As the class continues to work on their projects, I want to take a moment to talk about the distinction between printmaking as a craft and printmaking as a medium or framework for conceptual thought. There is no getting around the fact that printmaking (and that includes a wide variety of printing methods) requires craft. What is craft? For the purposes of this discussion, let us say that printmaking in general requires a certain set of specialized and refine-able skills in order to produce the object in question. In being produced as a result of the mastery of those skills, the work comes to be defined, in part, by those skills themselves. It is tempting for printmakers to get caught up in the craft of printmaking, and, in many ways, craft represents a sort of shibboleth–a set of abilities–a password–that lets one into this exciting world. Moreover, as art students we all tend to geek out on one thing or another (one could argue it comes with the territory of passion). This is only natural, and indeed, should be encouraged. However, though the refining of skill is a valuable endeavor, craft can only take an artist so far. As such, craft-based work can be stigmatized and marginalized within the art world for not going beyond the craft, not using that craft for alterior purposes. I would beg you to think of craft, and in that sense printmaking, as a medium–a vehicle or framework with whose language and history you play and utilize.
I had the great fortune on one occassion to be in the London studio of the master printer and book artist Ken Campbell [http://www.brokenrules.co.uk/]. I, in my awe and naivette made the mistake, while looking at one of his newly printed books, of exclaiming “this page is just so beautifully done!” He retorted gruffly “Well, it is your job to make it look good. What do you do with it though?” That response struck me as a big learning moment. So I ask the same question of you: Once the skill has been mastered, what objects will you choose to make, and why?
This brings us to the other side of the dialectical: printmaking as a vehicle for ideas. Western printmaking comes from, and many would argue, remains, a politically charged medium. Western printmaking via the printing press began as a utilitarian craft, one invested in the production of english language texts, particularly religious ones. These texts allowed the masses to circumvent the Catholic church’s authority over the Bible, who until that point, being the only ones who could read the holy texts (which had been in Latin) controlled the means to salvation. For more information, google search Gutenberg Bible. In that sense, western printmaking was immediately used for the dissemination, on a massive scale, of information. We see that legacy throughout the history of the printed image–cultural and political ephemera post-Gutenberg. Suddenly, information is not only democratically controlled, but also available as popular object. Think about how you encounter printed images and texts in your daily life. Printed texts are everywhere. There is no escaping them. Magazines, fliers, posters, mail, books… printmaking is a ubiquitous tool the resists content-based boundaries and boundaries between social strata. For artists, this is a perfect opportunity. You have before you a vehcile that is waiting to be filled with your content, with your message. Printmaking, like painting, has a history, baggage. However, the history of the printed image is, and continues to be an ally if your goal in appropriating the medium is to construct a discussion, make a statement, challenge the people and spaces around you. This is not to say that all print work is politically charged or motivated. Not all print work is. However, the medium has a history and offers an opportunity if you wish to use it. That is something to think about.
So, what does this mean for you? When making your projects, think about the way that you are presenting your ideas through the lens of the medium. How can your print operate on a conceptual level? How does the craft of printmaking aid you in making the object, give the content of the work a visual context? How does craft help you in creating a visual language with which to speak? Also, think about how the form of the print (the object itself) can opperate in the world in a way that mimics the ideas inherent in the work? How do function, form, and content relate to one other?
I look forward to seeing where these presses take you–and where you choose to take them in turn. Here is JR’s TED Talk. I hope you find it interesting and illustrative of what is possible.