Post Print: Staking Claim to the Territory
Over the past two decades the creative role played by Print has evolved from being firmly grounded in modernist, painting based aesthetics to encompassing a much broader yet undefined territory. Before the Boundaries which defined the activities of printmaking were limited to technical categories. The print was defined as the map and not the territory the map describes. The function of language in defining printmaking was to act as signifier, to name a phenomena, to break the subject down into technical processes. However the meaning of language lies not in the definition of words but in communicating their broader abstract relationships. Language is not static but evolving. Just as language cannot be defined as alphabets, words, definitions, or syntax print can not be defined as a series of technical activities. It is more appropriately defined by its function, its philosophical usage, the evolution of ideas and the images it spawns. Print may stake claim to a creative territory that goes beyond any map: the meaning of the images produced through printmaking becomes the territory for its definition.
Until now, there has been a hierarchy based on the means of production or technical categories. That hierarchy values lithography, etching, screen and relief as fine arts while offset, copier, and computer prints are valued as reproductive and commercial venues. The creative effort of the individual print artist is opposed by collaboration, the unique impression opposed by the edition, and the letter press volume by the copier pamphlet. Breaking down this hierarchy leads to an analysis according to function rather than classification bring all under the title of Print.
Viewing prints duality from a modernist position leads to the exclusionary definition that prevented print from staking claim to the full extent of its critical and educational possibilities. Modernisms ideal of art independent of interpretation, in which meaning has no direct relationship to social and topical events stripped the traditional print of its essential functions, communication. Modernisms search for universality, for a purity of form in which the significance resides in the materials and the creative gesture is alien to prints history of activism and social commentary. Print artist ranging from Durer, Groz, Kollwitz, Goya Baskin Lasansky, and Colescott have transformed topical events, through their unique studio gesture, into images of social activism. The history of the medium is the history of artists bridging the distance between private gesture and social commentary.
The continuation of this tradition was well documented in the exhibition Committed to Print curated by Deborah Wye, of the Museum of Modern Art New York. She established a relationship between individual gesture and activism as seen in the works of Luis Cruz Azaceta, Juan Sanchez, and Mary Frank. The exhibition also documented prints activist role through reproductive processes, Works deriving from a lineage of commercialism, posters, DADA and Fluxist publications. These works communicate directly and publicly beyond the elite institutions of contemporary art. A poster published by the Art Workers Coalition protesting the war in Viet Nam, asks "Q. And Babies" and answers visually as well as linguistically, "A. And Babies" The power of this image is a precursor to the works of Sue Coe, Jenny Holtzer, and Barbara Kruger. Here print acts as a mobile messenger informing an unsuspecting public.
Post-modernism can be more than a vacuous deconstruction of modernism. For print it is less a stylistic change than an acceptance of creating work in relation to a broader community, a function essential to print through out its history. Post modernism creates the paradigm in which prints duality loses its aesthetic significance. Its original and reproductive roles become complementary possibilities rather than opposing categories.
Print with its dualitys combined finds itself in an advantageous position. Images produced in the creative collaboration between artist and master printer are some of the most effective works in contemporary art. Print in forms devised as multiples, installations, new genre, and altered photographs, has developed a unique aesthetic approach to the issues that concern contemporary visual thought.
Print has contributed significantly to the evolution of twentieth century aesthetics. The significance of commercial prints is widely recognized: no one denies that advertisements and billboards, for example have influenced the development of modern and post modern art. Print is the intersection between low and high art creating images that speak with the clarity of language and the power of entertainment. It is prints direct democratic life focused on communication which creates the staggering wealth of images which accumulated to form the printed landscape in which we live. Images which through their distribution become the common source of our communal world view.
Prints Mechanism of diffusion parodies fine arts elitism. Print provides the means to bypass the economic and critical hierarchy of the gallery-museum nexus. Print goes beyond the private artist language to speak to a broad audience and to function in daily life. It allows artists to cross the boundaries between art and life, aggressively seeking out new audiences. Beyond the museum wall, print is the mechanism for producing multiples that reach out into the community. In this form, print functions as a democratic, direct, and modest means of communication, breaking down arts function as a capitalist object. Prints produced by artists co-op which oppose racism, gentrification, or which explore topics such as AIDS, gay rights, and the commercialization of art itself, act as a visual conscience for a broader community. Here art is created for a specific purpose and breaks its connection with the contemplative function derived from painting aesthetics.
These attributes take print beyond the narrow, categorical definition, allowing it to claim processes, images and ideas on which to base its creative and educational role. Print can become the area that combines the gestural physicality of making through craft with new technology offered by computers, photography, design and mass reproduction. The intersecting of direct and indirect creative processes coupled with prints history of activism, grounding its content in the events of daily political and social struggle, creates a significant base for education.
Achieving a balance between spontaneity and the dictates of craft is difficult, when teaching in a high skilled area such as print fiber ceramics, photo, or design. I perceive craft as the delay inherent in all indirect processes. The delay is often misunderstood as craft in a negative sense. In print the delay is the transition from the drawing gesture to electronic or mechanical process. Collaborative printing is based around the delay. It is the moment when the printer takes over the artists gesture. For the print artist the delay is accepted and manipulated. The delay becomes a continuation in creativity, rich in possibility. Here lies the critical separation between painter and print artist. The same issues and available to both, as is the immediacy of drawing. The delay, the act of printing or change through process, is for one interference of craft and for the other the continuation of creative possibilities. Process takes the idea and artist beyond the confines of the studio gesture, creating not an object for the wall but communication for the world.