Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Money bags?

 When I moved my studio early this year, I hastily stuffed prints from one of the drawers—which had served as a kind of catch-all—into sandwich bags. Today I had occasion to take out one of those bags to locate a certain print and as I did so, it occurred to me that this bag of prints might be worth something. But what?
In the art market, they are saying there is a depression. Many of the artists I talk to say so, that there’s no market for art now. Other people I talk to (who are not in art but who talk about raising money) are excited about crowd-sourcing for technology projects. They cite instances where thousands of dollars have been raised for projects to finish everything from movies to smart transportation prototypes.

I see more people in technology and business these days than I see in the inner circles of art and printmaking. It’s a consequence of my thinking that printmaking is the ancestor of all technology and therefore, to understand and practice printmaking on the artistic level you need to know where printmaking came from (cave handprints) and where it is today (video games, as one example). Therefore, I meet a lot of geeks and hackers.

Wishing to share the printmaking gospel with more people (that’s what printmakers do), I go to many meetings where I can stand technology on its head and show my etching press as an example of technology antiquity. Then I ask these groups—hackers, business people, engineers, etc.—for help to create a factory school of printmaking art where I can walk my talk.

In starting a school the subject of money always comes up, and I think many of the people who watch me do my dog and pony act wonder when I’m going to hit them up for money. I never do, because the real value of the idea of a factory school is so great I couldn’t handle the amount of money involved by myself.

The bag of prints I took out of my cabinet that day, containing twenty-five or thirty etchings, is worthless on the art market, I think; but as a component of a fundraising scheme—a crowd-funding scheme or an auction for example—it’s worth at least $100 - $500. This isn’t enough to start a school, but it is worth a lot in the larger scheme of the school.

Considering these aspects of my bag of prints, I extracted a print and looked at it in the perspective of crowd-sourcing or auctions. It was a gritty-looking print I remembered as having made on a sailboat, the Kadeca, with Tom and Margie Kughler. Tom did the engineering and steel work of the Mini Halfwood press. I wanted to demonstrate printing a Solarplate (a technical process for plate-making in the sun), and to do this I brought my Mini Halfwood Press (Tom built both the Kadeca and the press, by the way) and the print I happened to pull out of the bag resulted.

By the standards of the art world, the print would not meet the professional, technical standards demanded by a commercial art gallery (such as Davidson Galleries, where I had my last one person showing in 1998). However, by standards of entertainment and teaching, storytelling and technique, it meets other standards and, as something of dollar-value or part of a larger scheme (such as a factory school of printmaking art) it may be worth a great deal.
Bears thinking, does it not?

Art Action

It was around 1977, I think, when I was faced with a need of quite a lot of money in a hurry. C. T. Chew suggested I have an art auction. Since the law requires licensing for auctions, he invented the Art Action to get around the legal issues. His Art Action was similar to a Dutch Auction, where the prices go down instead of up.

At the live event, the audience is challenged to bid on a piece at the lowest price; they must resist the urge to call out, “Stop the Clock!”—the clock which was an Apple computer screen programmed with numbers that ticked down in $5 increments. Beer was served at the Art Action, which was held in Kent Lovelaces’ Stone Press art gallery, in Seattle.

Carl’s plan worked; I think we cleared about $7,000. With it I was able to transfer a certain videotape art work to film, using what was then a then-new technology for which I had to go to Los Angeles. The only problem with the Art Action that it alienated art dealers, and it was a long time before people forgot how I had actually depressed the value of my art. But I made a lot of new friends, a lot of people got art, and I got my video project done.

What it taught me was that there is an entertainment value inherent in printmaking—and that I was able to part with examples of my prints—which spanned decades—with impunity because I had multiples. It was for a good cause—the video-to-film work. It taught me that printmaking is an art form which builds bridges, not only a form of making consumer products, but also as a social art with economic power capable of achieving wonderful things.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Photo is a screen shot of Pat Pattison, teacher at Berklee Music College and creator of a MOOC in the Coursera program today.

My MOOC Blues - I'm slipping in my songwriting course!

I’m dying by the time I watched the video for this one, feeling the pain of having I missed out on years of music lessons, knowing that it would require a lot of practice on my part and memorization, and no time. 
My reason for taking the course was to learn something about the mechanics of songwriting—if such they are—but when the teacher, Berklee College of Music, Pat Pattison, suggests that we move across the aisle from the lyric-writing side to the melody-writing side of the room, without essential, basic knowledge, I'm dead.
I'm not a musician, and there's no place to hide. 

What am I doing here?

This MOOC, Songwriting, would prepare me to deepen my understanding how printmaking and a performance art—in this instance, songwriting—are related. A cursory understanding of songwriting mechanics (if you can call them that) will help  me to know how to create an online printmaking course the way Pat Pattison has done his course on songwriting. 
Combining Thadeus Hogarth’s MOOC on guitar I started earlier (until I was drowning, unable to keep up) and Pat Pattison’s MOOC on songwriting, feels to me like boot camp so I might on a team to make the world’s most effective printmaking teaching method for online and blended learning.
 Coming out of the two Coursera/Berklee MOOCs, I can neither play the guitar nor can I write a song, but I have, through the process, learned what experiences musicians might go through as the learn their art and craft by seeing, on the screen, how two music teachers have approached the creation of a MOOC in their arts.
During my lessons over the weeks, I look up from my work on the MOOCs and I can see a way to teach printmaking. When, for example, Thadeus was naming the parts of the press, I took screenshots and substituted parts of the etching press where Thadeus was showing guitar parts.
 When Pat Pattison was explaining the ways to achieve prosody in music, I thought of ways to do something similar in composing  and printing etching plates—rotating the plate, for example, to get bi-symmetry.
I recalled Stanley Hayter’s lessons. This printmaking pioneer knew there was a connection between musical counterpoint and visual art, and the soft ground etching method gave him a way to show students one way to achieve a good composition by trial and error, since the soft ground allows you to erase and start over without much work
This is the third Coursera MOOC I enrolled in. The first was Gamification, with Professor Werbach at the University of Pennsylvania. An online course in printmaking will work better with a game feature combined with my point view that printmaking shares properties with performance art, especially musical performance.

Give it up?

No, not so fast, my wife said, and she handed me the little Casio keyboard I keep by the computer keyboard. In one minute, she showed me it's easier to look at the black-and-white keys and see and hear the A-minor and G-major chords Pattison is using.

Not as hard as it sounded and seemed, looking at the MOOC onscreen. I still have one more day to write my song, give the words their correct weight and feel, paste in a loop and pick out the tones for the keywords in the verse and chorus. I might be able, after all.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Shutting down the printmaking world?

I got a bill today for $60, which included an overdue payment of $25 because I let my registration fee for printmakingworld.com lapse. It’s one more indication that I am not cut out for management of Internet accounts. It’s another reason I look forward to being free of these administrative tasks—the kinds of things that other people are very good at doing because they are not trying to reinvent printmaking or any such thing like it.
In fact, I have heard that I am paying way too much for domain registrations—that I could get the same service for about $10 a year! If that’s true, then I wish I had known that three years ago when I got printmakingworld.com. I would be money ahead, that’s for sure. As I am reinventing printmaking—taking the 20th Century printmaking world and re-shaping it to fit the 21st Century world and future printmakers’ education today—I don’t have the inclination to stop what I’m doing today to shop around for and reorganize my Websites accordingly.
In that light, $60 is a small price to pay for the freedom to continue working on the Print Maker Faire for next year—the first of its kind in the printmaking world. By next year, when I get notice that the domain name, printmakingworld.com, is up for renewal, I will not care because the decision to keep it or let it go will not be mine alone. It will be a matter for the Factory School of Printmaking Art to decide.

Looking ahead

It is my disposition to always be looking ahead and thinking about the future. I think about trends and forecasts. While it’s true that no one knows the future, it is also true that anyone can look at probabilities and make a pretty good guess as to what will happen based on past experience and probabilities.
For example, if you don’t watch your expiration dates on domain name registration at your ISP Website, or have turned off auto renewal, the probability is pretty good that—amid the exciting prospects of a Print Maker Faire—you will forget to renew and you will probably have to pay if you’re not ready to let the domain go.
But when you’re alone on a quest for a redefined and better printmaking world, you have to do the best you can with what you have and—if you overlook putting it on your calendar—then you will pay the costs. Life is like that when you are reinventing something as big as the printmaking art world.


Since 1994, when I set up my first Web site, I have initiated and used about twenty domain names, with varying sizes of files and varying purposes. As this period coincides with the rise of the persistent virtual worlds and the massively multiplayer online role-playing games, my goal was to create something like these virtual worlds where printmaking was the main thing.
Every time a new proposition would come to mind, it would generate a new Web site. The last one I added was oprintmaker.com, which was inspired by a service called odesk.com, a kind of help desk for contractors. This site serves contractors and freelancers of all kinds—writers, artists, designers, it-specialists, programmers—every kind of specialist in the world who could do for you what you need to have done.
Oprintmaker.com was a service for printmakers who, for example, would be willing to print an edition of, say, 50 prints from an etching plate a printmaker had made. Or, someone might want 200 Wedding invitations printed from a family heirloom engraving and this person could advertise this on oprintmaker.com. Somewhere in the world, there would be someone who could produce the invitations. Oprintmaker.com made its money by charging a service fee that covered things like contractual agreements, etc. It’s a commonplace in the publishing industry already, with companies like amazon.com’s CreateSpace and others.
I registered the name almost a year ago; I will let it expire or, if a team develops around the Print Maker Faire project, offer it to someone on the team to develop into a full-blown service for printmakers worldwide and the general public. It is, after all, unlikely that the name, oprintmaker.com, is hot property. Also, someone else might come up with a better name for it; or, there is already a company doing this!

At the Faire

Custom hand-printers are very rare nowadays. In the Seattle area, for example, I know of only one, which is Sidereal Press owned by Sheila Coppola. In Portland, Oregon, there is Mark Mahaffey. It would be my hope that both would be at the Print Maker Faire launch next July. They are not what the “maker” movement is about—which is like a grass-roots movement of small, independent people doing hobby and crafts for pleasure and entertainment—but more like the 20th Century model of industrial-grade fine art.
Printmaking has always been at the top of the brainstem of media arts. Printmaking is where industry meets social and cultural demands. We point to Gutenberg as the quintessential representation of industry meeting the needs of a public, resulting in a far-reaching revolution in every aspect of Western history. He borrowed idea of moveable type—invented in Korea—invented a way to organize re-usable type blocks in a holder (called a chase), and changed the world forever. Prior to that, printmaking was for entertainment and illustrating the canonical principles of the day.

The Print Maker Faire is a grass-roots, small affair for print collectors, hobbyists, teachers, crafters, students and entrepreneurs and it will include representation by major service providers like Sidereal Press and Mahaffey Fine Arts. The former representation is important because it shows the work of little kids and “big kids” in one place at one time. More importantly, the Print Maker Faire is intended to show how extensible printmaking art can be.