Google+ House Revivals: Why I Destroy Books to Create Art

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Why I Destroy Books to Create Art

This is a question that has come up time and again over the years. The House Revivals blog is known for altering books, and tearing pages out of books all in the name of creativity.

I often get comments, on the blog, or other social media, and even in person, suggesting that it is nothing short of sacrilege to destroy a book. I get it. As a bibliophile, and staunch First Amendment supporter, I truly understand the power of the written word. How fortunate we are to live in a time and place where we are free to speak or write or read anything we want. It hasn't always been that way, and in parts of the world, it still isn't.

There are, and have been, peoples and classes of peoples who have been denied the right to learn to read, or to teach others to read. Certain books and authors have been banned, when persons in power have wanted to quash the dissemination of ideas. Books represent the free expression of ideas. That is why, for some, it feels uncomfortable to destroy a book to create something else.

For others, however, using parts of books to create art is simply a celebration of books and ideas. We rescue books that have been defaced or damaged and are bound for the landfill, then use the pages to express new ideas through our art. The fact that we are using pages from old books adds another layer of meaning to the creation.

In an entryway that I regularly stage, I often use old Reader's Digest Condensed Books, with the covers ripped off, to fill baskets or bowls, or to act as risers for other accessories. Bundling books with covers ripped off adds a bit of tension to the space, as it alludes to a time when people removed or replaced covers from banned books. I use Reader's Digest books for this because they are cheap, bountiful, low quality tomes. They are great for applications where high acid content will not pose a problem or cause your creation to crumble over time.

At one time or other, it seems, every household in America subscribed to the Reader's Digest book club. Each tome contained condensed versions of several popular books, printed on low quality, highly acidic paper, and perfect bound. Perfect binding is a method of binding where each page of a book is printed on a single sheet, and the edges of the pages are glued together. While economical, perfect binding does not hold up over time the way stitched signatures do. The economy binding combined with the paper's high acid content give these books a limited life expectancy.

Reader's Digest Condensed Books, that are donated to thrift stores are often sent directly to the dumpster. The thrift store gets so many of them, and they don't sell well.

The same goes for encyclopedias and obsolete atlases and many old romance novels. The cover graphics on vintage romance novels can be striking, and can lend a fun retro vibe to a project. If a creative project will save a lovely graphic for more people to enjoy, then why not do it?

Now, I love obsolete atlases and keep a personal collection in my library, but old atlases are plentiful and many are destroyed each year as schools and libraries update their collections. The changing political boundaries represented in an old atlas can serve as a reminder that we do not live at the end of history. Historic atlas pages can make provocative additions to art. That last chapter of history has yet to be written, and who knows? Maybe the next political boundary that changes will be our own.

Sometimes I find books written in other languages -- the written word is lovely, regardless of the language, so I will often use pages from those books in my designs. I try to be respectful of cultural and religious differences.

I often find books for art projects in bins outside the doors of thrift shops. These books are usually on sale for about a quarter each, and it is their last stop before they hit the dumpster. Usually these are damaged, colored in by a toddler, old textbooks and dictionaries, books filled with charts, or books about obsolete technology. These bins are goldmines for mixed media artists! The books are just days away from the landfill, they are cheap, and they are often plentiful.

I've found beautifully illustrated repair manuals from the early 1900's in these types of bins. I consider these purchases to be rescues. There are certain atlases and gardening books that I buy over and over again, because their pages are perfect for something I make. Of course, I use common sense, and would never destroy a rare or valuable book.

When I'm creating, I love to use rescued items. It simply is not necessary to buy something new every time we make a card or ornament or create art. By rescuing old books, we are diverting items from the landfill, and adding layers of meaning to our work.

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