Monday, July 25, 2011

Evolution of printmaking

I received an e-mail the other day from an art college student who is working on a degree in relief printmaking.  He was conducting a survey amongst printmakers to find out what printmakers think about the technological direction of printmaking.  I thought I would share it here and maybe even elaborate upon it more.
There were three questions.

Q: What quality do you consider hand pulled printmaking to have, to make it more of a niche and an unique medium?
A: The quality is already there.  The answer is in your question: "hand pulled".

Q: What do you believe printmaking to be, and does this have boundaries or exclusions to technology or process?
A: I believe Printmaking to be a fine art, created by the hand of the artist.  The debate regarding the role of mass production technologies in printmaking has continued since Senefelder introduced lithography for theatre posters and will continue as more of these "easy-to-create" technologies are developed.

Q: Do you feel competitions and awards are the key to awareness and the future durability of contemporary printmaking?  If not, how do you feel print will progress and how will it need to evolve?
A: I don't believe competitions and awards are the key to either awareness or the future of contemporary printmaking; any more than "Britain's Got Talent" is the key to awareness or the future of the performing arts.  I would never presume to declare what that key is, but educating the public about the difference between a mass-produced poster and a fine art print seems to be important.  Some people simply don't care that the framed Van Gogh on their wall is a mass produced giclee poster with "realistic brush strokes".
I believe it's not necessary to mess with or influence the direction of the "evolution" of printmaking.  And I definitely don't believe there is such a thing as "progress" in creativity and art.  Artists who make prints will continue to make them the way they want to make them and the public that supports the artists by buying them will buy the ones they like for the varied reasons they like them.  I don't believe fine art printmaking is an industry which needs to be manipulated to meet the demands of the "consumer", and it would be a big mistake for art colleges to teach students to anticipate fashionable trends in the print "market".

Another print technology that has been questioned in the past was silk screen, which first appeared in China ten or eleven centuries ago and was used in England at the beginning of the twentieth century as a means of creating wallpaper.  When it became a common tool in the advertising industry, printmakers noticed it and began to create fine art prints with it.  To move the process from advertising to fine art they christened it "serigraph".  But as Shakespeare said, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet".
The issue of technological boundaries is not new and will no doubt be around for a long time.

If the artist's hand was in control through the whole process of getting an image from a matrix to another surface, it should be considered an original print.  But I believe the artist and the gallery owe it to the buyer and collector to let them know the difference between a reproduction of a painting or drawing and an original fine art print.  An intelligent buyer could then make the decision whether to own a piece of fine art or save their money and go buy a poster or pretty calendar.

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