Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Dilemma of Digital Art
Opinion Piece on Art

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

Season's Greetings
This will be the last post for 2016. The next post will be on the 14th of January, 2017.

Santa drawing Christmas Graffiti - Tats Cru.Ink.

No matter what your religion or what your belief system, I hope you have a very enjoyable festive season.


This article was originally published in an international refereed Journal namely: The Journal of the Sydney Society of Literature and Aesthetics, The University of Sydney, Vol.13, No. 2 pp. 83 - 88, December 2003. The article centered on the growing trend to use computers to generate images for prints on paper and prints on cloth. It focused on “intent” and warned against the serendipitous production of art; that is, producing an accidental “effect” that can only be justified by searching for a “cause” - after (and not before) the artwork was produced.

I believe digital disruption is as relevant today as it was at the time the article was published. Computers and associated software allow us to generate thousand of images in a very short time frame and so choosing one that was quite accidental in intent means that art may descend into becoming an effect searching for a cause; that is, fabricating a justification for an image that was created serendipitously. We can do that for any image that a trained monkey might draw!

I hope you enjoy the article.

“Not In My Name” (Fine Art Prints on Paper or on ArtCloth)
Printmaking is often called the democratic medium. The contemporary art of printmaking in developed countries is generated from the action of two forces. On one hand, the high functionality of prints rendered them as the medium to communicate visual information to the mass audience for commercial purposes[1]. On the other hand, because of its unlimited range of experimentation and expression, printmaking also generates “fine art”, which is intended for art cognoscenti on purely decorative and aesthetic purposes[2, 3-4]. In the latter context, the inexpensive nature of the medium enabled the urban middle-classes in developed countries to acquire “art” within their means[5].

Print on Paper: Gregor Cullen – Redback Graphix (1979). Wollongong City Gallery.

One of the major differences between pre- and post- 1960s printmaking is the imagery derived from photomechanics[6] – the use of previously printed materials, which employ a halftone screen. Prior to the 1990s, the camera was an analogue device, which was used by artists as an alternative data provider for halftone screen manipulation[7]. With the advance of computer technology (i.e. both hardware and software) in the 1990s, pixel manipulation became commonplace[8]. In artistic circles, computer technology was rendered as a mediating process, rather than an end itself (i.e. computer generated images required human intervention in order to be considered “art”). Digital prints on paper or on cloth therefore embody this manifesto.

Print on Paper: Marie-Therese Wisniowski - The Australian Pilot: Digital Print (full view) 2003.

Print on Paper: Marie-Therese Wisniowski - The Australian Pilot: Digital Print (detailed view of the background) 2003.
Note: The textured appearance of the background was produced via digital processing in order to yield a landscape in print above.

The orthogonal interest between commercial and “fine art" prints on cloth or paper rests on definitions of copyright and originality. Mass produced prints necessarily diffuse the notion of originality that the master prints of yesteryear, with their limited editions, struggled to maintain[9,10-11]. In the 1970s, copyright in “fine art" prints did not surface as an issue, since the rise of poster collectives were aimed for mass distribution and espoused an anonymity of effort, so little emphasis was placed on originality or copyright. Yet these issues have become central to contemporary printmakers, who face and embrace the onslaught of a digital revolution.

Print on Paper: Earthworks Collective.

Unlike the 1970s, the issues confronting contemporary printmakers are no longer driven by the need for the social engagement of art. Communications are global and all pervasive. Getting a message out using the printmaking media is no longer a priority for its own sake. Moreover, if publications are required, the educated masses can utilize modern computer technology and employ publishing application packages, which are easy to use and produce cheap pamphlets[12].

The focus for printmakers in contemporary developed countries has once again centered on master prints (with limited editions). Fine-art traditions have resurfaced. Art theories in terms of post-modernism and deconstruction have threaded their way through prints on cloth and on paper. With this focus, originality is once again at the fore. The question at hand is whether or not the computer program and hardware is contributing more to the originality of a digital print on paper or cloth than the thoughts of the artist printmaker. This delineation is hard to decipher since only the outcome of a print is judged and not the difference between the initial intention and the outcome. No judge counts or wants a map of keystrokes (if any) from the start to the end of the process in the production of a deconstructed digital print.

Marion Manifold, who won the Shell Fremantle Print Award (WA) in 2001 for her paper print series remarked[13]: “Much of the questioning and hesitation as to the merit of digital prints seems to revolve around two points: the degree of skill needed and the impression that digital prints are quick to produce...I spend thousands of hours to create a set of prints: taking the photographs, manipulating ideas, experimenting with techniques, different inks...” Whilst the integrity of her prints is not in question, what should be addressed is whether the process is based on trial and error alone (and so is made feasible only because of the instant feedback of the electronic age), thereby being devoid of any original intent by the artist printmaker. Such prints - devoid of original intent - may be classified as an “effect” searching for a “cause”.

Marion Manifold - Rosy Dreams: From the verandah at Purrumbete 7/27.
Technique: Linoprint (diptych).
Size: 76 x 112 cm.

It should be remembered that IBM’s “Deep Blue”[14] computer program outplays most human chess players. It is now possible to grab a digital print and use a random number generator to re-map pixels and so create a new work of deconstructed art, without a human hand touching a single key[15]. Following a long Australian tradition, such as along the lines of the Ern Malley (1944) hoax[16], it would not be surprising if, in the not-too-distant future, a computer program, such as IBM’s Deep Blue, could win the Shell Fremantle Print Award! Hence, questions of causality (or the lack of it) in digital prints still have not been effectively addressed by contemporary artist printmakers.

In a digital age it is just not originality that is at stake, but the actual copyright of the print must also enter into the debate due to the availability of digital prints and the existence of the internet. For example, artist printmaker Douglas Sheerer argues that[17]: “...I am at this stage not overly worried about possible copyright infringement (anyone with a computer and modem will be able to download my images and print them out)”. However, others have not taken this point of view. Artists like Heather Hesterman, John Wolseley and John Pollard have used the actual production techniques in order to secure copyright of their work. For example, Hesterman, consciously or unconsciously, gives greater weight to her copyright, because she uses fabric instead of paper[18] as do I with all my ArtCloth works. Wolseley and Pollard go one-step further than most of their contemporaries. Wolseley makes his own paper and although he may generate print editions, each print is made unique due to the specific properties of the individual sheets of paper[19], whereas Pollard has invented his own technique called “Aquachrome”[20]. Other printmakers use more time-honored traditions of destroying the templates of their process and so preserving the unique markings on their works in order to ensure closure.

Heather Hesterman, Holes 
(Nude) (1997).
Technique: Screen print, punched 
holes red silk, glass and 
frame (detail).
Size: 44 x 30 cm.

Marie-Therese Wisniowski,Flames Unfurling (2010).
Technique: MultiSpersed Dye Sublimation (MSDS) technique on delustered satin.
Size: 44 x 30 cm.

John Wolseley – Paradise Rifle Birds.

Where do we go from here? It is my thesis that with the arrival and ubiquitous use of digital prints, the termination of deconstruction theories in the print media will occur in the not-too-distant future. Just like economic rationalism, if analyzed, deconstruction is a logical consequence of an illogical premise; that is, it assumes that non-connectivity or objectivity is the ultimate human goal/condition. With deconstructed digital prints on paper or cloth, the interplay or feedback between the computer and the artist printmaker is so intricate that the original intention may be continuously and incrementally eroded so that it is no longer reflected in the final outcome. This serendipitous or trial and error process may have spectacular effects but will leave the viewer divorced from the original intention of the artist printmaker (which would be obliterated by the iterative process, rendering the work as an effect searching for a cause).

Marie-Therese Wisniowski – Cultural Graffiti. It is a deconstructed ArtCloth work formed with intent; that is, the cause in producing the work existed prior to its creation in order to frame the act of engagement – the effect.

The new millennium art viewers in these uncertain times are aware of their doubts and some have even mapped out their own socio-political agendas and solutions. The modern art viewer may not be able to connect (or even want to connect) with the luxury of resting in the scientific objectivity of deconstructed contemporary art, especially if it is divorced from original intent. In the new millennium, the “Not in my Name” prints on paper or cloth (whether digital or non-digital) will once again connect the viewer to the human condition, and more importantly, the original intention of the artist printmakers will impose itself on the outcomes of their art, thereby rendering the processes used (i.e. screen, computer or wood block etc.) not too dissimilar to the process employed when using a canvas, a brush and some paint.

[1] John Barnicoat, “A Concise History of Posters”, Thames and Hudson, London, 1975.

[2] Edmund Burke Feldman, “Varieties of Visual Experience”, (2nd Edition) Prentice Hall, New York,1982.

[3] Russell Ferguson (Ed), Donna de Salvo, in “Hand Painted Pop: American Art in Transition, 1955-62”, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1992, pp.67-94.

[4] Janis Hendrickson, “Roy Lichtenstein”, Benedik Taschen Verlag GmbH, Koln, 1994.

[5] Sasha Grishin, “Australian Printmaking in the 1990s: Artist Printmakers 1990-1995”, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1997, p.10, hereinafter referred to as Grishin, “Australian Printmaking in the 1990s: Artist Printmakers 1990-1995.

[6] John Dawson (Ed), “Prints & Printmaking”, Quill Publishing Ltd, London, 1981, pp.146-148.

[7] Michael Langford, “The Book of Special Effects Photography”, Thomas Nelson Australia, Melbourne, 1982.

[8] Adobe Systems, “Adobe Photoshop 6.0 User Guide”, Adobe Systems Incorporated, California, 2000.

[9] Edmund Burke Feldman, “Varieties of Visual Experience”, (2nd Edition) Prentice Hall, New York, 1982.

[10] Russell Ferguson (Ed), Donna de Salvo, in “Hand Painted Pop: American Art in Transition, 1955- 62”, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1992, pp.67-94

[11] Janis Hendrickson, “Roy Lichtenstein”, Benedik Taschen Verlag GmbH, Koln, 1994 p11.

[12] Adobe. “Products”, 2003 (2 pages) Online, available Netscape: (16th April, 2003).

[13] Louise Tegart, “The View From Here: Marion Manifold and Louise Tegart”, Imprint, Autumn 2002, V37, No1, pp. 12-13.

[14] IBM. “Search Results: IBM Deep Blue Chess Program Articles”, 2003, (2 pages) Online, available Netscape: y=8 (18th April 2003).

[15] Apple Computer. “Welcome to Mac OSX”, Apple Computer Inc., USA, 2001.

[16] Bernard Smith, Terry Smith, Christopher Heathcote, “Australian Painting 1788-2000”, (4th Edition) Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 2001, p.233.

[17] Grishin, “Australian Printmaking in the 1990s: Artist Printmakers 1990-1995” p.7.

[18] Grishin, “Australian Printmaking in the 1990s: Artist Printmakers 1990-1995 “ p.9.

[19] Grishin, “Australian Printmaking in the 1990s: Artist Printmakers 1990-1995” p.8.

[20] Grishin, “Australian Printmaking in the 1990s: Artist Printmakers 1990-1995” p.12.

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