With the advent of the digital revolution, the “giclée” or digitally produced ink-jet art print is an upscale and promising venue of digital imaging technology.  Images can be easily created, shared and printed the world over.  It is clear that inks, paper and techology will consistently improve to offer high resolution, archival prints which can qualitatively equal or even surpass traditional lithography for only a fraction of the cost.  As a new medium it promises to be an art in itself, because the tools are back in the hands of the artist.

But as a new medium, it is also important to distinguish a few basic elements of the larger printing world to which it belongs.  Printing, be it digital or lithographic, occurs in the world of CMYK, or subtractive light and refers to multiple identical reproductions.  It is to be differentiated from the world of painting which usually (but not always) occurs in the world of subtractive light and whose pallette is greatly expanded beyond four basic colors.  Additionally, the act of painting refers to a unique product.

What can be confusing for consumers/collectors is the term “limited edition print”.  Traditionally this term referred to a run of prints which were created from a means that became dissipated through the action of printing.  For example, etching plates whose fine lines grew softer after repeated use.  More often, the term “limited edition print” simply referred to the amount of prints generated at any one particular time for economic reasons, not necessarily technical.

In the current world of printing, whether lithographic or digital, the term “limited edition print” refers to economic factors and not physical dissipation, that is the number of copies generated at any one time is determined by how much the artist can spend to produce the images he/she hopes to sell rather than the dissipation of digital pixels (which is absurd) or lithographic plates, which do in fact dissipate in extremely large runs.

In this regard, the Giclée print is directly advantageous to the artist:  no huge lithographic print run to manage, pay for and inventory.  Artists can now “print on demand” and even sign their work, completely bypassing the “limited edition print” run event, potentially rendering the term altogether meaningless  (buyer beware).

Technically, the Giclée print may also be superior to traditional lithography since the ink jets do not require the intervention of tiny lithographic dots to hold the ink.  Finer gradations and subtler details can be rendered.  For example, the current top range digital printers includes two levels of jets for the cyan and magenta inks (one for the normal range of values and one particularly sensitized to reproduce highlight detail).   The archival qualities of the inks are consistently being improved (but still do not retain the longevity of a well executed oil painting) while the substrate is whatever quality technology or ecomomics allow.

The drawback of the Giclée print is the same as it ever was for lithography: CMYK cannot reproduce certain secondary colors, as well as even certain pigments of yellow, red and blue; what is visible on the LED monitor in RGB may not be reproducible in CMYK.  Additionally, importantly, and in contrast to painting, a print surface offers extremely little refraction of light through its micro millimetered surface-depth.  So the play of light through its surface remains predictably (mechanically) stable, unlike the subtle differences that can be experienced when viewing an original painting.  So although the Giclée or digiprint offers many possibilities, a print is still a print…

More Musings on Memory

July 27, 2009

Two important events occurred in mid-nineteenth century France: Louis Daguerre’s patent application to the French Academy of Sciences for his Daguerreotype and Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran’s publication of a systematic way for the artist to develop visual memory. The former was destined to radically change the way humans communicate, while the latter would eventually become relegated to the now old fashioned practice of perceiving, conceiving and rendering external reality in terms of three dimensional forms. Additionally, the former could (after the additional technological advancements of more than a century) be used by anyone to communicate anything, while the latter took years of practice to master (by fewer and fewer artists). In Lecoq’s time, one could imagine him to be deeply aware of how the early stirrings of photography might impact both the world – and the artist. But also, the world of his time was still deeply embedded in Western Civilization’s long tradition of the representation of classical forms of beauty. If we fast forward more than one hundred and fifty years, we can see a remarkably different art world functioning now and understand why he has hardly been heard of. Still, back in the day, his methods had a strong influence on Fantin-Latour, Legros, Rodin, Lepère, Lhermitte, George Innes and James MacNeill Whistler, among others.

One additional factor – which also occurred in France around that same time period – could have been nail in Lecoq’s memorial coffin. One year after the 1862 publication of Lecoq’s revised edition of L’Education de la mémoire pittoresque was the famous 1863 Salon des Refusés. Art history books mark this as the beginnings of the Impressionistic movement. It’s readily acknowledged then that the advent of photography provided the impetus for Impressionism and the further deconstruction of the realistic picture space: Neo-Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Surrealism, Da-Da, Expressionism, Pop-Art, Hard-Edge, Color Field, Minimalism, Symbolism, etc… . As they all continued to move away from a form oriented, realistic rendering of external reality they moved towards an abstract vision of an inner, subjective reality. This inner subjective experience of consciousness (on whatever level) then became objectified using whatever tools might be available to the artist – or to which they were attracted. Such expressions then need not have any relation to the external “objective” world rather, if successful, these expressions somehow depicted a universality (that is not subject to the subject-object dichotomy of both science and even language itself). So I wouldn’t  argue against any of these developments, as a young artist I was exposed to them all and truly appreciated most. Yet also as an artist I do question what has been lost in the interim. For example, my own artistic education included very little formal training, that is, training in the rendering of form and the use of the traditional materials to do so. So I’ve really had to teach myself.

At this point, and as a very generalised statement of the current artistic world, I humbly submit that by losing touch with the various tools and techniques which artists have used for centuries to render personally significant reactions to the external world in and around themselves, humanity has lost an essential relationship. An essential mirror. I certainly do not argue against abstraction, and conversely, I do not argue for realism. Both languages can be exceptionally powerful or exceptionally vapid, depending upon their practitioner/spokesperson. I’m just arguing for integration. The physical absorbed into the metaphysical; the metaphysical rendered meaningful through the physical. The Heart Sutra of Mahayana Buddhism expresses it this way: Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form.