How can artists make more of their work available to the public, get deeper name recognition, have a continuing source of income, and share something of the vision behind their art? Today, the answer may be obvious. But in 1498, when Albrecht Dürer conceived the idea, it had never been done in western culture. He published a book.
Dürer, at 27 years old, had made a name for himself as an artist. He had also illustrated texts for his godfather, Anton Koberger, a successful publisher. But Dürer’s vision–expressed in his own new woodcut style of light and dark tones with parallel and cross-hatched lines giving luxuriant textures to the clothing, the horses’ manes, the clouds–was a book in which art was the point.
The book, consisting of 15 woodcuts, was the Apocalypse, and it was hugely popular two years before the millennium, when the world would surely end. Dürer published the book himself, though it was an expensive project. The block cutting required the best,
most costly artisans. But those blocks, which produced individual prints and another full edition in 1511, provided Dürer an income for the rest of his life. This partial freedom from the patronage system allowed him to choose his own subjects. At current prices, one print from this self-published book sells for $20,000.
Today, artists continue to find good reasons to publish their books.
Jody Stephenson, of Eureka Spring’s Studio 62, has produced Faltering Towards Perfection, Art, Faith, and Everything in Between. Her book includes paintings, poetry and memoir.
Larry Mansker’s lovely books explore subjects, such as sailboats or the city of Eureka Springs, in depth, to create “a body of work that makes a distinct and complete statement.” Not unlike Dürer’s Apocalypse, but a lot more cheerful.
Carol Dickie wrote her book, not to explicate her paintings, but to give people a sense of who she is and where the source of inspiration lies. “I found that the book became greater than the words and the paintings; it became a third entity that helped me understand my own work better.”
Edward Robison’s books collect the photographs that document his vision of the sacred voice of nature. Each one is a journey, a symphony, an epiphany.
Doug Stowe’s line of how-to books on furniture construction or box making teach his intricate techniques.
Valerie Damon’s children’s books and teachers’ guides share her love of nature and her joy in creation.
So if you are a visual artist, consider how a book can share your work and your inner vision with a wider audience. It’s an idea that’s worked since 1498.
A version of this article first appeared in 2nJoy magazine.