Lithographs, what are they?

September 29, 2009

While most people I talk with know the term etching as an art form, they don’t really know what exactly is involved in this process of intaglio printmaking.  They usually understand the concept of a wood block print or relief printing, recollecting potato or linoleum block prints made is school.

But when it comes to lithographs, the confusion is rampant…and rightfully so.  There are two very different lithographic printing techniques and understanding them both will help collectors and investors of art make better decisions about their print purchases.

Some lithographs are considered as fine art prints, others are mere copies.

Stone or hand-pulled prints are created by artists who design their edition for the process of printing on a flat surfaced stone (litho) using oil base inks and the resistance of water.  Each color requires a different stone and a separate printing.

Prints that are only reproductions are offset lithographs.  This requires taking a photograph of any painting or drawing and having it printed at a commercial printing company.

The cost of creating a stone litho in time and supplies can be near $50 per print and more in comparison to offset lithos at one dollar and usually less.

First clue that the litho might be a fine art print… an edition of less than 250.  The hand prepared stone surface starts to break down in quality and integrity if more.

Second clue, the paper is usually heavier and watermarked.

Third, the image has a painterly quality.  Many artists who like to paint prefer this technique to create multiple artworks as it lends itself to painting rather than the carving required for a wood block print or linear/detailing of an intaglio edition.

Artists who are known for their lithography prints include Goya, Odilon Redon (one of my personal favorites), Toulouse Lautrec, Alphonse Mucha, Picasso,  Jasper Johns, David Hockney, M.C. Esher and many of the Mexican muralists.

Fine art prints are considered original pieces of art.  It is an inexpensive way to collect top artists work.  Be careful of what I call cruise art.  The limited editions of Miro, Picasso and Dali are not limited, they are mass marketed and not hand pulled or authorized for the printing by the artists.  They will be worth a lot less than you pay for them.

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May 20, 2009

My colleague in art unexpectedly said to me that he no longer liked women’s faces in art.  In jest I asked if he was becoming a misogynist, and we talked further.

He clarified that some faces were ok, maybe just the faces that were fashionable or just beautiful were objectionable…”this one is ok and I like that one all right” as he pointed to women’s faces that suggested natural states, universality or expression.  “Not just a pretty face” was my interpretation of what he was conveying.

It made me think about why we like what we like in art.  Do the emotional responses change in light of education and experience?

When I go to a museum, I don’t like to use the headphones that tell you about each work. I first want to have a personal, uneducated response to the art before I delve into knowing about the artist or the circumstances of what he is saying or why she used the imagery she did.

One time I went to the MOMA and I saw the work of Cy Twombly.  One piece in particular drew my attention, but I didn’t “get it”.  I thought about it often.   While studying the work of photographer Harry Callahan, a photo of grasses emerging through the snow connected me to that painting.  I then understood what Twombly was saying to me. That moment helped me to define one of my emotional responses to art.  The wonder and underlying essence of nature speaks to me in art…the abstracted concepts, patterns and secrets of what is happening dynamically in the natural world. When I witness those concepts in a two or three-dimensional representation, it is as sublime as the nature itself.

I have studied, written about and taught art for many years.  With education comes appreciation and understanding. But I am talking about the emotional response…what really turns one on or off about art. To discover and define those aspects is epiphanic and revealing.

So when my colleague told me about the faces of women, he was just reinforcing what I already knew about him, he has a true respect for women. His personal art collection is full of women, real and expressive women.  Maybe experiences and education recently reinforced that revelation. It was his emotional response to art that he was declaring. And what are emotional responses except unexplained forces of nature that happen dynamically.

And I believe it an apt metaphor for art itself…Not just a pretty picture, but a personal response to what is significant in one’s own life.