prints vs reproductions, again

This really got my attention: Anna Conti’s post Giclée can of worms. Go read this excellent and thought-provoking article first, then come back.

Indeed! Giclée is a fancy name for high-end inkjet printing, and was very important in its early days for its archival quality, meaning that the inks are acid-free and UV resistant and the papers are also acid free. Archival inks and papers are readily available now, even in some of the newer consumer inkjet printers. (If you are printing valuable family photos that you want to last, look into this!)

How many times over the years have my printmaking colleagues and I had this discussion about prints versus reproductions? We get upset when some famous artists along with their galleries purposefully arrange reproductions, call them prints, sign them, sell them for huge sums of money. If this is done, at the very least the buyer MUST be made aware that the work is a reproduction! I agree very much with Anna that as artists we should not encourage reproductions and that we should educate the public about it.

Regarding “limited” editions, when prints were first made several centuries ago, they were not numbered and limited, and were inexpensive and available to everyone . Many restrikes have been made of Rembrandt’s etchings for example. As Anna stated, it later became a market thing to “limit” the numbers printed and thus raise prices. However, limited edition prints are still more affordable than paintings. Traditionally the plates are destroyed to prevent further prints, but not always. I often save some of mine and reuse them in different combinations in new work. I keep a documentation sheet of each art work which is available to galleries and buyers if they wish. Ultimately there’s trust involved in the integrity of the artist.

And how many times are artists who work with computers thought to be lesser artists? Nowadays artists have a tremendous variety of ways of working, whether paint or computer generated or film or found materials or unmade beds. What is of the essence is the intent, honesty and expression of the artist creating the originals in whatever material they choose. Let’s not discount use of the computer as one of many tools in artmaking in this 21st century. Many successful traditional printmakers have gone on to explore this new medium, incorporating it into their working methods.

Like many other printmakers, I’ve found that experimentation with new printmaking processes keeps my work fresh and new. I started using the computer in my work about seven years ago to replace the toxic darkroom process when preparing my positives for photo-etchings. Later I began manipulating my photos, doing ‘digital collages’ that could be made into etchings.

With the advent of a wide-format archival inkjet printer in the studio about three years ago, I’ve been doing straight digital prints often combining them with traditional printmaking because I like the handmade textural feel. Creating art at the computer is not easier than doing everything by hand, as least for those of us who are not trained commercial artists. The digital files can last a long time, depending on the life of the material they are stored on, but again artistic integrity comes into play here that these are not printed again. Some of those files might provide material for new works in a new way, just like those etched plates that I saved. I have never used the process to reproduce any of my work.

(If you are interested in reading more about printmaking and digital printmaking, check out some past articles under those themes on the right.)

This got a bit long-winded, I’m busy, busy these days working in the printmaking studio (digital and traditional printing!) and at home with PhotoShop at the computer. I’m also preparing for house guests tomorrow, thinking about shows I must see… not enough time. But I’m happy that some of the items on my to do list are getting done little by little.

October 20, 2005 in Being an Artist, Digital printmaking, Printmaking by Marja-Leena