I had a negative I was struggling to print the other week, and couldn't make it "pop" in the way I envisaged it needed to. So just to try something new and refresh myself, I tried split-grade a la Les McLean.
The very first test print was almost perfect. It's not a "master print" by any stretch of the imagination but it is enough to have a couple of copies around to remind me that I can produce something worth looking at.
Good for you for being able to work with a difficult negative.
You can turn this argument around and claim that you should instead work on making better negatives that require less darkroom gymnastics.
A very good friend of mine has showed me how to make good negatives that print with ease, and while it was a painful lesson in processing film, the waste reduction at the printing stage is significant.
Believe it or not, it actually made the difference between me being able to afford printing in the darkroom and not. Instead of being frustrated with the results with very minute adjustments at the printing stage I now pop a negative into the enlarger, knowing I need roughly 22 to 25 seconds at f/8 and Grade 2.5 to 3.5 on the enlarger lens for my usual 6x8" print I make very few test strips anymore. Just one whole sheet that's a test print, no split grade needed. Adjust from there, and the second sheet is 80% of the time exactly what I was looking for, and 20% of the time I have to make a third one. That's for a finished print that require no more adjustments.
Some will say to just shoot film and process according to the manufacturers' instructions. If they can do that - great! But then you use a lot of the built-in range in the printing process to make up for that 'slop' or hysteresis in the negative making stage.
If you learn how to make great negatives, you have the entire built-in range of the variable contrast system to basically be creative with. That's worth a lot when you're pushing the envelope and trying to improve what your prints look like and take them from average or mediocre to something really stunning.
"Often moments come looking for us". - Robert Frank
"Make good art!" - Neil Gaiman
"...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera". - Yousuf Karsh
I'm glad I learned to print on graded papers first, because I learned to optimize the workflow based on relatively basic parameters. In fact, many
times I use VC papers in the same manner, without any filtration control. But then it there when I need it - a bit of punch to the highlights or
shadows, respectively; differential dodging/burning with different filters; and of course, the occasional negative that requires full split printing
technique. In fact, split printing can be used supplementary to ordinary VC printing with milder filters, as needed. So none of these printing methods is "one versus another". These are just different tools to have in your toolbox.
For me, it is rare to come across, and a pleasure to read, a thread so full of rational difference of opinion, all of which seems applicable depending on one's experience or particular workflow. The range of technique and outcomes suggests vital, knowledgeable, darkroom workers. Maybe there is hope for APUG, after all. (Of course, that only applies to posts above this one. )