Scholarly work • Artist's Books • Artworks • Projects • Substack: JD ABCs • Bio and Vita • Contact Home
My interest areas include: Artists’ books, visual art, experimental typography, contemporary aesthetics, graphic design, digital humanities, and information visualization.
I have a multi-faceted career as a writer, artist and scholar. I publish and lectures widely on these topics while continuing creative work as a visual artist making books and conceptual projects. I have worked in many media including letterpress, stone lithography, performance art, and digital production. My current work builds on scholarly attention to visual knowledge, creative work in typography and design as meaningful aspects of language. My visual practice seeks to understand natural processes and forces through the study of organic decay. My critical writing includes conventional approaches to the study of books, art history, and data visualizations but also extends into speculative thinking. At its most adventurous, my work is focused on a field I invented, social physics, introduced in The General Theory of Social Relativity, a book that is not for everyone. Emergent systems, complexity theory, and theories of quantum entanglement continue to push my imaginative work and writing. More on these topics ahead. For now, I am occupied with the new JD:ABCs on Substack, with making some YouTube videos to accompany Inventing the Alphabet, and other projects.
Scholarship: My scholarly and critical work began with interest in visual poetics, experimental typography, and the relationship between meaning and graphic expression stemmed from hands-on experience in letterpress and book design. It extends to studies of information visualization such as charts, graphs, and diagrams, and includes engagement with digital humanities, a field that has exploded in recent decades in work at the intersection of computation and traditional humanistic disciplines. I have published in art history and continue to write reviews in response to work I that calls for critical attention (see JD: ABCs on Substack). Alphabet studies are a particular passion and inspired early work and my most recent, and likely final, scholarly book, Inventing the Alphabet (2022). I am currently working on some YouTube videos to share primary research materials in the intellectual history of the alphabet. For more information: Scholarly Work .
Artist’s books: I began printing my own editions works in 1972 for the simple reason that as a writer, I wanted to make books. Since that time, I have written, illustrated, designed, printed and published dozens of my own works. These have been exhibited and collected in rare book libraries, museums, and other venues throughout North America, the UK, and Europe. A dozen other creative titles of mine has been published by other presses. I have collaborated frequently with artists Susan Bee and Brad Freeman on book projects. These books have provided an opportunity to work experimentally with visual language and typography, to play with visible forms of meaning production, and to engage with theoretical topics in language and in feminist issues. I’ve written extensively about artists’ books, not my own, in the now-canonical The Century of Artists’ Books, (Granary Books, 1994), and more articles, book introductions, and catalogue essays than I can recall. The now mothballed, Artists_Books_Online site contained fully digitized copies of a more than a hundred books, including all of my titles up through 2008. It can be accessed in diminished form through the Wayback Machine, here. I am continuing to make artist’s books in hand-painted editions. For an overview of these works, click Artist's Books. Purchase inquiries should be directed to Steve Clay, Granary Books.
Artworks and Projects: I learned to draw by studying organic forms, small bits of plant matter and decayed material. I quickly came to understand that I was observing natural processes, not just forms. This led to an ongoing fascination with stochastic processes, the nature of events, as well as a long-term series of studies of entities. I have created various projects focused on theoretical issues. The earliest was a study of a process drawing that was a record of its own making. Somewhat abstract, this project, done in 1978, titled Experience of the Medium, was printed in Amsterdam and a copy is in the Stedjelik Museum. Wittgenstein’s Gallery,, 1989, took up questions of the differences between language and images. Can a word cast a shadow? Can you conjugate an image? Subjective Meteorology, produced in 2004, used the metaphors and templates of traditional meteorology but mapped them onto psychic conditions as if they could be represented as weather systems. A cold front of a meeting hits a high pressure system of a work deadline and a sudden drop in temperature from a cold judgment on work outcomes and so on. Other ongoing projects include Diagrammatic Writing and topics in Social Physics, still underway. For a gallery of images and descriptions: Art and Projects
Academic career: I have held academic positions at the University of Texas, Dallas, Harvard University, Columbia University, Yale University, SUNY Purchase, the University of Virginia, and UCLA, where I was the inaugural Breslauer Professor of Bibliographical Studies in the Department of Information Studies. My work has been recognized by awards from APHA (American Print History Association), the Book Club of California, the AIGA (Stephen Heller Award for Cultural Criticism), Beyond Baroque, and an honorary Doctoral Degree from the University of Maryland. I have received Fulbright, Mellon, Getty, and NEH Fellowships and in 2014 was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.