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“Who will say that Hockney’s (digital) prints are not ‘original’ prints?” Not us, certainly.

with 6 comments


Print Workshop Central received another interesting comment from Julia Matcham recently and I think it’s important enough to bring out to the first page and address it. Here’s Julia’s comment:

“I just thought I would draw people’s attention to the fact that David Hockney has just had an exhibition in London of inkjet prints entirely drawn into the computer using a graphics pad (as I do these days). As he says in the introduction to his catalogue (Annely Juda Gallery) ‘the computer is just a tool’. It is as good as you are.

“Autumn Leaves” by David Hockney

Who will say that Hockney’s prints are not ‘original prints’? I think the hand-print brigade are on a sticky wicket here! Not that I don’t appreciate that there are differences; just that definitions other than ‘ this print does not exist in any other form’ are out-of-date.”

Julia, I think at this late date most of the “hand-print brigade” are prepared to concede that original images created in a computer by artists themselves can be considered fine-art prints. This is a posture we adopted nearly 10 years ago at World Printmakers, where you will find lots of “digital prints” made by serious, honest printmakers who use computers and the inkjet printers “just as tools” in the printmaking process.

What most of us in the fine-print world do object to are people who take images from other media (oil paintings, water colors, etc.) photograph them,  print them on inkjet printers and sell them as “giclee prints,” “fine art prints” or “art prints” or even “prints” when, in fact, they are not prints in the fine-art sense of the term. They are mere reproductions and should be labelled–and priced!–as such.

So, it’s not new tools for printmaking which bother us. It’s fraud.

There’s an excellent illustrated article on Hockney’s recent exhibit on the Art Observed website.

Written by Michael Booth

July 17, 2009 at 10:26 am

6 Responses

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  1. I disagree. There needs to be another term for computer generated and printed images that distinguishes them from handmade and hand printed prints. There’s value in the craft of the process as well. I’m contrarian that I would include any image that was completely photographic, even if it was hand printed. As an architect, whose profession’s name(legally defined and licensed) has been usurped (and turned into a verb, no less), this is just another irritant. Call me a curmudgeon if you like.


    July 28, 2009 at 1:54 am

  2. David what an odd response.

    Many digital fine artists use a lot of craft and often have distinctly fine arts backgrounds. A glance at Seegmillers Advanced Painter Techniques and you will see that digital painting can be as complex and hand made a process as any other mode of art production.

    I imagine computer generated art will follow photography where prints made close to the time of artistic creation get a higher premium. I can also imagine that perhaps the artist will not only provide limited prints but digitally signed copies that could be projected on a framed screen.


    September 23, 2009 at 8:48 pm

  3. I simply feel that completely digital “prints” require another name to separate them in the mind of the unsuspecting public from what I would call hand-made, “original” prints. The low cost and ease of unlimited reproduction of inkjet prints puts handmade prints at a disadvantage if the public perceives them as the same. If digital artists feel so strongly about the virtues of their product, why try to attach themselves to the established value of traditional prints? Why not come up with a new term, like “digital prints” or “digital reproductions”?


    September 24, 2009 at 12:23 am

  4. Sure, but David they aren’t reproductions because they aren’t re-produced from an original. The print is the original like a photographic print is the original.

    I think the public do get it and I don’t really believe digital artists are trying to hang onto the coat tails of ‘hand-made’ fine art prints.

    In any case digital printing is often referred to that way so in a sense you have that side covered. But you need to be careful because the cheap Epsom I have on my desktop isn’t the printer I’d use to make art prints with.

    To produce high quality images from your desktop you need a lot of technical knowledge and cash to burn. The high-end inkjet printers are pricey as are the inks and papers that go with them. Many artists have mid priced machines for proofing but rarely produce runs of work for exhibition this way.

    If I want a good run of prints made I go to professional digital printers and have a run of prints hand made, sorry no digital printer operates itself. I also don’t think you’ll find too many artists making unlimited runs of work that’s neither practical nor wise.

    The machinery is different but no less authentic or engaging. You seem to suggest here that your unspecified ‘hand-made’ print process is original where the digital is somehow not.

    I’m certain the people at Fine Art Digital Environment would also have quite something to say on the topic of ‘hand-made’ digital prints as many of their researchers seem to be engaged both academically and practically in the task.

    Digital is a different process and I don’t think anyone is trying to argue that they are the same but your argument seems to suggest that digital is less authentic, creative or demanding than any other mode which I’d have to take issue with.

    A fine art print is just that regardless of the way it’s produced. I don’t say a Jackson Pollock painting isn’t art just because he used house paint and the same applies here.

    By the way you have just run into someone researching a paper on digital painting so I’ve a fair bit to say about the topic at this point, hence my ever so slightly lengthy response.


    September 24, 2009 at 1:51 am

  5. I am with Hockney and Guthrie. The computer is just a tool.(But what a wonderful tool). You can do things with modern computerbased graphics equipment that You cannot do any other way. New techniques give new images. A signed numbered limited print is original, no matter what method is used.
    How to make money on Youre work is a different story. All creative people are in trouble
    regarding their rights. But maybe they allways were.
    Musicians – moviemakers and graphic artists.
    On the other hand, there has never in history of humankind been a bigger demand for our products.
    So the most talented (salespeople) artists will win.


    April 24, 2010 at 2:11 pm

  6. I make digital prints and hand pulled prints so have a foot in both ‘camps’.

    I don’t see the two forms as competing, they are just different. With few exceptions I sell my digital prints in open editions. I believe limited editions of digital prints are nothing to do with art and everything to do with marketing – it is exactly the same mentality as markets the repros of oil paintings as ‘prints’ without any qualification. That’s just my view of course, others are free to do as they wish. (I wouldn’t normally buy such prints either)

    That said, the art world still has to adjust somehow to the implications of unlimited ‘originals’ as represented by true digital prints. There is a practical limit on the number of impressions that can be taken from a collagraph plate. No such limit exists for the digital print. ‘Volume’ however has no relationship to ‘original’ (in the printmaking sense) so from one perspective the millionth print from a digital file is as ‘original’ as the first. This is something many people find hard to accept however and I can understand why, even if I don’t agree. Somehow it seems as if volume SHOULD affect the idea of what can be seen as an ‘original’

    My view, for what it is worth, is that an ‘original’ digital print (remember I’m not talking about repros, but images that have been made in the computer) should in some way have the same requirement to be produced by the artist or under the direct supervision of the artist. That isn’t easy, because once a proof has been agreed, provided the printer, inks, and paper don’t change, the millionth copy won’t be any different.

    I suppose it boils down to what in printmaking terms we think is the matrix for a digital print. Is it the file? Is it the on-screen display? It has been suggested to me by one person that the file is the original, but then the same person tried to argue that the original of a photograph is the negative…


    November 7, 2010 at 7:12 pm

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