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What's in the Library: Books: Artists' Books

What are Artists' Books?

An artists' book is a medium of artistic expression that uses the form or function of “book” as inspiration. It is the artistic initiative seen in the illustration, choice of materials, creation process, layout and design that makes it an art object. A book that only contains text is simply a book; even if authored by an artist, it would be a book that belongs in a book store or the shelves of a library.

What truly makes an artist’s book is the artist’s intent, and artists have used the book as inspiration in a myriad of ways and techniques, from traditional to the experimental. The book could be made through fine press printing or hand-crafted, the pages illustrated with computer-generated images or cheap photocopies; books became sculptures, tiny and gargantuan; books were sliced up and reconfigured, made from all kinds of materials with unconventional objects incorporated, in unique or limited editions, or produced in multiple copies. Regardless of media or process, artists producing these works of art continue to challenge the idea, content and structure of the traditional book.

A note should be made about naming conventions: generally works of art take the form of a book are generally called "artists' books." In organizing the print collection of published monographs and exhibition catalogues, this plural and possessive form is used as a subject heading  (see: Artists' books.). For the library's collection of artists' books, however, the more generic term "bookworks" is used, as indicated by the call number which as begin with bwk (see: bwk call number browse).

For a more detailed overview see: Artists' Books at OCAD University


 Anne Evenhaugen. "What is an Artist's Book?" Unbound: Smithsonian Libraries, 2012, https://blog.library.si.edu/blog/2012/06/01/what-is-an-artists-book/#.W0ebprhrzcs

Books About Artists' Books

Artists' books are essentially works of art, so are used as objects for analysis, interpretation, or aesthetic appreciation in a similar manner as other artworks, designed objects, or works of decorative art.

The library offers many different academic sources to help research artists' books:

Find artists' books

The easiest way to locate artists' books is to

  1. search the library catalogue
  2. choose the Browse menu,
  3. use the drop-down menu to select "Call Number"
  4. enter "BWK" in the search box.

Check out the Artists' Books at OCAD University guide for more detailed information about locating artists' books in the collection.

About the Artists' Books collection at OCAD

The OCAD University library Artists' Book collection contains over 150 artists' bookworks and is part of the library's Special Collections. Artists' books in the collection range from the late 20th to early 21st-century and include traditional letterpress printed books, conceptual bookworks, sculptural and visual works, and forms such as scrolls, fold-outs, and loose items contained in a box. The artists' book collection serves as a teaching collection in support of OCAD University's Printmaking program. Artists' books are housed in the Dorothy H. Hoover Library and are available upon request, they do not circulate outside of the library.

We welcome recommendations for new titles to add to the collection.

Diana Myers' Artists' Bookwork Collection

The Diana Myers Award is awarded yearly to an outstanding artist book produced by an OCAD student in the Printmaking program. The Diana Myers Award has been on hiatus since 2013 but will be reinstated for the 2016/17 academic year. Stay tuned for more info coming soon. To see past winners check out the artists' book display in the library.