Thoughts on the Faddishness of Printmaking

The last time I was ahead of the pop-culture curve was 1987, when the movie La Bamba revived enthusiasm for the music of Ritchie Valens. As a young nerd who listened exclusively to the Oldies Station, I could gloat to myself: “I’ve been listening to this stuff for years.” Anyway, just so it’s clear, I’ve never been a cool guy.

Well, after two decades, I can once again claim to be ahead of a trend! Eleven years ago, when I graduated from college with a specialty in printmaking, I felt like a troll. Nobody could fathom why I was interested in these arcane art processes.

But now, prints are popular, perhaps even cool. We’ve documented the fact that Nylon magazine loves printmaking. And you may have noticed that Anthropologie‘s June catalog included text elements inspired by Hatch Show Print (alongside the usualphotographs of skinny ladies).

anthropologie2

This skinny lady likes prints so much she is almost willing to touch one:

anthropologie

Much of the seeming fashion for printmaking can be attributed to art directors and graphic designers. To many of these cubicle-denizens, gazing at screens got old. The hand-made earned fresh credibility, and the hand-printed object began to impress people again. Leaders and followers alike dusted off printmaking skills from their ol’ BFA days.

For a while, this niche was filled by screenprinting, fueled by its accessibility and a thriving gigposter subculture. Now letterpress has joined the party. This interest seems limited to media in which the technical barriers are relatively low; I don’t anticipate American Apparel billboards featuring a scantily-clad model with a litho roller in her hand.

But design professionals are the new taste-makers, and once a trend’s going everybody follows. So if the designers are excited about printmaking, Anthropologie can be comfortable marketing an item called PRINTMAKER SLEEP PANTS:

Printmaker Sleep Pants

Of course, every trend has its limits. When Anthropologie’s corporate sibling Urban Outfitters decided to sell a printmaking manual, it came as a surprise. It seems inconceivable that the company would stock craft-grade printmaking equipment. Yet that’s exactly what they’re doing:

UO

Urban Outfitters has not responded to my inquiries about their motives. If they do, I’ll let you know.

There are many possible explanations for this whole phenomenon. For example, the DIY and handicraft communities have been staggeringly popular for a long time now; maybe it was inevitable that printmaking would blow up. I’ll offer more of my own thoughts in a later post. In the mean time, dear readers, keep spotting those trends and please send us your own theories.

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Categories: Critical Discourse, Print-related


6 Responses to “Thoughts on the Faddishness of Printmaking”

  1. kvh says:

    I’m so confused by the fakevintage poster in the contemporary setting – –

    also, I know the shop that prints those…

  2. LC says:

    I was interning at Hatch Show Print when (super-talented) Brad Vetter designed and printed that Anthropologie cover. But we were even more pleased to see how the photographers had managed to shoot around actual show posters we’d done (not the Andy Warhol one).

    It was nice to see everything come full circle!

  3. Nicole says:

    I’m so stunned I don’t even know what to say.

  4. […] Anthropologie poked its nose into your bedroom with its fashionable “Printmaker Sleep Pants.” Now the company has set its sights on your dining room with these stylish cloth […]

  5. LB says:

    Things HAVE come full circle, because printmaking began as a tool for mass producing/mass marketing and was only later turned into a fine art.

  6. […] noting the faddishness of printmaking for quite a while. From Martha Stewart and Jay Leno to Urban Outfitters and J. Crew, popular culture has embracing printing technologies. A related trend has been the boom […]