Dictionary, shaped: Artists' books and lexicography

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Because many artists' books play with or perform “the dictionary,” they are theoretically and critically valuable for lexicography. Some artists' books behave as dictionaries, collecting words, explaining meanings, or parsing senses, for example. Others quote, cite, or photomechanically reproduce dictionaries, for instance by compiling illustrations from a mainstream dictionary. Still others alter, deconstruct, or destroy dictionaries, carving up, crystallizing, or pulping their pages. Lexicographical artists' books can be thought of as responses to the dictionary, signals of broader social perceptions of the genre as, for example, overly authoritarian or frustratingly inaccessible. But lexicographical artists' books likewise enact lexicography as an everyday mode of thought useful to myriad ends. As performances of the genre, artists' books offer innovations in design and function, making illustration, animation, ephemerality, silence, emotion, sociality, uncertainty, and interactivity central to the discussion of words and meanings, in print and online. From irreverence to innovation, what artists' books offer lexicography is a future more richly self-reflective and socially interactive.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)115-146
Number of pages32
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2020


  • Artists books
  • Cultural lexicography
  • Dictionary criticism
  • Dictionary use
  • Ideology
  • Illustration
  • Lexicographical theory
  • Vernacular lexicography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Communication
  • Linguistics and Language


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