Artist Books at the Smithsonian

Course Information

Instructor: Brad Freeman
Location: Smithsonian Libraries and Archives / Washington D.C.
Mode: In-person
Dates: August 14 – August 18
Tuition: $1200.00


In this class we will closely examine many of the artist books held in the various collections at the Smithsonian Institution. The purpose of the class is to provide the participants with the critical language to describe and analyze artist books in the context of the broader field. Artist books foster an interdisciplinary approach to artmaking because they exist at the intersections of a few creative activities including but not limited to book art, visual arts, experimental narrative, poetry, painting, photography, printmaking, and graphic design. The field is also complicated due to the book form’s ability to provide space for revealing its content over time as the pages are turned. We will also explore the similarities and differences between artist books, book-like objects, and fine press books.

The books we will look at and discuss mirror important cultural issues around social justice, personal expression, contemporary art, and political activism. Due to the vast range of artist books in the Smithsonian collections we will have the opportunity to view historically important proto-artist books such as Japanese wood-block artist Katsushika Hokusai’s manga series starting from the early 1800s to contemporary artist books. Artist books come in all sizes, shapes, and forms with many points of view about the meanings we apply to the ongoing activities of our world. As poet Stéphane Mallarmé wrote, “Everything in the world exists in order to end up as a book.”


Suggested readings (some of the essays will be provided during the class):

  • “The New Art of Making Books,” Ulises Carrión, Artists’ Books: A Critical Anthology and Sourcebook
  • “Some Contemporary Artists and Their Books,” Clive Phillpot, Artists’ Books: A Critical Anthology and Sourcebook
  • “The Artist’s Book as Idea and Form,” Johanna Drucker, The Century of Artists’ Books
  • “A Mass-Produced Product of High Order,” Anne Moeglin-Delcroix, JAB4 – Journal of Artists’ Books #4
  • “Ars Combinatoria and the Book,” Janet Zweig, JAB8 – Journal of Artists’ Books #8
  • “The Knowing of Artists’ Books,” Monica Carroll and Adam Dickerson, JAB43 – Journal of Artists’ Books #43
  • “Feminism and the Book Arts at the Woman’s Building, Los Angeles,” Alisa Scudamore, JAB4 – Journal of Artists’ Books #4
  • “Signs and Their Transmission: The Question of the Book in the New World,” Walter D. Mignolo, A Book of the Book: Some Works & Projections About the Book & Writing
  • Russian Futurism: A History, Vladimir Markov
  • The World Backwards: Russian Futurist Books 1912-1916, Susan P. Compton
  • Russian Avant-Garde Books 1917-34, Susan P. Compton
  • Structure of the Visual Book, Keith Smith




Completion of this course helps to meet requirements for one of the following certificate requirements:

  • 1 of 3 elective credit courses for Certificate in Rare Books and Manuscripts, or
  • 1 of 2 elective credit courses for Certificate in Librarianship, Activism, and Justice