Friday, February 22, 2008

Print vs Reproduction

Here we go - the perennial printmakers rant. The following is from Robert Genn's twice-weekly posting to The Painters Keys called "Prints or originals?" [edit: I had originally posted the entire message from the Painter's Keys, not really thinking about implications or interpretation, duh, and recently realized that that reduces traffic to Bob's site, which is definitely not good netiquette, and can be considered plagiarism (although I'd thought referencing the original source was sufficient at the time); I have now selected the important portion that I wished to quote. Please go to Bob's original post for the full story.]:

Esoterica: The ongoing problem with ubiquitous reproductions is what to do with genuine prints. Some folks do engravings, serigraphs, stone-lithos and other handmade, limited-edition works of art. I, for one, don't like to see traditional
print-art being marginalized, and mechanical reproduction has gone a long way in doing just that. This is one of the reasons dedicated printmakers tend to avoid clubs. Putting up a sign that says "Genuine prints--this way" won't cut it either,
unless you feel a donnybrook is needed for club publicity.
Robert Genn, The Painter's Keys
So really, the important message that I'd like to comment on was in the "Esoterica section". And my response (which may or may not be published in the Clickback response section to this post):
I'm sure you've received a tonne of responses from printmakers on this post. At least, I hope you do! Thanks for your "Esoterica", although, I wish it had somewhat more prominence in the post.

As a printmaker, and an active participant in the printmaking community (both online and locally), I strive very hard, along with my fellow printmakers, to educate about prints and printmaking vs reproduction prints. I have found that the worst response tends to come from other artists: "Why do you make such a big fuss over such a small nomenclature distinction?"

For traditional printmakers, the concept of the reproduction is not new - after all, lithographs, serigraphs (screen prints), and even block prints were regarded as "cheap" reproductive, quick and dirty methods of creating an image multiple times. Yet in all of these printmaking methods, there is a physical process involved where an artist, or craftsman (or team of craftsmen) working under the guidance of an artist, directly manipulates a "plate" of some kind (wood block, limestone block, silk screen) to create an image which is then transferred, one at a time, to a support. I just can't justify mass reproduction where machinery does pretty much all the work as the equivalent of an original print method. Printmakers take great pride in the craftsmanship and skill required to master their chosen print methodology.

On top of all of this, printmakers are sick and tired of having to qualify their term "print" in an effort to distinguish it from "reproduction". On the Wet Canvas! printmakers discussion forum, we have had many long rants about the "print vs reproduction" topic, as well as what to call an "original art print", which seems so cumbersome. After lots of interesting opinions, no one has yet come up with a particularly good alternative. Branding is everything, as it were, and printmakers need a really good ad agency to help us rise to the occasion!

I do understand the economic benefits to reproduction of original art, and I'm not trying to imply that there isn't a place in the art market for reproductions; after all, not everyone can afford an original Robert Genn or Emily Carr. But perhaps opportunities to provide art-lovers with small gems of original art should be encouraged (with ACEO/ATC as a great example), rather than resorting to the quick fix of the reproduction. And original print art can be one of the solutions to the economic quandary: by their nature, and by the public opinion that anything in an "edition" must be worth less than something that's one of a kind (even though each print requires equal effort to create in order to be considered acceptable to be included in an edition), original prints are usually very reasonably priced, and it's often easy to find "shrink wrapped" versions for an even more economical choice.

So please, artists, consider the use of the term "print" vs "reproduction" carefully. For every "print" out there that isn't created using a printmaking (as opposed to reproductive) process, you are denigrating the art of the original print.
So there's my rant for the day. Read it and weep (if you're a printmaker); the battle seems to be uphill and pointless.


Eraethil said...

Thanks for tackling the issue on behalf of printmakers Amie! Your approach was succinct and reasonable. I don't know how they could avoid understanding your point of view!

Katka said...

Good to see you back and with your "feist" back Amie. Your points are well made and clearly stated. Thanks for taking the time to raise awareness.

Anonymous said...

I'm getting back into the world of printmaking and am enjoying your blog. Keep up the nice work (both artwork and writing)!

Anonymous said...

Print making is a dead art. The only reason print makers had a job in the first place was because an artist needed to produce multiple reproductions of his work to sell.

Do you honestly think that if 12 color, 100 year ink printers were around then there would even be such a thing as a plate to print from??

Unknown said...

Thanks for your comment - I'll post this comment onto a couple of discussion boards and see where it goes... If print were truly dead, though, I would suspect there wouldn't be literally thousands of people using the medium as a method of expression for their work. I can of course be considered biased, though... :)

Ellen Shipley said...

Printmaking certainly isn't a dead art. I consider it a separate medium of expression, one where you remove something to make the image, as when you carve away the wood. It's "painting" with negative space. A lot of thought goes into the process and execution. I don't think "I think I'll copy something today," I think "I think I'll create something today."

printsnat said...

Watercolor artist and other painters who sell a lot of reproductions of their work should call them reproductions, and not prints. Signing and numbering them gives their purchasers a false sense of their value. Printmaking is the process of making etchings, lithographs, woodcuts, etc. and are considered originals.

H2O_Baby said...

In answer to anonymous' question, YES! I do think there is a place for hand made items and artwork even in our computer age. I love the smell of burnt plate oil in the morning!!

That said it is of course disheartening that there are those in art clubs, shops and galleries do not appreciate these wonderful media. You would think that other artists would have some sort of education.

And if you have an intelligent printer you don't need 12 colors :o) Mix primaries.

nicholasdowgwillo said...

Oh anonymous, such a silly and weirdly angry comment. Printmaking evolved quite separately from painting. Printmakers didn't have jobs because painters gave them to them, they had a job because their skills were the most technologically advanced for communicating visual information...this is important for society (transmitting info about poisonous plants, ways to build machines, etc.). I would refer you to William Ivins book, "Prints and Visual Communication" if you would like to know more about the subject.
Secondly, printmaking is perhaps one of the most widely used contemporary artistic media. I have some thoughts on the reasons for this but I'll just leave this as a statement rather than getting in too deep.
And thirdly, I would encourage you to look into people like Durer and Rembrandt who both painted and made significant, original graphic statements. Not to mention artists like Kathe Kollwitz whose primary medium was print.
I keep wanting to add more points on to this comment (about the beauty and depth of intaglio and the punch of a really good woodcut, and the joy of pulling a print, and the seductiveness of paper, etc.) but I feel like I'm arguing against the that it.

Unknown said...

Gotta share this quote from Clayton Hollifield on his blog Ink Is My Perfume:

Even small plates that are done quickly are accompanyed by buckets of sweat and aches the next day (which is why traditional printmakers tend to sneer at things like giclee prints - if it doesn't take a couple of Aleve and a vat of coffee to get you through the day, it's not really a print).