Yesterday evening I attended a panel discussion at the Bert Gallery in Providence. The topic “What is original art? Is it a giclée?” was interesting and the panelists were mostly informed about digital art and digital photography. I thought of Graham Nash and Mac Holbert as they ventured into the digital fine art printing with hacksaws in hand to chop a very expensive IRIS printer so that they can use a better medium, better ink, and the rest is history. And about the word “giclée“, let’s call a spade a spade, it is ink-jet printing. Yes, it comes with greater care and understanding of the medium and more accumulated knowledge, but it is ink-jet printing, which has come a long, long way since Nash and Holbert.
I took some notes to ask some questions and make some comments, but a very enthusiastic individual, who was obviously either not informed about digital photography or enjoyed being a contrarian, dominated most of the time even before the floor was opened to the public. When I was able to get my turn, the moderator graciously recognized me, with some difficulty I was able to point out that there seemed to be a general misunderstanding of digital photography and original art. After wrestling my turn back from the enthusiastic individual I also posed a challenge: If anyone thought digital photography was easy and a matter of pushing a button, I would buy them a computer of their choice, equip it with the state of the art software, and give them a camera so that they could produce their art. I wanted to put a condition to that but did not get a chance due to the time constraints, so I complete my thought here. I will do all that, but that individual must be able to show me “which button” to push to produce art. Perhaps that is the missing “any key” on the keyboards, but I digress. In any case, based on the notes I took at the presentation, I would like to explore the misconceptions and gross misunderstandings in this domain.
The conversation started with a mailed-in comment from an individual in California stating that I am paraphrasing here, a digital print could not be worth too much since it is printed on an inexpensive medium, rather quickly, and not done by the hands of the artist. I have several bones to pick here. First, must art be expensive to be appreciated? Second, what exactly does “artist’s hands” mean, and must the artist’s hand contact the medium on which art is produced? Third, would it be art if I generate my digital print on a gold leaf? Fourth, would it be better art if I worked more slowly, not that a fine art print is produced as quickly as some seem to imagine? Oh, if you hear of a good sale on Andreas Gursky prints please let me know. Just for your information, one of his “digital prints” sold for $3,346,456 at Sotheby’s in February 2007. Below is one of the photographs in the pair, “99 Cent II Diptychon (2001)”.
I would like to thank the Bert Gallery and Catherine Little Bert for organizing this panel, and the panelists Carmel Vitullo, Erik Gould, Richard Benjamin, Ted Peffer for sharing their thoughts and insights on these matters.
We need more of this kind of dialogue, but without the heckling from the sidelines.
More to come in the next few days.