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…

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More Musings on Memory

July 27, 2009

An interesting series of events occurred in mid-nineteenth century France: Lecoq’s discovery of a systematic way to develop (human) visual memory to a high degree of accuracy followed perhaps ten years after the French Academy of Sciences recognized the patent application of Louis Daguerre and his Daguerreotype. Surely Lecoq was not unaware of the early stirrings of photography, it would have been blasted over the newspapers and fully discussed in the cultural circles of his time. What is interesting rather, is to consider why it seems his discovery received the little recognition that it did – both then and now.

One possible reason could be the explosion of Impressionism: 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, which marked the beginnings of Impressionism. It’s readily acknowledged historically that the advent of photography provided the impetus for Impressionism and the art forms which it engendered: Neo-Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Surrealism, Da-Da, Expressionism, Pop-Art, Hard-Edge, Color Field, Minimalism, Symbolism, etc… all moving further and further afield from a realistic rendering of external reality and towards an abstract vision of an inner, subjective reality (whatever it may be, using whatever means may be available, which may or may not have any relationship to the external world).

I humbly submit that by losing (through devaluation) the various tools and techniques which artists have used for centuries for rendering personally significant reactions to the external world in and around themselves humanity has lost an essential relationship. An essential mirror of itself. I would not argue against abstraction, and conversely, I would not argue for realism, as both languages can be exceptionally powerful or exceptionally vapid, depending upon their spokesperson, but I would argue for integration. The physical absorbed into the metaphysical; the metaphysical rendered meaningful through the physical. In this powerful inner dialog (which essentially comprises a human life), experiential memory plays an essential role. Kinda exciting to consider that, isn’t it?