But is it Art?

Is this art, craft or something else?

I’ve just accepted a booking to give a talk about my work as a printmaker. The reply was that the group were looking forward to it ‘although some of the members will need to be persuaded that printmaking is art’. I was a bit floored by this. Art seems sometimes to be more class ridden than a day out at Ascot. I’m used, as a printmaker, to being considered fairly low on the scale. Indeed, as a linocut printer, I am sometimes given the impression that I’m a grubby tag-along at best. The idea that what I do for a living isn’t even art was a novelty though.

I’m my father’s daughter. As a self made man with a desperately hard childhood he would say ‘Who gives a damn what you call it as long as they get their wallets out’. I’m not going to lose any sleep: my work sells, my teaching is in demand and I’m confident in my work. However I wonder if the good members of the group think perhaps printing is more ‘craft’?

I’d be the first to agree that there is a strong element of craftsmanship in printmaking and craft skills are something I am seriously proud to have: craft, like printmaking, tends to be dismissed. Craft has suffered from being used as a catch-all name for the peddling of tat at what used to be called ‘Bring and Buy’ and now are inevitably ‘Craft Shows’. So printmakers are confused with the button pressing of the modern computer printer and mindless mass reproduction. I now have to explain that my work is entirely hand cut and hand pulled by me which generates true astonishment at times.

I’d like to reclaim both art and craft for printmaking in the true sense of the words. The craft is in the process. It is a very highly skilled job to be a good printmaker and it requires years of practice learning the craft. The process skills can be taught to anyone given the time and I’m confident I could produce a craftsman from the man in the street (should he wish to be kidnapped and kept in a studio for a very long time), but that wouldn’t make him an artist. The art bit is knowing what to do with those skills when you have them.

I’m not sure that this thinking would change much in the hierarchy of the art world where conceptual fine art seems to be top of the heap at the moment, but at least I have my thoughts in order for the talk I have to give…

Author: Laura

Laura Boswell is a printmaker working exclusively with linocut and traditional Japanese woodblock printing. She has a degree in Art History/Visual Art from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth and has been elected to the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers.

4 thoughts on “But is it Art?”

  1. I do know what you mean about linocuts – I do sometimes feel like the poor relation in my studio, where the other four printmakers are etchers.
    One positive (among many!) is that we don’t have the weight of all that history on our shoulders – as a relatively new medium, I think it makes us more free…

  2. As a passionate fan of craft media my view may be rather skewed towards the value of craft skills but I would like to add that art and craft depend on one another. It is possible to be a fine craftsman and produce horrible but well made things. However it is not possible to be a really good artist without the ‘craft’ skills that your medium is based on. An artist printmaker has to have a vision of what they want to produce and in addition the skills to produce it. No different to a sculptor or a painter, difficult skills in the production of art.

  3. When I read that some of the group you will be speaking to don’t see printmaking as art, my heart sank, but I think it says more about them than it does about you and your work. I don’t see the need to justify to them as you always strike me as very comfortable in your own skin. I think Ben has summed it up very clearly above and I cannot improve on his comment!

  4. I was having a pleasant conversation with an older man who loved art, when he asked what kind of medium I worked in. When I said ‘Printmaking’, he said, “I never purchase anything but originals!” and became almost dismissive. I asked him if he’d ever purchased an etching and then proceeded to enlighten him a bit. Not sure if he’ll put his etchings in the trash or buy more, but at least he’s more informed!

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