Wall Street Journal Article - 'Giclee' Prints roil the world of painting

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by clay, Jul 21, 2004.

  1. clay

    clay Subscriber

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    There is an interesting article in today's (July 21) Wall Street Journal about how digital reproduction techniques are causing some controversy in the world of fine art painting. One paragraph begins 'Fine art or faux art...' I had to laugh while I was drinking my coffee. So the painting world is in the middle of the same debates as the photography world. I guess nowhere is safe anymore! This is really, truly FYI. I am not attempting to start up the digital bashing stuff again. Frankly, I am sick of it. I am of the opinion that you should do your thing, throw it against the wall, and see what sticks. Ultimately, it won't matter one bit what we think, but rather what people with 'folding green' think that will determine its value.
     
  2. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member

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    I haven't read the article, but do do a lot of 'gicleé' reproductions for artists. (sorry for the quotes, but the prints are not strictly giclee as a brand name) The prints are made on rag (usually) w/ uv pigmented inks from 4x5 copy neg scans. It is hard work to match the original and pretty easy to identify the copy as a copy, unless it is a gouache, and to a lesser degree, watercolour. All in all they are very nice and a good way for an artist to expand their product.

    One problem with the approach we take is generational loss/changes, particularly in colour of original to film to digital, and final colour correctness, contrast and density on the paper. We do this for the artist, I hope that the galleries or third parties are not doing this w/o the artists consent and then selling them as originals.
     
  3. Sean

    Sean Admin Staff Member

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    "So the painting world is in the middle of the same debates as the photography world. I guess nowhere is safe anymore!"

    Yeah, I can see this happening. DSLR owners becoming oil painters and watercolor painters. If the end product is all that matters and a dslr image is filtered into a watercolor image then outputted, in the digital camp it is a watercolor painting. If a dslr image is filtered in photoshop to be a charcoal drawing, then outputted, it is a charcoal drawing. If a dslr image is edited in photoshop and outputted to a printer it is a photograph. All the lines are blurring, and it's happening at art's expense..
     
  4. steve

    steve Member

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    A photograph given a watercolor look, oil painting look, or charcoal look through Photoshop is not a watercolor or an oil painting or a charcoal as it is not created through the use of the designated media (watercolors , oil paints, or charcoal). It may be a watercolor digigraph, or an oil digigraph, or a charcoal digigraph, but it is emphatically not an actual watercolor painting, oil painting, or charcoal drawing.

    Some people do direct digital artwork using a tablet, and the effects available through the software. You have to be every bit as proficient (and have eye/had coordination) with this technique as you do using a brush, pencil, or air brush, pen, etc. In fact, in many ways it's harder because a brush, pencil, or pen has a certain friction "feel" between it and the artwork surface - where the stylus / tablet interface has the same surface friction whether you are using a large brush or small brush setting.

    But, even if you do an original "watercolor" rendering through a computer it still never looks like a watercolor - it's really a different piece of artwork. Watercolors are especially difficult to emulate because you can work on wet or dry paper, wet over the top of applied paint, spot wet an area, etc. These effects really can't be duplicated through the computer process.

    Likewise, an oil painting effect really never looks like an oil painting because oils (or acrylics) have a 3-D brush texture, and even greater texture if a pallette knife is used. Something you cannot reproduce with the strictly inkjet output.

    But, all that being said, there is no reason that a piece created through a computer can't be art - is there?

    As for photographs - a photograph is an image created through photography. Photography is recording an image on a light sensitive surface using a camera. Certainly, a DSLR meets that criteria. As for outputting through an inkjet printer, this is really no different than making a photo-lithograph or a photo-serigraph print, both of which have been accepted as art for many years.

    Recently, I put together a panorama that I shot in 1992. I did five shots of the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers figuring that at some time in the future there would be a way to put them together into a single photo. I did that using Photoshop and another software program. It probably took me somewhere in the area of 20 hours to get the final image prior to printing. It was printed on my Epson 9600 and is everything, aesthetically speaking, that I had in mind.

    Since creating it, I have sold two of them and had it accepted into a show. Is it art? You know, I really don't care. It is a gorgeous print that could not have been created without the combination of traditional photographic techniques and digital technology.

    I guess I don't understand why people feel threatened by, or are constantly negative about, the use of digital technology - it has allowed me even greater freedom to produce images that I could not have done using only traditional photo processes.

    Rather than being negative and bemoaning the "blurring" of lines - I'd suggest that carefully using the processes for creative purposes is a far more enriching endeavor.
     
  5. Sean

    Sean Admin Staff Member

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    "A photograph given a watercolor look, oil painting look, or charcoal look through Photoshop is not a watercolor or an oil painting or a charcoal as it is not created through the use of the designated media (watercolors , oil paints, or charcoal). It may be a watercolor digigraph, or an oil digigraph, or a charcoal digigraph, but it is emphatically not an actual watercolor painting, oil painting, or charcoal drawing."

    I agree with what you are saying above, but my point is, some clowns out there will eventually take a dslr shot, convert it to a watercolor image in photoshop, put new watercolor inks in their epson, user water color paper, and you can be sure as hell they will call them "watercolors" or "watercolor paintings", and sell them as watercolor paintings without telling anyone it was a digitally produced media. I think people have a right to know what they are buying or viewing. I have already seen lightjet prints devoid of all mention of digital processing and hiding behind the traditional paper name to make it appear it is a handprinted image.

    "Rather than being negative and bemoaning the "blurring" of lines - I'd suggest that carefully using the processes for creative purposes is a far more enriching endeavor."

    So I can't have it both ways? I do use a process for creative purposes and find it enriching, does this mean I should keep my mouth shut when artists are deceiving the public with their work? Believe me, we haven't seen anything yet. I've said before it's just a matter of months before gelatin inkjet papers arrive, and 'silver inksets' are available so the digital printers can then sell their inkjets as "silver gelatin prints". This has almost happened with platinum, ask Jorge about Platinum Giclee prints.

    That's all I'm getting at, mainly these bad apples out there who trash everyone for thinking art is more than the 'finished product'. Their disregard for what it means as a human to create something with real materials by hand is disgusting to me..
     
  6. Andy K

    Andy K Member

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    Hear hear.
     
  7. mark

    mark Member

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    I agree, it is time to draw the lines. I would respect digital more if it did not try to hop on the backs of more established mediums, instead of carving their own market out. It would not have been difficult.

    It takes effort and skill to create something in the digital environment, just as it does in any other environment. I met a guy last weekend that called himself a digital artist, not a photographer. He did not feel it was the final product that dictated what the final product was called. If digital was used at any step then it was a digital product. If no digital then it was not digital. So the other side is capable of clear thinking :smile: .
     
  8. Sean

    Sean Admin Staff Member

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    "I would respect digital more if it did not try to hop on the backs of more established mediums"

    I sure hope digital photography evolves into that. Several digital mediums have. You have "digital animators" who call themselves digital animators not "animators" -they are proud to be digital artists and make the distinction. It would be interesting to explore why many digital photographers are hell bent on removing a distinction, it IS a great medium to work in if that it is the type of image making you enjoy, so why hide?
     
  9. Jorge

    Jorge Inactive

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    I beleive there is an article in the current PT about using watercolor papers for ink jet prints, my first thought was..."what took them so long to think about this?" When I saw the ink jet prints at the review I commented this to the people showing them. It was funny to see the "deer in headlight" look and I could just see them thinking, "why didnt I think of that?"...:smile:

    As to the watercolor PS filter, once again, put the real thing next to the ink jet print and the differences are obvious. My mom is a damm good watercolor painter, not the usual washed out thing, but real vibrant color in them and I can say with no doubt in my mind the brush strokes are too random and the way the pigments spread on the paper also too random to be able to be duplicated by a computer program.

    I dont worry about it any longer, I do what I do, if people like it they will buy my prints, if not they wont.
     
  10. Sean

    Sean Admin Staff Member

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    just a few examples I found on the net. I think it would be easy for them to spoof brush strokes as well, as software advances.

    the below print is a real watercolor:

    [​IMG]

    the below prints are digital photos converted to watercolor:

    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]
     
  11. Andre R. de Avillez

    Andre R. de Avillez Member

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    A few artistic lives ago I used to create digital images by modeling and rendering in 3D. Many people still do this, and the market is already estabilished (think of ALL the current video games, most animated movies, digital special effects, etc...)

    The problem at hand is artistic (or medium) forgery, for the lack of a better term. Sean hit the mark, why hide the fact that it is digital? In my opinion, some of these guys are not trying to express themselves as much as fool other people. That is, the goal is not content, but perceived medium.

    Wow, that really does look like a pastel, huh?
    Yeah, it does, it looks like a scan of a pastel, or a copy print of a pastel. All that I need to do is examine the absolute lack of texture, or pastel residue, to know it is NOT a pastel. There, have a cookie.
     
  12. kswatapug

    kswatapug Member

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    If you are concerned by efforts of some to disguise reproductions as original works, it will only get more difficult. There are already people working on reproducing the brush strokes as a three-dimensional overlay (especially for images printed on canvas). I don’t think their intent is nefarious. It shouldn’t be surprising. After all, manufacturers have long recognized the desire for folks to own a less-expensive replica of the museum original. No, they are just trying to do a better job. On the other hand, I suppose we could go back in time to when color reproductions were fraught with inconsistencies and strange approximations of the original.

    Mind you, I don’t mean to infer that there aren’t people that will abuse these advances.

    Indeed, what seems to most often upsets folks is the potential for misuse of the medium. We’ve essentially transitioned from riding a tricycle to a driving Ferrari in less than a decade. I don’t think people are upset by that. What seems to concern them is that we drive responsibly.

    While of concern, the ethical debate is far less interesting to me than the creative potential that the newer technology provides.

    I have images that already look like watercolors without the “benefit” of any Photoshop filters. I love to print them on watercolor paper to enhance this feeling. The textured paper results in a three dimensional quality that is especially nice for rendering snow and fog. I love having the option to do so and don't, in my own creative endeavors, mean to create a feeling of inadequacy in folks who choose other reproduction methods.

    Please consider: “We all stand on the shoulders of those who precede us.”

    The advances in imaging technology have followed a natural progression beginning with storytellers in whose soul images resided until shared with an audience. With camera obscura, the process of image making became much more mechanical, though still mysterious.

    When light sensitive materials were invented to retain a residual representation of a moment, it became fashionable to be critical of the image. Suddenly it wasn’t just that an image was captured, but how sharp it was, how long it lasted, what color it was, what process was used to create the image. The technological juggernaut was in motion. I think that ever since, while better and better capture, printing and archival methods were discovered and debated, what photographers have really been seeking is to regain the passion and mystery of the original storytellers.

    Digital techniques are just another in a long line of methods to capture and render an image. Even so, there are many gifted technicians who don’t have a clue how to express emotion in their craft. That includes writers, musicians, dancers, and yes, photographers. Put the modern tools in the hands of a gifted artist and the likelihood of a positive outcome increases dramatically.

    It seems silly to think that as the ability to capture and reproduce images with contemporary technology becomes ubiquitous, that the skill of an analog master is somehow diminished. On the contrary, that skill becomes all the more extraordinary and the valuable. But, that, is for another discussion.

    Regardless of what method one chooses to express oneself, content reigns supreme.
     
  13. Mateo

    Mateo Subscriber

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    kswatapug said:

    "Regardless of what method one chooses to express oneself, content reigns supreme."

    I'm just guessing but... if I throw away my brushes and paints and learn how to make digital prints with brushstrokes on canvas, I don't think I'll get too many shows next year. Mind you, I do appreciate digital technology but the art world seems to appreciate hand craftmanship.

    Content without execution lacks authority. Just my humble opinion.
     
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  15. kjsphoto

    kjsphoto Subscriber

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    This is true. My freind of mine is an illustrator and a hell of an oil painter to boot and a lot of editors say it is refreshing to see non digital output. To actually see a hand drawing. They also say that it is becomming more rare to find traditional artist as more and more are moving to digital. From what I can see digital in a way is destroying art.

    No I am not bashing as I do use digital for sports and journalism but again I do not say they were created with film either.

    Just my two cents.
     
  16. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member

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    I've seen an artist who shows digital photos (usually brightly colored florals and landscapes) converted to inkjet "watercolors" on the craft show circuit, and I'm always amused to think who would buy such a thing. They are as well executed as such prints could be and are nicely framed, but they just look ridiculously hokey. They still have a mechanically reproduced appearance that screams "I AM A FAKE THING!"

    But hey, whatever floats..., etc.
     
  17. kswatapug

    kswatapug Member

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    Content without execution lacks authority.

    Agreed. How about, "Content, with proper execution, reigns supreme." ? That is what separates raw vision from masterful expression.

    I have seen so much beautiful work--both traditional and otherwise--and find it hard to see the results of each as anything but the artists' effort to produce the best work possible given the constraints of the various media. The artists are driven to do so. In the end, "how" something is created then becomes secondary to "why". What are they trying to say. A fine "reproduction" is just that. It begins with vision and ends with the mastery of the medium.
     
  18. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member

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    Someone shoots an object, runs some filters over it to make it 'look' like 'natural' media and someone buys it because it looks like a painting.

    It sounds like a match made in heaven!

    If some artists feel threatened by this they are a little late to the game. In the land where reality shows reign supreme and the number 1 beer tastes like tainted, carbonated water, you shouldn't be too surprised by what is produced and sold as 'art.'
     
  19. steve

    steve Member

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    "I agree with what you are saying above, but my point is, some clowns out there will eventually take a dslr shot, convert it to a watercolor image in photoshop, put new watercolor inks in their epson, user water color paper, and you can be sure as hell they will call them "watercolors" or "watercolor paintings", and sell them as watercolor paintings without telling anyone it was a digitally produced media. I think people have a right to know what they are buying or viewing. I have already seen lightjet prints devoid of all mention of digital processing and hiding behind the traditional paper name to make it appear it is a handprinted image."

    I really could care less what other people do. I make prints on my Epson 9600 and call them "inkjet prints" if anyone asks how they were made or what kind of print it is. I have to laugh at the people who insist on using "Giclee" - way to cute for me, but, then I have trouble calling a color photograph "C" print a "chromogenic print" or an Ilfochrome a "dye destruction print."

    I guess I don't understand your problem with LightJet prints. In reality, a LightJet printer is just a really big enlarger using RGB lasers for printing on standard photo paper. Making the print with an enlarger or making it with a LightJet really takes the same amount of work. Instead of working in a darkroom you're working in a "lightroom." If you want a quality print, the final print really happens in your head as you figure out what needs to be done to the transparency or negative to achieve your end goal (dodging, burning, masking, etc.). To me, how this is carried out is immaterial.

    So I can't have it both ways? I do use a process for creative purposes and find it enriching, does this mean I should keep my mouth shut when artists are deceiving the public with their work? Believe me, we haven't seen anything yet. I've said before it's just a matter of months before gelatin inkjet papers arrive, and 'silver inksets' are available so the digital printers can then sell their inkjets as "silver gelatin prints". This has almost happened with platinum, ask Jorge about Platinum Giclee prints.

    I'm not sure what you mean by "both ways." There you go again with that Giclee term...inkjet - please... So what you're really pissed off about is that you feel people degrade the "pure art form" work (a real platinum print) by calling an inkjet print a platinum print (as an example). Fair enough. Again, for me personally, I just call the print exactly what it is - if it was a platinum inkjet print - that's what I'd call it. I don't think that degrades the inkjet work or makes a real platinum print any more worthy of being "real art." A boring photograph is just that no matter what the reproduction medium.

    That's all I'm getting at, mainly these bad apples out there who trash everyone for thinking art is more than the 'finished product'.

    This one I really don't understand. In this sentence you're talking about the people "who trash everyone for thinking art is more than the 'finished product' " - isn't that what you're doing? Or, am I missing something? The finished product either works on an aesthetic level or it doesn't. I'm sorry, if you want me to appreciate the process instead of the final work - then art better become a spectator sport so we can watch the process and not care about the outcome.

    Their disregard for what it means as a human to create something with real materials by hand is disgusting to me...

    As someone who has printed photos for over 35 years, has done really involved hand work processes like lithographic printing, and works regularly in my woodshop and metal shop - I can say - I don't undertand the attitude. If you want people to oooh and aaaah over your hand craftsmanship - take up leather tooling, woodworking, or black smithing. Then you won't have people making a mistake as to what was hand done.

    I just don't care how you arrive at the final image. Spending hours in a darkroom hand making a boring photograph won't make me appreciate the image - it's still a piece of crap. Hand coating a glass plate and contact printing the glass plate on your hand made platinum paper won't make me say, "Wow!" "Look at all the work - how impressive." If it's a bad photo, I'd probably end up laughing at someone who would spend that amount of time to turn out a bad photo.

    Too many people get hung up on the craftsmanship portion of art in general. They hope that fine craftsmanship will overcome bad art - maybe no one will notice it's a piece of shit because the workmanship is so good. Dazzling logic. Kind of like trying to pass off an inkjet print as a true color photo?
     
  20. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member

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    Some very good points steve. I also don't care what others do. I dislike deception, think it is pretty telling when an 'artist' has to rely upon 'tricks' to make the image interesting and sad, but funny, when people buy the image because of the 'tricks' employed. Those tricks being imitation, fancy labels or caned effects.

    It is of course another thing all together if the artist uses the tool as a vehicle for his message. I have seen some beautiful digital work that could only be done 'naturally' by a computer.

    In the long run the value of traditional media to the mainstream public may be diluted or not.
     
  21. clay

    clay Subscriber

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    Steve:

    Some good points for sure. But, I think this whole article/debate presumes artistic merit in the first place, and saying content is king and process shouldn't matter is really setting up a straw man to knock down. The problem many of the respondees are alluding to is really about misrepresentation. I think the beef some people have is when artists(or galleries) are disingenuous about what a print really is. All things being equal, the identical image (and let us stipulate that the image is good and worthy) printed on an inkjet with 'platinum giclee' inks and represented as a platinum print is emphatically not the same thing as a handmade 'real' platinum print, and to call them the same thing is just fraud. On the other hand, if printing an image on an inkjet is 'close enough' for most people, and they know exactly what they are buying and they get a significant price break in the process, then hey, more power to the artist. Just call it what it is, and move on. But if your argument about content being the main criteria, then why does this article talk about original paintings that sell for $140,000 and 200 print 'giclee' editions selling for $1000 each? Clearly 'form' seems to have a bigger premium attached to it than 'content' in this case.


    I do think that a good artist needs to carefully think about the economic effects of printing big editions, though. Again, asssuming the images is worth a sh** in the first place, there will always be a rarity premium that some buyers will attach to a very limited edition. On the other hand, there just aren't that many really well heeled buyers out there. So the perennial question: Do you want to sell one for $1000 or 5 for $200? It is probably less risky to take the 5 print approach, since if your calculation is wrong, you still might sell 3, whereas the unique print approach may leave yet another piece of orphaned art taking up space in someone's basement.

    As an aside on this whole discussion, I am always tickled at the number of photographers who turn out for gallery openings, but would never even entertain the idea of buying someone else's prints. Mostly it is either tech or trash talk that goes on at these things, and unless the show is by a 'superstar', there just aren't that many pins in the wall at the end of the evening. I am amazed at photographers who will complain that the photo market stinks, that no one is buying their prints, yet would totally freeze up at the notion of actually buying a print. Makes you wonder why they expect anyone to have any economic behavior different than their own. You gotta laugh.

    But its all fun.
     
  22. photomc

    photomc Member

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    Clay, glad you brought this up - I have also noticed this behavior, Joette O'Connor at Photogenesis had an excellent article about this behavior while she was writing for Photovision - she went on about how photographers would stop by and talk about how much better they could have done a particular print or they have one just as good at home. Let's face it, many photographers get caught up in the process and not the 'Art' of photography. BTW, I do have several other photographers work up at home, only one of my own....maybe that would make a good sperate thread..who's work is up on your wall?

    Thanks
     
  23. steve

    steve Member

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    "I do think that a good artist needs to carefully think about the economic effects of printing big editions, though. Again, asssuming the images is worth a sh** in the first place, there will always be a rarity premium that some buyers will attach to a very limited edition. On the other hand, there just aren't that many really well heeled buyers out there. So the perennial question: Do you want to sell one for $1000 or 5 for $200? It is probably less risky to take the 5 print approach, since if your calculation is wrong, you still might sell 3, whereas the unique print approach may leave yet another piece of orphaned art taking up space in someone's basement."

    I printed lithographs professionally at Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque, NM. Their policy was no edition was larger than 75 prints - and that was enforced, even with very famous artists. As a side note, I've seen photographers who have prints in bins with "5/200" on them. Makes me almost laugh out loud. Like they're wishing they had to make 200 of them.

    What was interesting about my experience at Tamarind (1980-1982) was even then, they were worried about the offset press printed image (a type of lithography) being compared to a hand printed lithograph (using stones or plates) - and the ability to print 100's or even 1,000's on an offset press versus the 75 hand printed images.

    I could never understand their concern. The audience for the different types of reproduction is totally different. The hand printed lithograph looks different than the offset press image for a variety of reasons. A person that was satisfied with the offset print wouldn't want to spend the money required to frame a hand printed lithograph, much less spend the money to own one.

    Now here's the really fun part. I printed an image for an artist that I saw later reproduced on a poster for a gallery show. The poster, of course, was printed on an offset press - and, you could buy the poster at the gallery for $10. So, now you had your choice of the real lithograph, or a poster containing an offset reproduction of the lithograph - all from the same gallery. The price for the lithograph was $2,000 and their were only 35 available from that gallery (the artist kept the other 40 for his direct sales and for other galleries). According to the gallery director, sales of the poster were "brisk," and they had sold 10 of the hand printed lithographs. When either the poster or a lithograph sold the artist was getting exposure (and money) so it was a win-win situation for both the artist and the gallery.

    Then there is the photographer I know who had a photo in a well known catalog here in the U.S called Coldwater Creek. If you ordered the photo you got a real photo made by a lab from a 4x5 interneg of the transparency. The image sold for $59.95 framed and the photographer got $7.00 for each image sold. During the 3 years the photo was in the catalog, the photographer got checks that totaled about $140,000 - do the math on that one for the number of images reproduced!! They made 3 internegs during that time period because the interneg would fade from being used so much.

    So, now we have the conundrum. The hand printed lithograph was printed by ME not the artist. All of the craftsmanship contained in the final print came from ME not the artist. The artist created the image by drawing on stones and then walked away giving directions for color for each portion, etc. Once the proof was signed by the artist, that was it - he was done. So much for the "hand craftsmanship" required for the lithograph from the artist. Yet, the lithograph is considered as being art, and the craftsmanship required to make the lithograph is an integral part of the image - yet the artist has nothing to do with the craftsmanship.

    Now we take that one step further with the photo in the catalog. Each image was "hand made" by a professional printer (just like the lithograph), and the craftsmanship is an integral part of the final image. Only now we have 20,000 images out there - is it still art?
     
  24. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member

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    The question is not is it art. I believe that limiting a print run to enhance value or mass producing them to increase overall profit is business discission, separate from whether the item is art or not. The item is art or not based upon content.

    Buying a handmade print because there is greater uniqueness and because it is 'closer' to the artist (or however you wish to say it) is, as you point out, often wrong.
     
  25. Sean

    Sean Admin Staff Member

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    I must have a very rare outlook on photography. I have a deep emotional connection to the scene and am compelled to use real materials to capture the light from it. Sometimes it feels impossible to express why I find this so important, I just can't seem to make some people understand. I 'feel' the light lives on in the film and print, a moment in time that I experienced is still there, burned into the film, and the film itself produces the print. Once computers do their thing, what was once there and somewhat real to me, no longer exists. It may appear to be the same thing but it's been completely changed. If you love photography, and love experiencing a real moment of light and time, I can't relate to that moment being altered out of existence as soon as digital manipulates it into something else. I almost find it tragic.
     
  26. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member

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    I think we are arguing different points -- or maybe I am.

    In my mind and based upon my experiences...
    A photographic print is generally if not always superior to the same image created digitally. A lambda/lightjet prints are often close and an inkjet always comes up short. I have yet to see a digital B&W print that surpasses the 'real' thing.

    A print that is made by hand, even if my logic is twisted, is preferential to a machine print.

    This not to say a digital image cannot be art.

    At the end of the day, as an artist, I prefer the photographic process. It is more natural for me. An added bonus is that the prints are quantifiably superior.

    Meanwhile, using digital to deceive or imitate is stupid. Blindly accepting that the print you buy, as steve contends, as being superior simply because of the process can also be stupid.