Digital History - Histoire Numérique

University of Ottawa's Artist Book Collection

Welcome to the website dedicated to the University of Ottawa’s artist book collection! Here, you will be able to find all the information you need to understand what an artist book is, and what can be found in the University of Ottawa’s own special collection.

What is an artist book? Artist books are difficult to define because the concept of an artist book has evolved considerably over the years, which has led to a few self-conflicting characteristics and significant debate over what can be considered as an “artist book.”

According to the artist, art critic, and art theorist Johanna Drucker, an artist book is “any work of original art created in the book format." The Getty Research Institute adds to Drucker’s definition, and specifies that artist books include “commercial publications (usually in limited editions), as well as unique items formed or arranged by the artist.”

Drucker and the Getty Research Institute essentially define artist books as a medium, or the methods and materials used by artists to create artwork and express their ideas. As a medium, artist books have a different kind of agency than auction catalogues and textbooks on art, whose primary function is to convey information on pre-existing works. Instead, artist books are created to communicate a specific message, which can range from the development of their practice to a poignant social-political commentary.

In general, artist books follow the general book format and communicate their ideas with words and images on pages between two covers. However, like all artistic endeavours, there are exceptions to this rule, some of which can be found in the University of Ottawa’s collection. Like with other mediums, artists are relatively free in their choice of aesthetics (the materials and techniques used in the design and production of the book) and content (the themes, subjects and ideas communicated by the book).


Elizabeth Jay