My Project Explained “When art becomes work” The Artist’s Book

The term “Artist’s Book” generally means a book or book-like object, that is usually self-published, by the artist.  It is usually considered a work of art in and of itself.  It is usually published in small editions or sometimes as a one-of-a-kind object. The connection of self-publishing and self-distribution is key to their classification as is the integration of text, image and form.

Artists’ Books range from hand written or hand printed, with hand made images, etc. to the conventionally printed.  Some come with attachments, like CDs, DVDs, postcards, notes, and others can include balloons, clippings, fur, or bubble gum to cite a few more offbeat publications that I have seen.

In general, the Artist’s Book is a 20th Century art form with a rich history that is being carried forward into this century. Artists have been involved in the production of books in Europe since the early medieval period.  Avant-garde artists in the early 20th Century made pamphlets, posters, manifestos and books.  It was a way to create affordable work that could be seen by people outside of the art world.  Russian Futurists created a series of Artists’ Books that challenged every assumption of orthodox book production.  Many played with form, structure, materials and content that still seem contemporary today.  Post World War II, artists in Europe used the Artist’s Book as a way of connecting to like-minded groups in other countries.  The 1960s and 1970s saw a proliferation of Artists’ Books in the name of social and political activism.  A return to the cheap mass-produced aesthetic has been evidenced since the early 90s, with artists making cheap mass production central to their practice.

Angela Lorenz, an American artist living in Bologna, has this to say about Artist’s Books on her website,
WARNING: Artist’s Books should come with a warning label. Once you know what they are, be warned, you have the burden of trying to explain them to others.

With Artist’s Books…it is generally one individual making all the choices, without the involvement of an editor or publisher. In this sense, they may be likened to independent films. The final product reflects the artistic vision of one person, without imposed constraints connected to marketing or even censorship

Stephen Bury, author of Artists’ Books: The Book as a Work of Art, 1963-1995 defines them this way:

“Artists’ Books are books or book-like objects over the final appearance of which an artist has had a high degree of control; where the book is intended as a work of art in itself.”

My project When art becomes work is an Artist’s Book that fulfills this definition and builds on this rich history.  It will be available starting tomorrow, April 24 @ 7pm, at my presentation at the Prostitution Information Center and at Boekie Woekie, an Artists’ Bookstore here in Amsterdam.  Later in the week,  it will also be available for order on and

The following is the preface I wrote for the book to explain its form and function to its readers:

{Preface for When art becomes work}

In 2000, the Dutch ban on brothels was lifted and replaced by a licensing system. Prostitution, a business that was previously practiced under the blind eye of the government, became a legal way of generating income.  Shortly thereafter, Amsterdam’s city council, along with well-known banks, developers, corporations, investors and entrepreneurs, made a plan to invest in the 1012 district, the postal code of the Red Light District, and passed a measure known as Project 1012.

In 2008, as a result of Project 1012, the De Key short-term residency program, Art Stay, was launched, causing the nearly immediate repurposing of over ten brothels into spaces for artists to live, produce, and exhibit their works in the windows previously used to exhibit the area’s prostitutes.

Controlling prostitution in Amsterdam is designed to ultimately aid in urban renewal.  In Project 1012, both artist and prostitute are perceived to benefit from the development of property into places where they normally would not economically be able to afford.

Mariska Majoor is the founder of the Prostitution Information Center located in the center of the Red Light District in Amsterdam. She is the author of When sex becomes work, a book she wrote to help those who are considering working in the prostitution industry.  It is a manual that explores the profession and how to manage working in the business.

When art becomes work, directly comments on how Art Stay prostituted the artist in the name of urban renewal.  By substituting the word “art” for the word “sex” throughout the text, the reader becomes aware of the substitution of one type of worker for another. With this change, the entire book changes in purpose and now functions as a manual for the artist similarly to the way the brothel window functions as a new space.

Terry Norton-Wright

[Front Cover]

[Back Cover]

The original book is printed in its entirety and is attached printed upside down, causing the reader to flip between reading each book.

One comment

  1. Thank you all who attended the presentation this evening. I appreciate your support.

    For those of you who may be looking to purchase the book online, it will be available later this week, on and I will post when it is ready. XO, T.

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