A manifesto for ebooks on art

A manifesto for ebooks on art

"Just as portable paint tubes revolutionized the act of making art for painters like Monet and Renoir, the digital revolution is transforming the art book," writes critic Carol Strickland. The author of a digital book for iPad on impressionism in Erudition's Masterpieces of Art series, Strickland tells me that many of her reviewing colleagues are not yet interested in covering art books that aren't produced in print. Time will sort this, as it does so many things, of course. "What an ebook has in spades over a print book is ease of distribution," writes Strickland. "Ebooks are poised to leap into the uncharted terrain of the imagination."—Porter Anderson


'A good book requires a good software engineer'

“’Tis the good reader,” Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “that makes the good book.” As an author of six books, I’d add: a good book requires a good writer. Plus—what Emerson couldn’t imagine—a good book requires a good software engineer.

This is especially true for art books, usually expensive, weighty tomes displayed on coffee tables by elite connoisseurs. With the populist vibe of ebooks on art, you not only lose the weight and high price of print, but you also expand the book’s reach to a wider audience.

Purveyors of culture must communicate with a generation that expects dynamism and personal choice in “edu-tainment.” Just as portable paint tubes revolutionized the act of making art for painters like Monet and Renoir, the digital revolution is transforming the art book. This synergy between text and technology signals great promise.

In enhanced ebooks on art, creative expression isn’t limited to the art or writing.

When text and image are interwoven, the electronic medium can also be a means of creative expression. It merges form and content to teach and entertain readers, turning them into engaged participants. The electronic format is a new carrier, tailored to our age of fast transmission of ideas and images. An enhanced ebook does things a printed page can’t do. Readers scroll and swipe through timelines, zoom in on blow-ups, and touch and click for background info and analyses of technique. 

Artists, designers, writers, and engineers have always pioneered new intellectual paths. The iPad allows a marriage of content, design, and images that shows art in a whole new light—the light of a high-resolution, electronic-tablet screen.

The printed book was born centuries ago. The ebook is green as grass—only eight years young.

Yet with ebooks proliferating like dandelions in spring and more readers using electronic tablets, the infant genre is rapidly evolving. Everyone is straining to see which format (Amazon's Kindle, Apple's iPad, Barnes & Noble's Nook, Google's Chromebook, etc.) will predominate. For books on history, biographies, even historical fiction, the potential of an enhanced ebook is exponential. Imagine embedded audio and video files, archival photos, background images, borders, and colorful page design to enrich basic text with context and subtext.

What an ebook has in spades over a print book is ease of distribution.

Technology can bring culture not only to niche audiences but to the masses, expanding the range for culture. Cyberspace is as broad as the human hunger for the arts. Culture can go places where culture is hard to find.

The enhanced ebook is a post-modern art form, and ebooks are poised to leap into the uncharted terrain of the imagination.

Here’s Emerson again: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”


This is another entry in our series of "Five-Minute Manifestos" for The Future of the Book Business. In his article Those magnificent manifestos, The Bookseller editor Philip Jones revisited his call for the FutureBook community to reflect on five years of the digital dynamic, "to challenge the customs we have begun to adopt." The response has been robust, and we thank all our manifesto writers. See their articles here.

As we add more in this series, our most recently published #FutureBook15 manifestos are:

Main image - iStockphoto: Otto Krause