Thursday, 15 October 2015

Why Make Prints?

Last week my printmaking instructor, the inimitable Briar Craig, assigned us a thinking project: namely, to come with an answer to why exactly are you doing this thing? As printmaking students, something we get from our friends a lot is, "So, what's the point of this...why don't you just print your art out digitally?"...which is a pretty good question. And I figured, since I'd left the blog dormant for so long (though many of you have continued to come back and read old pieces, which is really cool to see), that this was the perfect place to work out my thoughts on this and give you something new to chew on.
As artists each of us will be drawn towards specific imagery, ideas, and media for personal and specific reasons. Whether you intend to be a printmaker or not each of you have chosen to study printmaking at an advanced course level and perhaps it is time to start asking yourself why you make prints. Why not make paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, digital based works or use performance? What do the media of  printmaking offer you and your creative urges that the others may not? How do the media of printmaking supplement or add to whatyou may be working on in other media? How do the media of printmaking support the ideas that you have for imagery?
Bear with me while I think "aloud" here for a bit. My medium of choice is and has always been drawing. In the past few years, the drive to draw has solidified somewhat, found direction as an invested interest in the comics form, in its theory and history, and in my own production of comics as an art object. So when it comes to printmaking, I find it reasonably easy to identify what draws me to it. A significant part of what attracts me to comics is the material nature of the form. I have a deep and abiding love for printed material. It's the reason I have shoeboxes full of minis and zines and postcards, ephemera collected from
conventions and festivals. It's why I spend unreasonable amounts of money on limited edition print portfolios. It's what sends shivers down my spine when I finally hold my work in print, even if it's just a mini run off the printers in the school library.

I didn't really know where that love stemmed from until I dove into my research at Durham this past year, and realized that what draws me to print is the democratization of art and literature. There's an undeniable beauty in old manuscript illuminations, to be sure, and in print I am definitely drawn to the aesthetic of multiplicity that emerges as an edition of something is produced. But there's a restrained sort of power in producing an image or a body of text en masse, even on the cheapest pulp paper, and releasing it into the world in a form that a multitude of people can obtain and share, knowledge and thoughts in material form that will change hands and work its way into the strangest little corners of the world and stick there until someone else finds it, dislodges it, and sets it in motion once more.

There is, decidedly, a point where these ideas come up against the primary motivations of a Fine Arts education, a gallery artist's education. Most of us are shooting for a career in the White Cube, the sanctum sanctorum  of the art world. We're creating big, bold, well-crafted, generally expensive pieces of original art...except that I want to make small, sometimes bold, well-crafted, cheap pieces of original art. Not everyone out there can afford original work, and I think that's where the democratization aspect of printmaking has taken on new life in the digital age: where these processes used to be the only way to print, they now hold arcane status as Art. These are hand-operated processes, sometimes with mechanical elements, which produce some variation in the final product. Typeface wears over time. Ink transfers to textured paper a little differently every time. The colours we mix change a bit between editions. We don't produce copies; we produce multiple originals.

So when I pull a screenprint, and later this year when I start learning lithography, letterpress, and bookbinding processes, this is what drives me. I want to make small, affordable pieces of pleasing original art that people can pick up on a whim, read, lend to a friend, put in a library, art that can go out and
have a life of its own. It's the evolution of a drawing student into a cartoonist who wants people to read what he makes, and wants his touch visible in the object that the reader holds in their hands.

Or maybe I'm just a guy who's been reading too much Walter Benjamin.