February 24, 2015

Smithsonian Libraries offer artists’ books collection online


The Smithsonian has put hundreds of artists’ books online this month, as part of a collaborative efforts with institutions like the National Design Library, the American Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery. Now over 600 titles can be accessed with one tool, and the collection is a response to growing interest in the book as an art form that can be studied just like any other artistic genre, such as pairing, sculpture or photography.

But what is the definition of an artist’s book? The Smithsonian offers the following explanation in an introduction to the collection:

Artists’ books are works of art, like paintings or sculptures, but in book form… Some are experimental and done by artists better known as painters or sculptors, as a way to extend their artistic practice. Many artists use the book format to create narratives to deal with difficult issues, with ideas that cannot be conveyed as clearly on a canvas or other medium. Some artist-made books illustrate the words of others, integrating art and literature. And some artists’ books do not have words at all. As a work created by an artist, the nature, appearance and purpose, of an artist’s book can be fundamentally different from what one might find on the shelves of the library.

Browse below to see some of the fascinating artists’ books that “straddle the boundary between the art and literary worlds” and often are examples of mixed media, while some of these books have no words at all.


Claire Kelley is a the former Director of Library and Academic Marketing.