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Artists' Books in Special Collections and Archives

Learn more about the artists' books in Special Collections and Archives

About the Artists' Books Collection

About this guide

At this guide you will find more information about the artists' books in Special Collections and Archives at Kennedy Library. Click on the tabs on the left to learn more.

About Cal Poly's Artists Books

Special Collections and Archives houses over 700 unique and limited artists' books. They are excellent resources for design inspiration, creative book construction, printing and bookbinding techniques, visual rhetoric and studying the book as an object.

Special Collections and Archives began collecting artists' books in earnest during the 1970s with an emphasis on California artists. The collection includes books by artist, printers, students, and publishers from around the world. We are intentional about purchasing works by creators who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and LGBTQ. We focus on work that address topics including racial and gender identity, immigration, visualization of data, mapping, politics, architecture, and social and environmental justice. 

Everyone is welcome to access these books in the Kennedy Library. Learn how to schedule an appointment here

While the archives is closed, we can offer to film videos of the artists books for you or meet with you on Zoom. View selected videos here.

Images of 6 artists books, showing them opened and unfolded, they are a variety of formats and colors, and all have a tactile look and don't look like a traditional book.

Photos of some of the artists' books in Special Collections and Archives', photographed by Prem Ananda (ART '09).

What are Artists' Books?

What is an Artists' Book?

Artists' books are works of art conceived of and generated in a book-like format.

The artist's book as a concept resists being bound to single definition. In the most general terms, it is an original work of art that that incorporates or innovates upon the book form in some—often dramatic—way. These books amalgamate traditional arts, such as graphic design, printmaking & bookbinding, with the full spectrum of contemporary art practice and theory, expanding and redefining the form. The artist’s book is almost always conscious of the subtle interplay of form and content, and often seeks to challenge the mundane expectations of its audience. In the 1960s, the popularity of the artist’s book swelled in the United States and Europe. And by the 1970s major production centers were established, including the Women’s Studio Workshop in upstate New York and the Nexus Press in Atlanta. The artist's book persists into the present as innovative, challenging, and mercurial form. 

Books published through traditional means--along with the ideology of authorship implied by these conventions--is an inherently patriarchal object. Artists' books can be viewed as a means of subverting established concepts of power and order of who and what get traditionally published. Whether self-published or issued by small presses, the artists' book artistic format can combine the crafts of papermaking, typography, and bookbinding with each artist's unique sensibility and artistic vision. -- adapted from Kelly Wooten

Interview with San Luis Obispo Book Artist Meryl Perloff

Read more: San Luis Obispo's Micro-Libraries and Art-Object Books by Catherine Trujillo, Artbound (2013)

DRAFT We welcome feedback and recommendations!

We welcome feedback and input on the artists' books collection, this guide, and our outreach. 

If there are artists' books, topics, or formats you think we should have in the collection, we welcome suggestions.

Please feel free to contact us [we are working on a web form].