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Although the "Digital" category is gaining more widespread acceptance in the art world (and the art fair circuit), as a digital artist, I continue to battle misconceptions in the public eye. I thought I'd share a "handout" I use to describe this relatively new way to make art.


Digital Printmaking:

How An Exciting New Medium Earned the Art World's Respect


Throughout history, new fine art printmaking techniques have initially been introduced in commercial and mass-production applications.  Etching, lithography and serigraphy, all accepted media of the fine art printmaker today, were all used commercially at their introduction, and they all have their commercial/industrial counterparts in the mass production printing business today. It is only through the insistent efforts of forward-thinking, creative artists looking for exciting new tools for image-making that these technologies have been adapted and accepted for fine art use.

Digital printmaking is no exception. Today, commercial artists do their layouts and their illustrations almost exclusively on the computer for everything from books and magazines to billboards and cereal packages. To service these commercial artists, manufacturers came out with large format ink jet printers which would print proofs and mock-ups of their layouts for client approvals before turning them over to mass production printers for the final product. These color printers, relatively slow but capable of printing brilliant colors in high resolution, have evolved into the inkjet printers most computer users have on their desktops today.

Artists soon saw the creative possibilities of inkjet technology for reproducing their own work, but there was a catch. The printers originally made for commercial artists and desktop computer users initially used dye-based inks that passed easily through the needle-thin ink nozzles of the printers, but unfortunately these brilliant dye-based inks began to fade after only a few months… especially if exposed to light.

Manufacturers with an eye to the fine art market began to adapt their printers to use more permanent inks and to print in extra-wide formats. The term “giclee” print, meaning “spray of ink” was coined to help market these prints to the art-buying public.


But, early fine art printers still had a problem with permanence even though they were using additives to extend the fade-resistance of the dye-based inks. Also, the great expense of these “giclee” printers put them beyond the reach of the individual artist. Giclees were produced by service bureaus that could amortize the cost of the equipment with fees charged to dozens of artists.

Digital prints got a bad name in those early days because of a number of reasons. The printing process was out of the hands of individual artists who lost control of their images. Some artists simply photographed their best paintings and had them digitally reproduced, marketing them as giclee prints. Also, early service bureau-produced giclee prints still had a problem with fading. To regain control, many artists bought desktop inkjet printers only to see their prints fading in the hands of their clients.

Today, digital printmaking has finally brightened its faded image. Although many commercially used inkjet printers and desktop inkjet printers still use dye-based inks which will fade with time, most artists who are serious about producing permanent digital prints for the fine art market, use a new generation of inkjet printers that use pigment-based inks instead of dye-based inks. Pigment-based inks have a fade-resistance of 200-plus years, rivaling the best fine art lithographs and serigraphs. These responsible artists have also learned that their use of high quality, acid-free papers and canvas will extend the life of their prints. 

The computer is a wonderful image-making tool with almost unlimited capabilities for creative expression. Digital artists are finding their way into the artistic mainstream bringing a fresh voice and a new sensibility to their imagery. Today, digital prints are fully accepted by the art-buying public and take a well-earned place beside etchings, lithographs and serigraphs as a respected art medium.

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John you are spot on except for one important fact.  When you use the term "digital' to describe a category its literal meaning is something made entirely from a computer based on an arithmetic-like curve such as a sine curve--it has nothing to do with something generated in a digital device such as camera.  O f course that whole definition is getting blended all the time.  But true "digital" work is generated solely in a computer.  Good luck down south in Miami and Winter Park--hope to run into you somewhere.  Nels,

I have been exhibiting "digital" art for almost ten years. There is no doubt that the medium has been gaining widespread acceptance over those ten years. When I first started using the computer as my medium, I couldn't even get into a show. Gradually juries began to accept the medium as more and more artists began to embrace its creative potential. At first, people would be turned off by the word "digital." And, some still are turned off. But some are turned off by other media as well (but not as much). The biggest hurdle for a digital artist is the relative ease at which some (so called) digital artists create their work. Advances in software and filtering techniques make it possible to create some very slick looking images with the press of a button. Using a filter to convert a photo is not "art." But, I've seen some pretty questionable "art" in other media as well. Its only an educated and discriminate viewer who can tell the difference between good and bad in any medium. I still get the grouch, occasionally, who will argue that my work is not "art." But these days, I get many more people who admire my techniques and the end result... especially when I have a chance to tell them about how the pictures were done.  

John, I also have been exhibiting digital art for some years now and I would agree that the level of acceptance has grown quickly. My work is a sort of collage, created not with filters, but with layer upon layer of images, patterns, textures and colors that I create myself. In fact, I had the honor of winning a judge's award at an out of town (where nobody knew me or had ever seen my work), something I thought would probably never happen because I create with my computer as both brush and canvas.

The one critical thing to remember is that ANY piece of art is only as good as the artist's imagination and ability to create the image he or she sees in the mind's eye. Digital art is just another discipline and like all the others, there is good art and bad art.

I do have to say that most of my customers have been interested in the process as well as the art they buy, an indication that they are becoming more savvy, as well.

Thanks for your comments, Barbara. I went to a high school student exhibition the other day in Holland, Michigan. I'd say about 30% of the entries were digital. And, art schools are seeing more and more students concentrating on digital techniques these days. I'd say we're almost there... acceptance of this interesting and dynamic new medium.

The digital medium will not replace traditional painting. It is, just another tool for the artist. A one-of- a-kind original painting will have more intrinsic value than a digital painting because, as I see it, digital is, essentially, a printmaking medium. When I make a digital painting, I am creating a printing plate in my computer. The value of the finished print is determined by the marketplace and the size of the edition.

I began creating digital art when I lost the use of my thumbs for three consecutive years, having thumb joint replacement surgery. I discovered quickly that I could still push the mouse around and click. Because I can no longer hold a pencil, pen or brush for long enough to create anything, and because I fell in love with the endless creative possibilities of the computer as a tool, I have continued to create digital works. For me, if I want to create, this is the available medium.

Digital art is not intended to replace anything at all. The computer is just another tool for creating artwork, it is, intrinsically useless, just a machine, unless/until the artist tells it what to do.

Good for you, Barbara... As artists, we always find a way. Keep pushing that mouse around.

John I am a critic of the medium to some degree. If you are selling it as digital printmaking that is one thing. What I don't like are artists who sell gilclees that have been altered after scanning. I see this all the time. Down the hall from my studio is a large format art scanner. Lizza studios. He has the only scanner in the US with his capabilities except for Disney and Nasa. He scans and color corrects paintings for artists all the time. He has move images from one spot in a painting to another. Then the artists sell the prints as if the original was as good. That to me is not art. To have someone else make your image look better than the original? Maybe you should work on your painting then.Just my opinion , but if it is digitally altered or enhanced you should make people aware. I have been to shows where there are no originals to compare the prints to in the booth. I think that puts the shows on the same market as big box stores selling stretched canvas prints. And we cannot compete with that. I feel digital in the open honest way is fine. But when it is portrayed as something else its not good.

...were you aware that many of the greatest artists in history had their works done mostly by apprentices?  Think DaVinci, Michelangelo etc.   The 'art' is the idea, how the artist brings it to fruition is wide open.   

I would disagree with this concept completely, as it applies to today's, fine art shows.

A) In those days the aforementioned artists did not, publicly inform the work was the product of others. They took the credit themselves. Building their own name value. Thereby lying to the buyer. 

B) Depending upon the show, it is often part of the application / show rules. Statements such as: "...of exhibitor's own crafting..." “...directly from the hands that crafted them ...” "...the authenticity of the work as the creation of their own hands...." "...All work must be designed and executed by the accepted artist..." "...No more than two artists may collaborate on work. Both must be included on and sign the application. Both must be present at the Arts Festival..."  other verbiage to state no "agents of the artist" "if collaboration all must be present". So to follow this, if others are engaged in the process to finished Artwork, then each apprentice must also be present during all of the show time and be identified as partial creator.

C) I am one who does the entire process myself. I shoot, process, print, cut my own mattes, cut my mount-board, cut my glazing, cut my frames, mount and assemble. Start to finish it is my hands doing it all. I have some assistance with scheduling, accounting etc. but not the creative process.

D) In fact someone I have been teaching has come along well. They are interested in displaying some of there work. I have considered it but ONLY if I were to open a second booth and their work would be separate from mine, they would be at their booth and they will have to do the entire process.

I realize this can be carried beyond as I do not manufacture my paper, create my chemicals, manufacture my raw mount board, matboard, glazing etc. Therefore, where we place our threshold is up to interpretation. However in photography there is a huge difference between having a by line to show you were the one who shot the image, versus marketing as art and claiming to have created the finished Artwork.

NO! "...The 'art' is the idea..." is false. The "ARTWORK is being sold. That is the completed "WORK". If it were just the idea being sold then freely let customers take pictures, notes, measurements of our Artwork and just charge them for that information. Let them have others produce the finished product themselves. Yes, the idea is part of the art. Not all of it. 

Many can imagine, an artist can create. I have many ideas for books. I am not a "Literary Artist" that is reserved for those who not only have the idea but can put it to written words. I have ideas for paintings. I cannot paint to save my life. I am not an artist in painting. Those that can, are artists. With your analogy I should be able to show my photograph to a painter. They can copy my idea via painting it on canvas. I should then be able to sell it at art shows as me being the artist. Why, not? They worked for me, it was my idea. Therefore I was the artist. NOT!

Not an attack  on you, Monte, just on the idea presented.

You just cherry picked and quoted out of context.    "NO! "...The 'art' is the idea..." is false. The "ARTWORK is being sold. That is the completed "WORK". If it were just the idea being sold then freely let customers take pictures, notes, measurements of our Artwork and just charge them for that information. Let them have others produce the finished product themselves. Yes, the idea is part of the art. Not all of it. "

I made it as clear,  implicit and to most explicit, that Art is derived from first the 'Idea' and then the carrying out of it.   You completely ignored my example of the great artists who employed apprentices ro do the physical work.  That is a level of dishonesty on your part, and others who hold such views, which keeps all of you from actually understanding what art truly is.    I realize that Art is in the eye of the beholder, but the production of art is capable of explanation....which I have done.   What is not possible is to teach understanding to a closed mind.

As I politely tried to convey, it was the idea stated, that was addressed.

If the person stating so was not proficient in expressing themselves, clearly, that is unfortunate.

I was explicit, defined and exacting in my explanation. Furthermore any attack, you have attempted, by calling a fellow artist and contributor of ideas, "closed mind"  or "dishonest" is unwarranted and unacceptable.

Learn that in this world people may debate, discuss and have meaningful discourse of ideas, without attacking, insulting or trying to offend others.

Just as some artists have different skill sets, some of us, decent human beings have control and communication skills. Some do not. 

This is a forum for shared ideas, support and help with fellow artists of good will. I wish to keep it that way.

You will do whatever you feel you must. I doubt an apology will be received, however, either way, Let us leave this alone.

Kindly do not respond.


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