Over the weekend, I visited the RISD Art Books Fair with a friend.

The first question is what is an “art book fair” – are they books about art? Is the library selling off old bits of its collection? Are they books that constitute art? None of the above?

The answer, as always, is complicated. Over all the event leaned into the notion of “books as art” with a healthy dose of “art fair” holding the whole thing together. Representatives from a variety of organizations of creatives were in attendance. Most of the stalls were RISD affiliated, showcasing the work of RISD students, past and present.

My friend and I spent a solid chunk of time pouring over the table half-covered with little, 2 cm in diameter buttons, each with a colorful background and a handwritten statement on the front. “No thank you” read one, “pseudonym” read another, “kind of a drag” read one that I bought, “solid blood” read one my friend bought. There was no method or reasoning to the text that we could discern, but nor did we care to look for one. It was time well spent swimming through the vague thoughts forms of the subconscious.

I picked up two little chapbooks by a graphic design student from the Kansas City Art Institute.

Selecting art books, like buying other kinds of art, is an exercise in self-discovery. It is never clear why you prefer one thing over another, why you want this work of art and not that one. Nevertheless, the feeling is always concrete, always strong. There is no rationalizing it, no secret formula to understanding it; art one brings home becomes a housemate, a companion. So it is also with art books. They call out to us, and we pick them up, and when we bring them home, we find ourselves sitting there, leafing through, curious, always trying to look with new eyes.

Knowing a piece of art can only happen with time. The thing which originally drew us to it is almost immediately papered over, hidden by every subsequent detail we find which pleases us. We put ourselves in dialogue with the piece by accident; simply by spending time with it, little details are revealed, “Oh, look at that little shape there” and “Oh, that shade of blue reminds me of the first house I remember us living in” and “Oh, how melancholy”. We are revealed as much as the art is revealed as much as the artist reveals. Indirect communication and accidental resonances take over.

Retroactively published 22 Jan 2019

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