Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Aesthetic of Books

Us bibliophiles don’t just love reading- we love just about everything about books from the smell, to the covers, and even the texture of the pages. There are hundreds of Tumblr blogs and Instagram pages dedicated to all things bookish- pictures of intricately posed books with a mug of tea or coffee, young people in cafes or public transit engrossed in a book, and more.

Libraries and book shops are art galleries, in their own way. You may not consciously think when looking at a book or browsing a library “this is artwork,” but think about the feelings that are evoked. When I browse through my Instagram feed and see that picture of a girl in her bed (covered by a crisp white comforter artistically strewn about, of course) with her cup of tea and a cat, the words that come to mind are “cozy, quiet, warmth.” Art is intended to evoke feelings from the viewer. Libraries can just draw you in like a spell- much like artwork. You get where I’m going with this?

Picture I took of the Providence Athenaeum last summer. It was founded in 1831. The whole library was stunning, and surprisingly huge! 
This weekend, Sean and I decided to take a trip to visit MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts. I absolutely love art and visiting art museums. My favorite art museum, The Clark, is in North Adams’ neighboring town, Williamstown. Even though my nose was running nonstop (thanks, cold from hell), I was pretty pumped about this visit.

A very cliché picture of me in front of one of the MASS MoCA abstract paintings. I made Sean take a bunch of these artsy fartsy pics because I was too hype. The amount of snot rags in my purse at this point was appalling.
Well, to my surprise, there was an interesting exhibit there called Bibliothecaphilia. This exhibit explores the nature of libraries, how they currently exist, and how they could exist in other spaces. As described on the website:

“The six artists in Bibliothecaphilia, explore the medium and ethos of libraries: institutions straddling the public and private spheres, the escapism that libraries offer, libraries’ status as storehouses for physical books — and thus for experiences and knowledge — and the way that these objects circulate and are re-used.”

I never would’ve expected to see an exhibit like this in an art museum, to be honest.

The first piece in the Bibliothecaphilia exhibit. This was actually a very large piece- I couldn’t actually get the whole thing in one shot. The paper swirled and wove throughout the room. It felt magical!
The exhibit was also interactive, and who doesn’t love when you can actually touch stuff at a museum? One piece, entitled Marginalia, actually encouraged you to lounge in a chair and take a book from the small library. The library in this piece contained a wide ranging collection with one thing in common- all the books had bookmarks inside them to indicate where notes were written from past owners. The bookmarks also had observations written on them about the notes in the book. I could’ve spent days going through all of them!

Marginalia. Picture from: 
Another piece (possibly also apart of Marginalia, but I’m not sure) was in a glass display case with a bunch of memorabilia that was found within books. Things like photos, handmade bookmarks, letters, bracelets, and more, were in the display. I love that this display and the library piece with marked up books shows how a book has a life, and this life can reveal so much about past owners. It was like this exhibits weren’t about the books alone; they were also about the people who read them.

“Wow, look at all those books!” You think to yourself. Well, you’re wrong. That’s actually clay this artist used to imitate the appearance of books.
While I do follow bookish Instagram accounts and Tumblr blog, take pictures of my book collection regularly, and am awestruck when I enter a great library, I never thought the word “art” in my head. This exhibit helped me realize that books are art, in more ways than one.

One of my bookshelves, accompanied by my cat, Max.
All of MASS MoCA’s exhibits made me think broadly about what we do and don’t consider art. What we consider artwork is a longstanding philosophical question, and I enjoyed getting to ponder it over during my visit.

If you can, I highly recommend you make a trip over to MASS MoCA to see not only the Bibliothecaphilia exhibit, but all of their exhibits! In the meantime, I hope you are wrapped in a cozy throw blanket, a candle is flickering, you have steaming tea by your side, and you’re about to read a great book. Maybe you’ll even take a picture and share it on Instagram to show off your envy-worthy book aesthetics.



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