Le Giclee  

by John Fix

Last Fall there was an online e-discussion leading up to the  Artists Biennial about the prospectus wording of prints being original art work. Hm, were screen printing, monoprint, etching, or intaglio, numbered prints original artwork? Was a color or black and white photograph original art work, was a computer generated artwork, giclee original art work? I was, put off at first, but I knew that I had to get to the bottom of the problem just like the other five or six other chair members in the debate. Back and forth, back and forth, and forwarding of many e-mails. A comprehensive article for the AIW was suggested, I volunteered, and finally here it is and I will start out with some of those e-mail concerns.

In most cases, I would like to see us replace the word “print” with the words “print-out” or “reproduction”. By using “print” we are perpetuating the idea that these things ARE prints in the real sense of the word. Commercial sellers count on the buying public to become confused and merge “reproduction/print” in their minds.

But then what is an original work of art? Prints are multiples. Some are reproductions and some are works of art that are created using print processes that for many printmaker/artists are considered original prints- and digital prints are one of those process along with intaglio, relief, lithography, screen printing, and monoprint. Your definition would eliminate many photographers and ME. I use digital images in my work and I think of them as original works of art. They are not simply reproductions of my prints, drawings/paintings. . .
I think the bigger question here is the intent of the artist.
A, DEFINITION: A giclee is “An ink jet print.” That is about as simple a definition as possible. Giclee’s are digital ink jet print-outs of a digital image file on a computer or CD.

(“Wikipedia definiton: commonly pronounced ‘zhee-clay,’ fine art prints from a digital source using ink-jet printing. The word “giclée”, from the French language word ‘gicleur’ meaning ‘nozzle’, was created by Jack Duganne, a printmaker working in the field, to represent any inkjet based digital print used as fine art. The intent of that name was to distinguish commonly known industrial ‘Iris proofs’ from the type of fine art prints artists were producing on those same types of printers. The term, originally applied to fine art prints created on Iris printers in a process invented in the early 1990s but has since come to mean any high quality ink-jet print.”)......

But the more important question and point is this: Is the ink jet reproduction merely a copy, and if so, is it appropriate to enter it into a juried survey exhibition? The Biennial and other survey exhibitions are different than an art fair or an exhibit in which the primary goal is to sell works in order to raise money. The Wisconsin Artists Biennial exists in order to exhibit the best original art that is entered into the jurying process, not copies of them.

SUMMATION: WP&S and the Biennial hosts are interested in the best possible art to be exhibited. Ink jet reproductions that are mere copies of original art seem to rule out that possibility. The printed clone is not believed to be as good as the original, and in fact is not original. However, if the ink jet process is incorporated in making an original 2D art work that is not a mere copy of an existing painting, it should certainly be admissible.

It is recognized that there will be questions and grey areas, in this discussion, but it must be understood that the organizers of these Biennials want to present the best art available.

If one can make wholly original designs using their computer and programs, the results are certainly originals. You are right on that. Also original photographs, altered by software or manually, printed by ink jet are fine too. Of course, taking an existing painting and reproducing it, then entering that ink jet reproduction into the Biennial, is not acceptable. If the artist has the original painting, he/she can enter it, put “not for sale” on it if desired, and all is dandy. To enter a mere reproduction of that painting is not permitted.

This reminds me of the wildlife art reproductions that were so popular in the 70’s and 80’s. As you know, they were produced by offset lithography, photographically reproduced in many cases, and sold in limited editions. That made them affordable to many wild life art enthusiasts: buyer beware, as in all things.

Anyway, I came across some thoughtful quotes by Walter Benjamin, a photography historian and critic, in a book that he wrote, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. He starts off saying, (read it carefully), “The presence of the original is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity.” He recaps a history of art in brief, and I will summerize it. Art comes from ritual function of ominous idols, and evolves into the secular cult of beauty on into the Renaissance. So, we transformed from ritual to art for aura of unique, aesthetic values. “The instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual it begins to be based on politics.”

“One might subsume the eliminated element in the term ‘aura’ and go on to say: that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art. This is a symptomatic process whose significance points beyond the realm of art. One might generalize by saying: the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence. And in permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in his own particular situation, it reactivates the object reproduced. These two processes lead to a tremendous shattering of tradition which is the obverse of the contemporary crisis and renewal of mankind. Both processes are intimately connected with the contemporary mass movements.” (as cited in Wells, 2003, p. 44) Mechanical reproduction of art: printmaking, photography, film, animation, computer art emancipates the work of art from its dependence on ritual. Maybe his intelligent insight can help in our future jury requirements.
Benjamin, B. (2003). The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. In L.Wells (Ed.),The photography reader (pp.44-45). New York: Routledge