Which came first: the content or the concept?

pink_piano_bookIn Keith Smith’s tome Non Adhesive Binding: Books Without Paste or Glue (volume 1), he discusses the relationship between idea, construction and content. This is like the holy trinity of artist books–the conceptual, the physical and the visual. They can come in any order and they are dependent upon one another. Mr. Smith believes that they are intimately connected, but binding serves content, even if the binding choice comes before the content is actually created.

Usually I come up with a concept (such as inspiration from a song or a phrase) first. Then I create content and lastly choose a binding or construction to hold it. Sometimes I find a cool construction, though, and that will motivate me to create something to put in it. Once in a while I will write a atlas_bookpoem and work back to the concept and then create a container that is appropriate. And I have to agree with Mr. Smith. Binding always serves content. If not, the results are awkward and uncomfortable. But when these three elements are in harmony, the results are spectacular.

I love thinking about how these three interact, and how different the results can be, depending on where you start. It’s a process that is exciting with each new project and starting at a different place than you are used to can result in work that is fresh and vibrant. And if you don’t have this book–or any of his other books–you need to order one (or all of them) ASAP.

Do you have a particular order, or rhythm, you usually find yourself in when making artist books?


  1. fortunately for me, keith has begun to think that blank books are valuable too. he’s included dan essig’s books as examples in one of the volumes.

    did you know you can buy his books directly from him? he has some “soiled” ones that he sells for half price. they don’t look soiled to me. i thought your readers might like to know.


    i think that’s the link.

    gerri newfry’s last blog post..Get inspired with these easy tips

  2. All depends: sometimes I have an idea, and sometimes a book (content) inspire me…

    Olaya Balcells’s last blog post..Estelario

  3. Yea, I bought most of my books from him. In the back of the book it says you can get the pages unbound and bind them yourself. I would love to do that!

  4. it is a valuable discussion. personally i think the content should always determine the form…or they should evolve simultaneously. In my mind, it is very hard to work in the other direction – very hard to fit X content into Y container without it being awkward in some way, as you said.

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