Questions to Answer

With a new academic year upon us, we received some potentially sad news. We’re not at liberty to say which institution but we recently heard from someone about a small liberal arts school that may be ending their print program. Before you begin a rant about “those damned administrators,” we should also mention that this is being considered at the departmental level.

It seemed like an opportunity to pose some questions to the community. How do you justify/defend printmaking in a liberal arts setting? Why is printmaking relevant to undergraduate students, many of whom being non-art majors, may never make another print after graduating? What can be said (politely) to colleagues from other areas who may have misconceptions about the validity of print due age-old stereotypes? If you teach, how has your institution answered similar questions? As a student, what makes printmaking attractive as an area of study?

We’re not interested in laments about the Death of Print in Academia- we’re looking for upbeat glass-half-full thoughts on why it’s relevant. We have our ideas but we want to hear yours. Take a few minutes to mull it over and make a comment. Keep in mind that what you write may actually be used to defend the program in question so any help is truly appreciated.

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Categories: Critical Discourse

27 Responses to “Questions to Answer”

  1. elizabeth says:

    When I am working on a print, the mind begins to calculate how the areas of color will sequence, how the layers could be re-ordered and shuffled….it is set theory set to the music of colors, and even then, something else all together. Thinking, in flow, that is what is happening, and not at all unlike math, and then altogether different from anything I ever thought math would be. And probably different from what many think art and printmaking is. I learned how to think through art.

  2. Weston says:

    It would be my hope that administrators recognize the value of printmaking as an asset to students not solely as a medium of fine art but as an introduction to the growing marketplace for craft production. Printmaking is a unique art form in that it often blends the line between design, craft, and fine art. I embraced printmaking in my final year of BFA because it allowed me to explore ideas and problems from a “craftsman’s” perspective. Some print products are enhanced by, and better from, the use of digital technology. CMYK for screenprinting. Adobe suite for keying out backgrounds, digitally scanning hand drawings and prints for use in publications and artwork, photoshop for artists looking to catalogue their work, adobe for pagination in bookbinding… all these are examples of a melding between mediums. Much of good design comes from the ingenuity sparked from individual creation in the art studio. In short, I encourage that fine art printmaking departments as well as design departments recognize the mutual need for the print studio as a key component in a designer/craftsman’s curriculum. Adopting this view might convince administration to look at printing differently, and hopefully save the programs all of us printmakers need to explore our craft.

  3. A someone who prints relief frequently, I’m aware that what I mostly deal with and arrange is negative space. So I’m working in a process which makes me hyper-aware of it. I remember in the early ‘oughts someone did a study about graphic design students who learned their skills entirely on a computer, versus those who started with basic design on paper, and moved to computers laters. And the first ground had no sense of negative space, and their designs reflected this. If we are moving toward a more and more screen based society, we need to remember how to accommodate the human eye – we need to teach a sensitivity to negative space, depth of field, etc.

    This sensitivity is mostly learned through the interrelationship between the hand and eye. I remember reading Frank Wilson’s”The Hand.” He is a neurologist who studies the hand-eye relationship, and how much of the brain is dedicated to motor intelligence. She doesn’t touch on whether motor intelligence can be learned through using a mouse or thumbs on a smart phone, but he did convince me that the hand-eye interrelationship is incredibly complex and that we are a more intelligent species for having it.

  4. Sarah says:

    I took introductory printmaking in community college 30 years ago. I always planned to continue. I am now a third year undergrad student, print major. There is something about the traditional processes, the history, that make print different. The work is a true craft, hands – on and time consuming, not to be rushed . There’s nothing like printing an edition and seeing it evolve, after working the image on copper or stone or screen. Hours and weeks of preparation create a timeline that can’t be duplicated any other way. May there be as many studios as there students to fill them… keep the tradition strong.

  5. kbmatter says:

    There is a certain quality of printmaking that makes it particularly appropriate in a Liberal Arts setting. Printmaking teaches thinking in sequences, layers, construction, texture, values in a hands-on craft and skill oriented way. At the same time it teaches discovery in process, the acceptance of the happy accident, the being propelled into new territory, the joy of experimenting and finding. Someone who may consider themselves un-creative and not suited to be an artist could discover the opposite to be true. And even if the path does not lead to Art School, the student will pick up ways of seeing, investigating and experiencing work flow and process that will be valuable assests in many fields of work and life.

  6. I heard sobering news today during a departmental meeting that had very special guests. We were told that the development of fine arts at our university (let’s include theater, music, radio, etc… because they are our siblings) are at the very lowest of concerns for alumni and students. Creative expression fell just short of being last on the list. However, and I stress HOWEVER, we are rated at the highest level of satisfaction for the class taken and learning within. This means that our students legitimately love the classes they take in our art dept. (as gen eds, as additions, as non-requirements), they value the information and enthusiasm that we provide, they just don’t, yet, value or correlate the importance of the class with their allotted career path. This could certainly be associated with the STEM initiative that middle and high schools have instigated over the past decade. I am not one to delegitimize any act of learning, but there has been a generation of student/artist/human who has focused on the value of standardized testing and the ephemeral nature of arts, (in its many, many forms) do not often fit in that tiny, iridescent bubble.

    So the happy bit is this. Students that are, or aren’t, trying to be artists love what we have to offer. Not because it is easy, but because it is rigorous and physical and very, very real. (which of course makes it sexy) I think the next bit is on us as instructors. We cannot make everyone an artist nor should we. Print is legitimate in the sense that it promotes multiplicity and mutability. (and yes… for many other reasons) We speak, we share, we question, we confuse… of course WE know this, but as teachers, as artists, do we take the time to mention that visualization of mathematical statistics are important for understanding? That mapping out the body in advance is necessary for someone in OT or PT or medicine? That being a vehicle for the dissemination of information is (dare I say it) imperative for everyone? Printmaking (etc…) fits into other programs, often times seamlessly. It’s more work. It’s work that I occasionally need help remembering, but… but I think I need to spend more time extolling the importance of art in the infinite areas of life. Research, fight, necessary, love, continue.

    Finally, and blissfully short. My dept. is exceptionally supportive of our burgeoning Book Arts program (which includes multiple print classes). The school is also quite supportive. The desire is still there. Nothing ever dies. We just experience people that try to gain power by exerting that something unrelated to them is dying. Words are powerful, but not that powerful. The world of print experiences sadness in certain areas and joy in others. Gee, that sounds a lot like us.

  7. James Beard says:

    Perhaps a lot has to do with the way the arts are structured in a university setting? I remember that there was a lot of drudgery involved in taking enough prerequisites it get into the discipline I was interested in– I wasn’t actually eligible to take screen printing courses because they were in the 200 level, and because I wasn’t a studio art major. This approach of building on past foundations is good for an artist who wants to focus on building tools to express their vision, but horrible for attracting warm bodies to fill seats and keep programs afloat.

    Second, a problem that seems to plague smaller institutions is that they do not build support for mediums more easily practiced outside of a university setting. Many people are building home studios that can support acceptable screen printing, but fewer still are outfitted with etching presses, lithography stones, and a budget to support multiple copper plates. I love the more traditional approaches to printmaking, but they can operate like an exclusive club for people interesting in operating without the support of a communal studio, or a home studio.

    Maybe printmaking needs to branch out. Prints are still a powerful tool for artists who know how to use them– I’d venture that it’s the most practical for an artist who wants to support themselves in the arts by making more frequent sales at a lower price point.

  8. Ryan O'Malley says:

    Printmaking, above all else, teaches a facility for tools, patience and creative problem solving. All crucial skills for any occupation or test that life throws your way.

  9. Catherine Metayer says:

    I am writing a MA thesis at LCC on the wave of new print publishing initiatives within independent publishing at the moment, and on the craftsmanship ethos that is inspiring it. I would be more than happy to share the results of some questionnaires that I have conducted with small publishers, self-published artists/authors and readers. They are filled with insights and passionate thoughts on why there is a return to print at the moment, why the values that it convey are meaningful in this digital/liquid day of age, how print and digital work beautifully together, how print attracts a community of truly dedicated people, and how the making/owning of beautifully printed objects makes a social/political/cultural statement in itself. All the best, Catherine

  10. Printmaking is relevant to both history and design. Many forms of printmaking have impacted history in ways that are difficult to wrap our brains around in our current date. So, to answer question: printmaking is an opportunity to further understand history. It is a way to step in to the shoes of tried and true, traditional methods used by artists of old. It is a way to understand how Francisco Goya, for example, used print to oppose both the government and Enlightenment thinkers, while commenting on issues of women’s rights, social injustice, torture and execution, and so on.

    Furthermore, printmaking can be an essential part of learning careful process and design. The varying processes of printmaking force the student to learn steps of procedure and process, and can force the student to slow down and take his or her time. This final point is extremely important in today’s world, with the increasing desire of instant gratification. There is something to be said (I of course, am a bit traditional) about making something with your hands from start to finish, as well as learning fully and understanding processes you would have never had access to otherwise.

    Yes, printmaking should be available to the public, should be available to students who are interested in understanding the following topics from a more compassionate standpoint: feminism (women’s rights), social injustices, history, and art-making in general.

  11. Ross Turner says:

    Printmaking is, and always has been, an art form for the people. It’s history is rooted in the spread of information and passionate calls for social change.

    This sad news is yet another wake up call for printmakers, especially those in academia. Artists and art forms are now charged with responding to a digital age. How do we remain true to our medium’s rich tradition while captivating audiences who would rather stare at their phone? Ending printmaking programs cannot be our answer.

    Printmaking must become more than ink on paper behind glass on a wall. As 21st century printmakers, we have to add to our medium’s age-old vocabulary. We have find ways to bring printmaking practices back to the forefront of art theory.

    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, ” The second part of the history of the world and the arts begins with the invention of the printing.”

    We are printmakers, dammit. If the art world and academia have forgotten why printmaking matters, let us remind them.

  12. Luther says:

    The problem with fine art printing in academia is that it strayed away from it’s roots.
    The invention of printing is one of the most, if not THE most, important inventions for furthering the human species. Rather than embrace the awesome history and sheer power our artform yields, we as teachers spend time critiquing work as if our students are painters (I’m generalizing here).
    Meanwhile, in the world outside academia, contemporary printmaking isn’t in a death spiral. Instead it has made painting and sculpture obsolete. Contemporary printmakers are printing human veins, hearts, solar panels, circuit boards, “photographs”, “paintings”, and “sculptures”.

    This is the new golden era of printmaking in the world but we’ve lost our strength not because printmaking lost is power but because we as educators over the years picked a path for the “art form” to go down that has strayed from the path the “form” has gone.

  13. ben moreau says:

    Within a studio art curriculum printmaking covers and adapts to all contemporary practices and theories. Whether it’s drawing, painting, sculpture, or traditional craft, printmaking adds a unique visual dynamic and voice to contemporary art. Students develop creative problem solving skills, and transfer those to other disciplines, as well as expanding what the visual language of print can be across disciplines.
    Additionally, the print studio is a communal space. Printmakers must care for the space, equipment, and each other to be truly successful. As “technical” or “process oriented” as the perception may be, the truth is each member of a studio brings their unique visual problem solving skills that feeds into one another. Students learn and develop together more so than they do from anyone else. Printmaking and the academic print studio is the nexus for the development of facility, creative problem solving, and the expansion and incorporation of ideas and concepts.

  14. Heather Page says:

    Do you know what reasons your department is giving for trying to close the print department? If you haven’t been privy to such discussions, talk to your secretaries. They can really help. It would also help to find out how and if the print department is different from the others in terms of space, funding, & number of students. Above all, I believe that you have to show them why they should keep the program. Call in reinforcements in your classroom & community to hold public discussions, do demos, and mount student work. My favorite tactic is to invite the public to print their own t-shirts with a range of screen designs–each one advertising the school and/or the print department. Your students can design the graphics & you can ask a company to donate the supplies. It’s a tiring fight, I know. Good luck!

  15. lrgibbons says:

    Printmaking is ideal for a liberal arts setting. It requires critical thinking and problem solving. It creates interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary opportunities to collaborate. It offers a wide array of job opportunities. It’s a wonderful way to learn and to teach.

  16. Luther says:

    I’ll second what Heather says. I’ve been part of two academic shops that have come under attack during times of reorganization and I’d like to think that both printshops came out stronger in the end.

    When Parsons was going to replace their printshop with a coffee shop, hahaha, the students utilized the shop to create a marketing/ protest department to organize the student body. They had sit-ins and got the dean to agree to bringing in outside advisers (typical) who quickly saw that there was already a coffee shop on every corner of the neighborhood but obviously no other printshops.

    As Ben says a printshop, like other communal art spaces, is a great nexus for the exchange of ideas. Getting everyone in that space together to try to strengthen or save a program can be rewarding but also discouraging if the admin is blind to the importance of such a group space. So a case needs to be made why print is important in the future vision the administration .

    My statement earlier seems a little out of place now. But what I was trying to get at is that current trends in production, design and science illustrate to the informed that printmaking departments need to be strengthened and modernized. That is not to says that etching presses need to be dismantled, but printmaking methods are always advancing and rather than let sculpture departments get the 3-d printers and laser cutters the print departments should be harboring these tools along with the next generation of digital output devices.

    Another thing a print department should do is to take a look at its alumni and their job placement /further education as historical numbers. I am willing to bet that print majors have excellent numbers at most institutions. Getting some key alumni to vocalize can be a powerful tool.

    This may be a counterproductive anecdote but the reason I took my first printmaking class and fell in love with etching was because the jewelry shop at my school was closed to “update” the art department. I was going to be a jeweler until that happened (oh and ^lrgibbons was in that first class I took funny enough)

  17. VStephens says:

    Printmaking or Graphic media has never been more relevant, exciting or broadly defined than it is today. As a printmaking student, you develop skills in process, layers, logic, planning, organization and conceptual realities that extend in all directions. Printmaking programs encourage experimentation, the development of unique approaches, and an understanding of the many printmaking processes and media.
    Printmaking and printing are two different things. Printmaking involves the creation of artwork by printing it on paper or canvas which produces a different “Impression” in each piece. This makes each art piece produced through printmaking a unique piece of art, normally differentiated through a series of numbers. On the other hand, printing in general is the reproduction of text or image for varying purposes. These can be for posterity, academic, or commercial purposes.
    Printmaking has survived through history because of its collaborative nature.
    It has survived many cultural and technological changes over many years and has evolved with time.
    Printmaking is not only an art form, but a way we live and think today. It allows us to create forms of art and designs. It is through printmaking that we have most of our earlier art forms reproduced and preserved for today’s generation. The roots of the printing process go back to the ancient ways of creating an impression and I believe that creating an “impression” is an important part of any education.

  18. WilliamN says:

    For non-art majors, printmaking provides a window into the countless unseen hours that go into producing artwork. Theory does little to convey the necessary time required to make artwork. The opportunity to practice the day-in and day-out effort of producing an image surely grants a greater appreciation for art and art-making. It does so in a way that painting and drawing cannot necessarily convey to a non-artist. The studio practice of printmaking as a whole is a look into the world of a professional artist that shows up day after day, working on the same project until it is perfected. The whole process provides a connection to the numerous artists and craftsmen throughout history that have worked in the medium. This historical connection brings to life the history of print in a way that book learning will never be able to accomplish.

    Printmaking is an excellent inroad into the arts for non-artists, as it allows them an opportunity to experience visual and technical problem solving. While printmaking can be very complex, the university studio environment allows for a safe working atmosphere where one is able to experiment and practice a broad range of both creative and production problems and solutions in the 2D realm. It does this regardless of a student’s prior drawing or painting experience. (It could be said that sculpture and ceramics also provide some aspect of such an environment, but in a 3D–rather than 2D–environment.)

    Printmaking provides numerous problems that must be overcome; although, because of those obstacles that arise in the process, it frustrates students in all the right ways. It gives them a chance to struggle and actually learn how to work through a problem. Further, it provides the chance to think about problems in a different light. A print program develops in its students a skill set of working through a diverse set of complications, and furthermore imparts the ability to epart from assumed ways of thinking when it comes to problem solving. This may be the most valuable ability that translates outside of the print sphere. An education that includes a lesson in integrative thinking is well worth the initial cost. This synthesis of thinking might be described well in the integration of old and new technologies that many print programs encourage. The issues of combining historical technologies with new methodologies is a prime metaphor for problem solving skills that utilize the known and unknown to provide original results.

    Printmakers form communities, and, by extension, enrich the larger community that they are embedded within. The beginner often works with someone more experienced, and anyone outside the craft can come in and produce artwork under the discerning eye of an instructor or friend. By its nature, printmaking thrives in its environment by providing an outlet where groups are able to work in tandem with each other, growing the culture of a community. Directly connecting a community to a means of production makes way for the appreciation of fine craft. It demystifies, in part, the magical nature of creative output. Ultimately a printmaking program brings a much needed diversity to a community.

    This says nothing of the unique planning, preparation and studio environment that students partake in throughout a printing course.

    In short, a printmaking program
    – connects students to the art practices of countless historical and contemporary artists in a visceral, realistic way

    – provides the means and environment to experience the creative process

    – introduces problems that require integrative thinking to develop solutions–a skill that translates outside the print studio

    – enrich the greater community by increasing cultural richness and diversity

    Printmaking should remain a vital part of educational institutions.

  19. Luther says:

    I think we as a community have reached a point in time where we need to discuss the pros/cons of dropping the “making”. I’ve never heard a discussion of this really, although I’m sure it’s happened. “Printmaking” as opposed to “printing” is used to distinguish our craft from those of our commercial counterparts. Long ago I learned that it’s a lot faster in polite conversation to tell people I’m a printer than a printmaker. Painters don’t feel the need to call themselves Paintingmakers to distinguish themselves from house painters.
    If we were to engage in a PR offensive it might behoove us to consider our cult of professionalism’s jargon.

  20. Jason Urban says:

    That’s a great suggestion, Luther. I might point out that Printeresting started out as “the thinking person’s favorite online resource for interesting printmaking miscellany” but a while back we switched to “the thinking person’s favorite resource for interesting print miscellany” for the very reason you cite.

    Though I know from my own academic experience, what seems like simple change of nomenclature can result in endless hours of red tape and bureaucracy.

    Perhaps a good subject for another post?

  21. Guillermo says:

    I believe that many of the problems that printmaking is facing are addressed in thi text from Luis Camnitzer.

  22. Rosemary Mortimer says:

    As an artist who explores process and materials, a printmaker, and a teacher of printmaking (amongst other things), I value printmaking for a number of reasons. Printmaking has the quality of the unknown and mysterious, when you roll something new through the press, and unveil it, you don’t really know what it will look like. You probably have a fair idea, but there is always an element of surprise, a removal of total control from a process, and the ability of the materials to work their alchemical magic.
    This removal, lack of total control, the ‘getting dirty’, the ability to develop new ideas and work that you could never have just drawn, or made on a computer…because you didn’t know it existed, is important in todays design and art schools. Working with diverse materials and expanding the possibilities of printmaking has huge potential.
    Unfortunately some think of printmaking as etching and drypoint and linocuts…and don’t recognise its role in the development of new ideas. Perhaps that is partly the fault of the traditional and conventional approach that printmaking carries as part of it’s history, rules and formulae by which things should be made and catalogued.
    If printmaking is to be seen as relevant in art institutions then it needs to demonstrate how it can be integrated into contemporary art practise, through extending the parameters and possibilities of printmaking, and breaking down boundaries between print and other areas of art practise. Print needs to be seen as a method of exploration, as much as drawing, video, sculpture etc, rather than a stand alone separate ‘activity’, that produces prints as an end product.
    I hope this isn’t taken as a criticism, I know that many contemporary printmakers are doing all kinds of exciting things in this area. I just wonder whether the word is getting out to the ‘powers that be’ in some educational institutes.

  23. Luther says:

    A great way to energize a department is to create cross departmental courses. These can be one time events or semi-annual depending on their popularity. A Liberal Arts environment is perfect for cross-pollination and printmaking, with it long history, flexibility, and process orientation is an ideal match for other programs.
    Here’s a quick, not very thought-out list, of co-dept classes (so for the freeform but you’ll get the idea)
    1. Holograms – merging physics dept and print (I’ve actually seen this class offered)
    2. The Daguerreotype – merging chemistry and print.
    3. Screen printed poly-crystalline or single crystalline silicon solar cells. – merging physics/chemistry and print.
    4. The “Tribal” print- history and creation of west african printed textiles. merging African Studies and print (this could be applied to any cultural studies I imagine).
    5. Money – merging economics and print. historical study of money. Students print their own money as a group and try to establish a trade system for it on campus.
    6. 3-D printing and biology. merging bio/print. Students explore and recreate basic biological shapes and construction though 3-d modeling and printing.
    7. Reproducing God’s word -merging religion and print. Students exploring the various histories and the way major religions dictate their religious texts be produced and how that has effected their development.

  24. Pauline Bennett says:

    When I was a primary school teacher I found printing to be the most inclusive of all the arts taught. Sadly by the age of eight many children will say that they can’t draw or they can’t paint. They have lost confidence. They never say that they can’t print. Why deny people of any age the chance to be creative? It’s good for self-esteem as well as the soul!

  25. Jonathan James says:

    Art in academia, in Australia, is primarily being taught through inter disciplinary mode. ,Each University has chosen various paths to achieving this. The greatest difficulty is that while an artwork may be made from various media, at some stage each aspect is constructed and that requires technical skills. that need to be taught at some point.

    While many of these skills may not be used in the future, students may end up as curators, theorists, etc, and not artists, they will have an understanding of what goes into an image. This has its own explicit value.

    More importantly, as students and the artworld embraces new Media and new Technologies, we need to remember that these are in conversation with art history. Why and how older technologies (etching, screen, litho etc) are used are entirely relevant to new media.

    The relevance of old media to new is most visible in the unending appropriation of effects in much new media, such as the filters on Instagram creating polaroids… it would seem much new media draws on the supposed authenticity of history / memory.

    Ultimately, I believe the tactility of certain types of image, the physical relationship we have to memory, technology and media, is why print will remain relevant.

  26. Delwyn says:

    I think Print is an exciting, diverse, relevant and progressive medium. Here’s a random collection of my thoughts about how I think it adds value in education:

    Process: manual engagement is beneficial form of learning, understanding and practising order of steps, safe use of materials & equipment, it requires mastery of tools & techniques, repetition, develops craftsmanship, consistency, selection of appropriate inks and substrates, physical dexterity, select from diverse range of mediums and applications, develops time management skills, working within constraints/restrictions of the medium, practice quantifying materials and costs, respect for equipment, enhance observation skills, project planning, creating saleable items to fund further production or education

    Experimentation: problem-solving, immediacy of application (compared to painting/drawing), unique prints, multiples vs varied editions, use of colour, layers & transparency, texture, reproduction, uniqueness, recipes for chemicals or colour-matching, testing and refining, physicality of ink and paper (compared to digital output), exploring interfaces with other disciplines (painting, books, 3D, installation, photography, fashion, graphics, culture, science, religion, marketing)

    Communication: use of terminology specific to print, message within image, following instructions, understanding product info, discussing technical issues with suppliers and colleagues,
    discern between styles and mediums, learning to work with other studio users, seeking feedback, interpretation of imagery, questioning, discussion, reflection of own practice, writing artist statements

    Context: discover and engage with both historic & contemporary contexts, social, cultural, artistic, intellectual property, local & international printmakers, acquiring knowledge, sourcing new information

    Technologies: adaptation of processes to suit outcome or limitations, being inventive, digital/analogue + combinations, industry-relevance, commercial possibilities, interface with future advancements in print, innovations & adaptations,
    collaboration with businesses

    I have been involved in a range of print projects where students have been very engaged, showing print can be a great medium in contemporary practice and is highly relevant for learning skills in education: such as t-shirt design & screenprint, fabric & garment surface prints, using lasercutters to make relief prints, solarplate with photography, letterpress & bookworks, posters, artworks, etc.
    The possibilities for printmaking are so vast and exciting!!!
    Must go now, got lots of fun printing to do 🙂

  27. Jim McBeath says:

    Hey, I run a digital print studio at Leeds College of Art, i can happily say that printmaking is in no way whatsoever is dying out in this institution! Along with my studio we also have another huuuuge printmaking studio, and these are by far the two busiest resources in the college. Students will regularly queue/jostle/beg/bribe and fight to get their printing done, it would be incomprehensible for any institution to close their facilities. The phrase, “cutting off the nose to spite the face” seems to spring to mind. Idiots!!