Monday, January 19, 2004

Richard Wardle RE in a recent demonstration he gave to Ludlow Art Society members expressed concern about the marketing of Giclée prints. It is a concern I share because of the way they are marketed as a form of fine art. An advertisement once caught my eye in, I think, The Observer. It was offering a ‘Fine Art Giclée’ of ‘St. Michaels. Mount’ in a limited edition signed by the artist – an elected RA. The image was printed of course on archival paper with lightfast inks by state of the art digital technology - a quality bargain at around £200!

Well the gullible may be impressed with that and there is nothing new in the marketing of mass editions of signed artists prints. Russell Flint and L S Lowry are two artists who come to mind whose work was marketed in this way. Lowry though was honest enough to admit that he was being paid a fee essentially for signing his autograph. There is a nice story told in his biography that a dealer brought a quantity of prints for him to sign. The dealer became concerned when he noticed that Lowry was signing the prints ‘L.S.Low.’ When asked to explain Lowry replied, “You have only paid me half my fee so you are only getting half a signature.” He was also quietly amused by the fact that gullible art shoppers were prepared to pay a prestigious gallery £45 for a signed numbered print from an edition of 850 when the same print could be bought unsigned for around £5 from less pretentious outlets. Do artists, who can now produce their own passable prints rather than use a commercial printer, really wish to compromise their integrity with this kind of marketing?.

Richard and other RE members make prints which are individual in the sense that each carries the stamp of the artist’s hand–tooled mark. Their work has far greater integrity than the digital print where the technology creates a barrier between the original hand crafted artefact and the mechanically produced print. I once took issue with the writer of an article in ‘The Artist’ magazine which explained at length the skill and care that she took in producing her giclée prints - using the finest materials and making test prints to get the right contrast and colour. All of this of course is sheer pretension, the real skill resides with the programmer who wrote the robust code that kept her system stable while she tinkered and played with the image on her screen. The final digital print owes more to the programmer’s skill than hers.

There is of course a place for digital imaging in helping artists to promote their work. The technology is quite appropriate for cards and notelets that are not being passed off as fine art. But as painters or printmaker we have chosen to work using hand-craft methods which have a long tradition. We should work in sympathy with the tradition and practice of our chosen craft if our work is to have integrity. In any hand crafted printing process image quality degrades after a number of prints are made. This is why the printmaker produces a signed limited edition – at the end of the print run he destroys his plate. There is no such constraint with ink jet prints so it is a pretence to sign and number them.

By using graphics software like Adobe Photoshop to merely make copies of their paintings artists are missing the creative potential of digital technology. There are artists with the necessary skill and training who use graphics software to create original digital images. Their work has greater integrity and honesty of purpose than scanned images of paintings. The simple reason is that their work does not attempt to simulate a hand made artefact. Indeed original digital images are created by a process in which the hand made mark has no place. The appropriate place for digital graphics is in the developing media like video, the internet, or advertising. Digital images are quite out of place in a gallery or exhibition whose primary function is to display hand-made artefacts. I personally would like to see an addition to the Rules of Entry for the Society’s exhibitions that would exclude Giclée prints from being accepted. I hope most members will be persuaded by the logic of my reasoning

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