as well as considerations of printing process and the design of the book, allows for many exciting possibilities within narrative, media, and meaning that are specific to the artists’ book alone.
Printed Matter. “What Is an Artists’ Book?” Printed Matter, Inc. Accessed February 12, 2021. https://www.printedmatter.org/about/artist-book.
Since they present many cataloging challenges, it's not the most effective search strategy if you do a simple keyword Easy Search for artists' books or a keyword search for zines. As pictured above, that'll get you around 50,000 results in the library catalog for artists' books and about 350 for zines. That can be overwhelming and most of those also won't be especially helpful. A more useful way to find what you want is by searching through Subject Tags and then, filtering your results by using the tools on the left hand column that include:
Some Subject Tags you can directly search through are:
Artists Books Specimens
Artists Books United States
Artists Books Exhibitions
Some other Keyword Search Terms you can also try besides "zines" and "artists' books" in your searches in and out of the library catalog are:
Particularly helpful, is trying Boolean Searching. These techniques help you expand and narrow your search results beyond what the available filters offer. Then, when you do find something that suits your needs, noting the language being used to describe the item can help open up new more productive avenues in your search strategy. The Subject tags are also live links that you can follow through to see what else is catalogued as directly related.
Also, it's useful to note that some collections of materials may come up as individual records rather than individual works. For example, there are multiple records at Ricker that are not singular items, but actually collections of zines that were added to the library together at the same time because they're copies of an exchange between a class or group. Zines, especially, are commonly exchanged and made in groups of people around a common topic, so to understand the work fully you also need to know about the others they were made in relationship with.
Additionally, it's good to know that there's a lot of variations on spelling "artists' books!" Some people write it "artist's books," others "artists book" and so on.
Of course, you can also always ask for support! We're here if any questions come up for you. The Ask A Librarian chat box will get you in direct contact with a librarian at UIUC, and if instant messaging isn't for you, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or look through the answered Frequently Asked Questions down below!