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We Think The Exquisite Book Is Simply Exquisite

By Betsy Mikel in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 3, 2010 8:20PM

Think the cover is cool? Just wait until you see inside...
The Exquisite Book was born just as things of both the nonexqusite and exquisite variety are often born - with an idea. “We thought it would be fun to play a variation of the exquisite corpse game, with artists collaborating over the Web,” said Julia Rothman, one of the authors of the book and blog BookByItsCover. “Once the concept was more thought out, it seemed like it would be better as a book instead of an online project.”

To understand The Exquisite Book, you must first understand the exquisite corpse game. It was invented by the Surrealists to play with words among a group of friends. Each person writes a sentence, and then passes the paper along to the next person, who writes the next sentence. But, you can only see what the person before you has written, so you only have a sliver of an idea of where the story was going before it came to you. The Exquisite Book is much of the same concept, but with artists who were chosen for their storytelling skills. The goal was to create a book with work from individual artists that all together formed a continuous narrative.

The project started with 10 artists, who drew illustrations based on a phrase about different landscapes such as “In the forest,” “In the city,” or “In the jungle.” Rothman said some artists used the phrases very literally and others played with the theme. For example, Melinda Beck received the phrase "In the forest" and depicted a man sitting and starting at Post-it notes in a room where one of the walls was covered with tree patterned wallpaper. With "In the jungle" as inspiration, Marcus Oakley created a more concrete jungle made of strange neon hyper-colored geometric shapes.

The 10 artists had two weeks to complete their piece with whatever materials they wanted, and then they emailed their illustration to the next artist in their group. Those artists had to use the same horizontal line from the previous piece in their illustration, but everything else was open to interpretation. “Some artists connected to the previous page in a narrative way, telling the next part of the story,” said Rothman. “Other times artists were inspired by the overall mood of the previous artist, and others worked more abstractly, taking patterns and colors from the previous piece.”

100 artists contributed illustrations to this project.
At the end, The Exquisite Book had 10 groups of illustrations, with pieces contributed by 10 different artists (that’s 100 total if you’re bad at math). What’s interesting is that this final project works best as a living breathing book, even though all collaboration between artists took place online as they passed their work down the line via email. Rothman says it would have been a lot harder, perhaps impossible, without the Internet. The Exquisite Book opens accordion style, so readers can view the progression of each group of illustrations. ‘It's really fun to discover why the artists decided to make what they did,” Rothman said. The more time you spend looking at the artwork, the more connections you notice. Looking at the book with someone else also becomes exciting because they make connections you may not have seen.”

A group of the artists will be at Quimby’s on Friday, November 5 for an event showcasing The Exquisite Book. So far the artists who will be in attendance at this event will be the authors, Anders Nilsen, Lillie Carre, Paul Hornschemeier, Isaac Tobin, Lauren Nassef, Susie Ghahremani. The event starts at 7 p.m.