Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Yenta wanted  

A matchless printmaker in Seattle seeks a Yenta  

Having won an appointment with Seattle’s technology startup liaison he finds that she is a Startup yenta—matchmaker among entrepreneurs and he wonders if she can find a match for the technology sector of his ten-year plan for a Seattle Printmakers Center. 

Reaching out 

What the art schools overlooked was that printmaking is a performance and social experience. The experience of printmaking involves more than merely producing prints or a sideline to painting and drawing. Printmaking involves mechanical and technical skills, equipment, chemistry, photography and—today—computers. To call it an art-form is to miss the point. Hand printmaking reduces the technological expectations of the user so printmaking does not need to match the look and feel of magazines and mass-produced books.
Where does this bring us, today? In a roundabout way, the failure to catch the meaning of a performance and social art in printmaking, we have Seattle’s numerous incubators for tech startups today. The city’s technology initiative, Startup Seattle, is part of it--a city government belief that new businesses, not business as usual, will help Seattle's economy grow.
Is there a new business in the missed opportunity—when the UW printmaking department was deconstructed in 1984? Instead of being transformed for the coming digital age, the printmaking facilities at the UW (also in other state-run art schools) were folded into an extension of design area. Instead going for a curriculum for a reinvented printmaking in which majors could have practiced video, computer graphics and laser technology, they came up with a substitute cocktail of communications and design theory classes.
The word “printmaking” was relegated to catacombs of dead courses—alongside art education, interior design and weaving. This is a key to understanding why a new business startup, based on a transformed printmaking, is timely.
Printmaking always attracted a big following at the UW art school and it was partly because of the tumult of developments in the 1970's that made it so. Off-campus, you had a booming economy. There were jobs for printmakers who could work in the fine art publishing houses. There were jobs for graduates who wanted to teach college and in schools. On campus, you had experiments in art and technology, and printmaking was one of the portals that could lead students to film, video and computer graphics.
The best part of it was that these forays into new technologies (and associations with new people and new jobs in technology) was a double-door: You could spend mornings doing computer graphics and afternoons making woodcut prints.

Death of academic printmaking

It’s just as well that printmaking at the UW should end the way it did, because as long as printmaking was yoked to painting and drawing, printmaking could not be anything but a substitute for those mediums - in multiples. Colleges are restricted by national federations dictating what qualifies for student loans, grants and credits.
For example, there are no credible business classes for art majors, but there are classes that teach art majors how to land jobs in the museum and government arts agencies. It would appear that innovation has no place in a system of state-run higher education. The opposite is true off-campus, in a world economy helped by incubators for start ups.
Released from the art schools, printmaking can fulfill another mission—that of offering an experience not enjoyed by painters. Printmaking is experience more like the performing arts in their communal and collaborative nature than painting and drawing. Printmaking is a social art and rich with innovative potential and the potential to attract money.
Convinced of these other sides of fine art printmaking, a business start up is possible if it is one that serves both the old notions of prints made by renowned artists like Rembrandt and Warhol and the new kinds of printmaking done with laser engravers and 3D printers.
Central to the success of this kind of start up is communication - presence on the Internet and a subscription online magazine. Alongside it, the production of spin-off games, apps and equipment for printmaking can be the work of young people who want to work with hands in both worlds—the world that has died a hundred deaths and the world that is being born hundreds of times a day.

Life after death

A born-again printmaker needs to find a co-founder, an angel and an incubator in which to take the initial steps to produce an online magazine for the Printmaking World.

Or, an angel who wants to start the incubator, the Seattle Printmakers Center.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Digging for treasure  

Allusions to solutions    

While updating one of the web pages of the owners of his press design the author is beset by a vision of digging for treasure—a childhood fascination with lost treasure which is symbolic of what he lost when he was forced to resign from his treasured job.  

Picture me digging  

“Drilling down” is a current expression used by people in the IT industry when referring to digging into computer code. Computer code is the machine-readable language people must use to make all computer devices functional.
For me, drilling down has a visual quality like digging down into the earth. Maybe if I had been born into a family of a well-driller, it might have been a different image. I was born and raised as a farmer, so “digging down” makes more sense.
As a kid, I loved stories of digging for lost treasure. Sometimes I would bury something with the purpose of digging it up later on. In fact, somewhere along the road between Wapato and the Yakima River in central Washington State, there is a fruit jar buried and it contains treasures I put there in the 1940s—a fake ruby and a mummified chameleon, as I recall.
Today I was drilling down, as information techies call it, into the information about Josef Beery, one of the owners of the Galleon Halfwood Press I designed. Josef bought the press from me earlier this year, and now a photo of it is on his website. I was looking for more information to put on his web page on my website—a listing of all the owners—and this meant “drilling down” with Josef’s name as the search term.

Parallel drilling

While this is happening, I’m also beset by another topic, which is whether or not to go to a barbecue being held by the local printmakers club, the Seattle Print Arts. This club has a peculiarity about it for me. I am probably the only one who has ever attended their meetings and joined—for awhile—as a dues-paying member.
As a print maker who has lived and worked in Seattle for almost fifty years, you would think I would be a member, but I am not, currently, a dues-paying member. It is odd, and you would think I would go to the barbecue, naturally.
The trouble is, I am miserable when I go to their meetings because I am like an outsider. Maybe it’s because I’ve been around for almost fifty years and I can see through every facet of the club—who founded it, why they started the Seattle Print Arts, when, how, etc. Also, I saw the predecessors of this club—the Northwest Print makers for one—plus the other printmaking clubs around the USA, of which there are almost one-hundred.
Printmaking is one of the art forms which naturally attract people into a social group. The members benefit from the organizations’ work for education, training, exhibition and community activism. There are art clubs for almost every art form and technique, the crafts, and new technologies. Printmaking is a social art form, and a performance art with a strong technological element about it that makes a club almost a necessity.
So, why the hesitation to go the barbecue? That’s what I wonder every year since I first learned they had barbecues. It is odd. As I drilled down into Josef Beery’s presence on the web, I pictured digging for treasure. What was I expecting to find?
When I found the image of his Galleon Halfwood Press on Josef's website and read his comment, I saw why I don’t want to go to the barbecue. With the “treasure” of Josef’s comment online, who needs to go to a printmaking club barbecue when only one member among the 100 or so who belong to it owns one of the presses I designed?
From around the United States and in a dozen foreign countries, almost one-hundred fifty people own presses I designed; but here, among the members of the city’s only printmaking club, only one person has come forward, talked with me about the press, bought one, came to my studio and tried it out. She would not mind me giving her name—Lu Mcbride.

I’m not going

What I remember most from past visits I made to the barbecue was like being a wallflower at a high school dance, where no one would offer to dance with me. If there is going to be a conversation with someone, I will have to initiate it—with the exception of Sheila Coppola, the hostess and owner of Sidereal Press where the barbecue is always held.

So, I will stay busy digging in the data of those people, like Josef, who have shown me they value what I do and do not ignore my effort to be a part of the greater community of printmakers, designers, students and strategic partners.
Like the storied “lost treasures” of my boyhood reading, I will find my treasure close to home and where the treasure is most likely to be found.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

What Innovation?  

Listing my innovations for fun 

Reading a tome of a book titled, “Diffusion of Innovations” by Everett M. Rogers, this artist/teacher must pause and ask himself, “What, if anything, did I innovate?” and, then, “Why was any one of these adopted and diffused?” The question bears thinking. 

It started with a trip to Europe

If I “innovated” in any pursuit, it probably started with the trip Lynda, my wife and I, took in 1969 to work in Europe with Rolf Nesch in Norway, and some follow-up visits to Stanley Hayter and others on the continent.
My pursuit was an unanswered question: “What was it like before WWII when it appeared that printmaking innovation was diffused?” Such diffusion of the inventive printmaking that Nesch and Hayter—to name only two renowned artists who helped make printmaking a fine art form in its own right—is an example of “Diffusion of Innovations” which Everett M. Rogers wrote about in his book of that title.
At 72—the same age that Rolf Nesch was when I went to work with him and see his technique he called, “material grafiks,”—I look back almost every day and wonder why my innovations were not diffused. Or, the most important ones to me, the innovations in printmaking as the art is taught in college.
Rogers’ book is helping me understand why my innovations weren’t adopted in college art and why I continue to see my innovations slow to be diffused to the degree that I wish they would.
A current example is my proposal for a Seattle Printmakers Center—I find very few people interested. Rogers might tell me why. Thus far his book has taught me the truth that even though an innovation might be a good thing for many people, not many people will take it up.
Those who do are called “early adopters” of the innovation. Their number is small at first, but it grows over time and then it soars—providing the circumstances are right for it.

What did I do?

This morning, as part of my research, I thought it would be instructive to list what I think are my innovations—the ones that have not been diffused. Uncertain whether to start at the top—the Seattle Printmakers Center—or at the early innovations of my career, it’s hard to choose.
The old innovations are easier to understand—starting in 1969 in other words. My innovation that year was that printmaking shares with painting, drawing and sculpture certain creative processes. I was steeped in creativity theories, not only in art, but in science, mathematics and music. What is the creative process, anyway? Whatever it was, it seemed to be the key to success for artists. Whether it is innate or if creativity can be taught—these are the questions that motivated me to go to Europe in 1969.
And the question was specifically grounded in printmaking, because printmaking is not a creative process itself, but a repetitive, mechanical process that lent itself to non-human production. If printmaking were to be valuable in the humanities, or if printmaking were to be justified as material for higher education, then creativity might be the only question to study.
Creativity in printmaking was the only thing that interested me after that epiphany, and might save me from a long, dull career in teaching college. If I could share with other university teachers a kind of research, worthy of the name, then it would be to find the keys to creativity in this otherwise mechanical reproduction process called printmaking.

Creativity denied

I learned there are many people in secure positions, socio-economically speaking, who deny there is any such thing as creativity—that there is nothing new under the sun. When Glen Alps, whose innovation was the collagraph name twenty years before I came to the UW School of Art, began his push for diffusion of the process, it took ten years for him to enjoy the recognition of having named it.
It was what Rolf Nesch called “metal grafik” or “material grafik” but the name collagraph (collage graphic, and also collograph, with an “o” referring to gluing) was more popular in the United States printmaking nomenclature. It was an innovation, but to me it was not important that a person used one technique over another to make a work of art that had something about it that was creative and important.
Technique can be learned by machines. I was looking for the human element that must be part of the experience. Besides books on creativity, I also read books like, “Mechanization takes Command,” “Prints and People,” and “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”
Paralleling this literature I read books on education; one that sticks in my mind is “Art on Campus,” because it is here that I learned the history of art becoming a topic worthy of university-level study, research, production and services.

My first innovation

That must be my first innovation—that the four cornerstones of university work are teaching, research, production and services. Not really an innovation when you realize that these are the basis of all great universities for hundreds of years, actually, but my adoption of this as my mantra (signified by the acronym, TRPS) was innovation enough to keep me on course for fifty years.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Custom Work Now and Then  

Comparison of printing and coding  

Fifty years ago he was introduced to art as serving people who like fine art prints according to tradition and innovation in printmaking, which is his domain of expertise. Service changed as the art form evolved to include digital in addition to material.

Prints and people

“Prints and People” is the title of a book published in 1971 about the social and cultural aspects of printmaking. A. Hyatt Mayor, the author, points out the effects of prints on literacy, commerce, science, fashions, religion and political power. I must have read it soon after it was published, because the early 1970's marks a turning point in my career. Or, you might call it a time when I came to a fork in the road and I took it—famously advised by Yogi Berra.
My life up until then had been okay. I had a wonderful wife (still do), a house, a car, two daughters and, to keep this good life going, a pretty good job. The job was being an art teacher at the University of Washington School Of Art. This job required that you keep studying art, practicing the art you were hired to teach, be a good teacher and stay out of trouble with the bosses.
I was good at the first three requirements, but not so good at staying out of trouble—but that’s another story. Those first three things—keeping on studying, practicing and teaching—were harmonious. The catch was, however, that the better you became at these, the harder it was to keep out of trouble. But, as I said, that’s another story.
The benefit was that I kept my job for nineteen years and it was because I learned there was a fourth requirement—one that people did not talk about very much. It is service. So teaching, research, practice and service became my magic formula for success.
At the university, for example, the professors are regarded as experts by the people outside the university—the people in the community. This is a global pattern. We—my family and I—traveled around the world one year and everywhere we went I found people willing to help us in part because I had my professor’s credentials. Doors opened, even on short notice, and people showed us things and gave us things and hospitality which, I suppose, were given because of my title—Professor of Art.
It follows, then, that when community people right around the university or from abroad wanted expert opinion, they called me sometimes. Not only that, but when my students needed extra service—such as giving advice on subjects that were not taught in college at the time—they came to me. I learned, as Yogi Berra said about taking the fork in the road, referred to a major life decision. If the road forks, it’s like coming to an opportunity to take a new and better direction. The first fork I came to was when we got back to Seattle after studying in Europe for a few months—should I keep doing what I was doing in printmaking, or take up video art?
It was risky. I was making a good salary, my art was selling, and I was getting into art shows and winning prizes. It was recursive, because the better I was at my art, the bosses gave me promotions and grants to keep doing what I was doing. The road had been going along like a freeway and then I came to electronic media—and I took it up. My stay in Europe had exposed me to old men—artists—who had come to forks decades before me and made similar choices. Their art was printmaking, like mine, and what I took for granted in my early days was new when they were young artists. In fact, they invented printmaking as a form of fine art.

Digital art

The expression “digital art” is commonly used today to refer to works on paper or canvas that were made all or in part by computer-data driven printers, cutters, laser-burners, etc. In printmaking, digital prints are accepted as being the same thing as etchings, woodcut prints, lithographs and screen prints. As A. Hyatt Mayor suggested in his book, “Prints and People,” the evolution of the effects of printing continue and art teachers are teaching, researching and producing digital printmaking the same way as they had been taught.
One thing I think that is under served, is service itself. This came to mind today as I was updating a web page on one of my websites. This one shows most of the people who own my work—usually known as art patrons. It occurred to me that in the 1970s I spent as much time making a print as it took me to update a web page today. Let’s say it was 15 minutes. In those fifteen minutes I could have been printing an etching or block print or I could have been working on a plate to print tomorrow.
I might, in time, sell the print to someone and then they would become another patron. I have about four-hundred names of people and institutions who own my work. In the past ten years, about 150 of those names are of people who do not own my art but who own one of the presses (and in a few instances, two presses) I designed. They sometimes call my presses, “Works of art.”
It calls to mind that I am doing a kind of service for my art patrons by spending a quarter-hour updating their page on my website. The page is dedicated to them, but it also has links in the page’s content. These may be in the form of a YouTube video, or there might be links to their Website if they have one. Some have links to the pages on my website of other people who own a similar work of mine—such as one of the edition of the prints like the one they own, or another press like the one that I made.

New market for artists

The college where I taught was pretty good at teaching art students how to produce works of art; and in a few cases, they also taught art students how to teach either by intention through art education classes or by chance. There was not much emphasis on research outside of the art history classes, and almost no science or technology. As for service, it was never mentioned that I know of.
And yet, in today’s world, service may be the only viable—that is, sustainable—activity for artists. That was the choice I made—albeit unconsciously—in the early 1970's. The road less traveled, as Whitman said, was the electronic arts, and for me it has made all the difference.