What is a fine art print?
Frankly, there seems to be a lot of confusion on this point. It cuts very close to home for me because I have decided to sell my hand-pulled prints over the internet and try to market them to the public. Calling them fine art prints makes a lot of sense to me personally. Each print I sell involves my own manual skill and attention. There is both craft and artistry involved as well as a time commitment. When I just typed “art definition” on Google, the first phrase to come up read: “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination…” To me that implies human agency. Therefore a print that is termed a “fine art print” should reflect that.
However, in popular parlance what is sold as “fine art print” does not involve a lot of human expression. Rather, it is a computer generated print. The maker pushes an o.k. button on a print menu. The print emerges from a printer. The process probably does not take more than a minute. It does not matter whether you are calling it an Iris print, pigment print, or giclee, the underlying methodology of its production is the same. Also, given the quality of many inkjet and laser printers on the market, it is very difficult to identify the difference between a print rendered from an image setter from one printed on a consumer printer. I am aware that higher end image setters give the user more control over the ink saturation and that some prints may benefit from deliberate decisions. Still the primary determiner of quality is likely to be the support (that is the paper, canvas, etc. onto which the image is printed.)
Now I have no objection to any artist who wants to make an income by selling reproductions of his/her work. I have been in this game for more than two decades. Indeed, when I was starting out and strapped for cash (why does it feel somethings don’t change?), I took advantage of having a quality inkjet printer and sold prints of both my digital and hand made pieces on EBay. It wasn’t until about ten years ago that I realized that what I really wanted to do was produce multiple originals. Learning different printmaking processes required formal education and a lot of trial and effort, not to mention sweat equity and developing manual dexterity. I aspire to produce prints that could be considered find art. I feel that each print I produce is an original work. Even when I do something like a transfer or gelatin print that many in the artistic community consider the province of the home crafter, not a fine artist, there is a lot of deliberate decision making and skill that goes into making each impression.
My beef here is that I consider this distinct from producing a product that involves no more than pushing a button on a computer screen or handing a digital file off to a service bureau. I don’t really see how anyone can call this “fine art.” It may be a reproduction of a piece of fine art. It may be a piece of digital art that requires a printer to make translate it from binary code to a state of being in the real world. I respect those who produce quality meaningful work by doing so. (What qualifies as art is subject to a whole other discussion.) A lot of my initial forays into visual expression were made through image manipulation software, and I would love to experiment with lenticular printing if I had the means to do so. (Potential patrons may always contact me via the contact page.)
To get back to my point, I simply don’t think it is fair for purveyors of computer generated prints to call the prints themselves “fine art prints.” Making those prints really did not require the creative agency or vision that making the original did. Give us lowly printmakers a break. Just call the prints reproductions. People will still buy them. I fully get that most people rather buy a Van Gogh reproduction than one of my original pieces. BUT THAT VAN GOGH REPRODUCTION IS NOT AN ORIGINAL VAN GOGH!