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9. Printmaking, Photography, and Book Design
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9. Printmaking, Photography, and Book Design

The ability of audiences in different locations to experience a work
simultaneously is primarily associated with works in intangible media,
where multiple copies of notation for recreating the works can be widely
distributed. But some works using tangible media can exist in a number of
exemplars if the artist chooses to create an intermediate object that pro-
vides the means for mechanically producing multiple copies. Sculptures
in liquefiable materials like metal or glass, for example, are sometimes
cast in molds; and when the process and results are supervised and ap-
proved by the sculptor, each resulting piece constitutes the work from the
point of view of authorial intention. The most voluminous category of
visual art intended to exist in multiple exemplars consists of those works
on paper that are usually called "prints." Before photography (to which
we shall turn in a moment), the intermediate objects used to "print" the
paper with ink could take various forms, offering three classes of printing
surface: a relief (protruding) surface, as on a woodblock, where the area
not to print is cut away; an intaglio (or sunken) surface, as on a metal plate
prepared for engraving or etching, where grooves are cut to hold the ink
that will be transferred to the paper; and a planographic (level) surface,
as on a lithographic stone, where the greasy lines of a crayon drawing will
hold the ink. These differing processes naturally affect the character of
the prints that result, and an understanding of them is therefore relevant
to textual criticism as well as to art criticism, for textual criticism (in any
field) can never be divorced from the effort to understand and appreciate
the works it addresses. But the differences among these production pro-
cesses need not be pursued here since the same textual issues are raised
by all of them.

The fundamental textual question to be asked about prints is how
each of several exemplars can equally be "the work." One answer, from
the point of view of authorial intention, is that if the artist approves these
exemplars and regards them as "the same," each one by definition is the
work. (The artist who makes the image sometimes does the work of pre-
paring the intermediate object and printing from it, though often one or
both of those operations are performed by others, subject to the artist's
approval.) But of course the exemplars cannot possibly be the same in ev-
ery minute detail, for no two physical objects ever are. Even without hu-
man intervention—that is, intentional alteration—prints may vary as a
result of inking differences, for example, or the deterioration of the block
or plate as a result of wear and the passage of time. The artist may reject


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and destroy certain copies, but even those that are saved and approved
are bound to have slight textual differences. What "the same" means
here can only be that the differences are so small as not to be regarded as
meaningful by the artist. Nevertheless, they may be noticeable to viewers,
whose responses may be affected. Alternatively, perhaps the artist does
not regard all the copies as essentially the same but is willing to consider
the variations as falling within the intended conception of a given work.
Either way, the idea that the work exists in each exemplar is shattered:
one ideally needs to see every copy in order to experience the full range of
textual nuance present in the "work," now taken to comprise the totality
of all the exemplars. (This point reminds one of the comparable necessity,
in studying the texts of verbal and musical works transmitted in printed
editions, of examining multiple copies.)

However impractical the goal of seeing every copy may be, it is worth
pursuing because the differences one will locate may go beyond the small
(but not necessarily insignificant) variants created by the printing process.
They may also include alterations made by the artist (or at the artist's
direction), reflecting early trials or changed intentions. Although a block,
plate, or stone may not carry clear evidence of the alterations made to
it, the impressions taken from it at various times do serve as a record
of the states (or some of them) that it has gone through. This point was
illustrated by a 2004 exhibition at the Frick Collection called "The Un-
finished Print," which gave viewers the opportunity of comparing prints
made from the same plates at different times (see Roberta Smith's ac-
count, 4 June 2004). One of the most dramatic examples consisted of the
first and eighth states of Félix Bracquemond's etched portrait of Edmond
de Goncourt, which are different enough that they could be regarded as
separate works. Although the title of the exhibition implied that states
prior to the last are "unfinished" (as some in the show clearly were),
there is no reason that more than one finished state cannot exist, each
representing the artist's final intention at a particular time. In the case
of Blake's illuminated books, Joseph Viscomi has brilliantly shown—in
his 1993 Blake and the Idea of the Book—that the impressions made at one
time, though differing in small ways, share certain characteristics that
link them together and distinguish them as a group from the impressions
made at another time. Thus a comprehensive examination of the impres-
sions taken from a given plate puts one in a position to judge (and it is
always a matter of judgment) which textual differences can be subsumed
under a single version and which create another version (or even perhaps
a distinct work).

The full textual history of an image created for printing includes forms
not intended by the artist, and they often exist in quantity, for a block
or plate can be used for printing (and be altered) by persons not associ-


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ated with the artist; and even if the block or print does not survive, there
has been the possibility, for the past century and a half, of reproducing
the image by various photographic means. An important distinction for
textual criticism is the one conventionally made between a "print" and
a "reproduction": the former is the direct product of the block, plate, or
stone on which an image was created, whereas the latter is at least another
generation removed, being a copy (photographic, xerographic, digital,
and the like) either of a print or of another reproduction. (The term "re-
productive print" is sometimes used to signify a print made from an object
that did not involve the collaboration of the original creator of the image,
as when a copyist engraves a plate after a painting, without the painter's
oversight; but of course such a print is still a print, not a reproduction, so
long as it is made directly from the plate.) Whether or not one is focusing
on authorial intention, this distinction is of intense textual significance,
since it refers to differences that profoundly affect viewers' responses.
A print pulled from a relief or intaglio surface, for example, has three-
dimensional attributes, whereas a reproduction of such a print normally
lacks them. Even a reproduction of a lithographic print shows differences,
if less dramatic. Yet the number of people who have experienced repro-
ductions of famous print-images is far greater than those who have seen
the prints themselves; and any study of the history of these works has to
take into account not only the prints, with all their variations, but all the
reproductions as well.

The art of photography raises the same considerations, since the pho-
tographic print is produced from an intermediate object, the negative
(reflecting choices made with the camera and the developing), and since
the handling of the printing process can lead to variant texts among the
finished prints. (Digital photography and printing employ different tech-
nology from traditional photography, but the textual upshot is that varia-
tions, including gross manipulation of the images, can be produced more
easily.) Furthermore, the distinction between prints and reproductions is
just as applicable (even though photography is the most common process
used for making reproductions), since a print is produced directly from
the artist's negative, whereas a reproduction is derived from a photograph
of one of the prints (or from another reproduction). A good example of
a photographer's changing intentions, as seen in variant prints from the
same negative, is offered by Ansel Adams. Late in his life, he reinter-
preted many of his earlier pictures by printing from the old negatives in
a way that replaced "elegance with melodrama," in the words of John
Szarkowski's 2001 exhibition catalogue, Ansel Adams at 100 (quoted in
Sarah Boxer's review, 1 September 2001).

For Adams, each act of printing could be seen in terms of the perform-
ing arts: "the negative," he said in 1943 (and often repeated the idea),


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"can … be compared to a musical score. It's ready for its performance—
the print. … it can be performed so as to recreate the original visual-
ized intention." But it can also be performed, as his own later printing
showed, in a way that reflects a different intention. Although a musical
work can similarly be performed in diverse ways, Adams's comparison of
photography and music cannot usefully be carried further and indeed is
seriously misleading. Because musical works use an intangible medium,
they must be recreated (performed) each time they are experienced (that
is, in their intended "live" form, not as a recorded reproduction). But
photographs, which use a tangible medium and are stationary, do not
need to be printed afresh whenever one wishes to experience them, since
prints made earlier are physical objects that can be handed down through
time. What "performance" means in the two cases is very different: in
music it is an integral part of the work, whereas in photography it is part
of the work's prehistory. And these points remain the same whether one
is talking about authorial intention or the intentions of others.

Another art form involving multiple exemplars—each of which is a
"print" of an image transferred from an intermediate object—is the de-
sign of printed books, magazines, and newspapers (and of their constituent
parts like advertisements). As with the kinds of prints just discussed, which
can preserve evidence of changes in the underlying plates and negatives
(and other such objects), books and periodicals from a single edition (a
single act of typographical layout and design) vary among themselves as
a result of changes, both intentional and accidental, in the type-formes
or plates used—changes that may occur during one printing session or
between such sessions. The conventional terminology used by bibliogra-
phers is different from that used by art historians, and both have their
limitations. In the book field, an "impression" (or "printing") comprises
all the units produced in a single continuous session (of however many
hours or days are required to complete the desired number of copies),
and a second distinct session, separated in time from the first, produces
another impression. In the study of art prints and posters, on the other
hand, each copy is called an impression—a usage that makes more literal
sense, since each one does result from a separate act of impressing (or at
least printing on) the paper. If the usage in art thus accords better with
the fact that each copy is (if only slightly) different, the bibliographical
usage more clearly accommodates another reality, that a group of copies
made in one limited period of time may share characteristics not present
in groups of copies made in other periods.

But the terminology, despite its awkwardness, should not prevent tex-
tual critics of any of these arts from dealing with variations. The existence
of differences among copies of any given edition of a printed book is
widely understood by editors of verbal texts, for whom such variations are


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part of the textual history of the works they are investigating. But every
edition can of course be viewed as a work of visual art, in which the art-
istry of type designers, papermakers, and (sometimes) binders is deployed
in a particular way by a book designer; and verbal variation is only one
of the many sources of difference among the exemplars of any such work.
(I am speaking here only of conventional books; artists also create quasi-
book objects that are best regarded as works of sculpture.) Even when
design drafts, pieces of type, type-formes, proofs, and other preliminary
materials survive, the primary evidence for the textual history of a piece
of book design is found in the finished objects themselves, since their
production over time allows them collectively to preserve a record of the
variations that occurred (or some of them). Approaching books as visual
art rather than as vehicles for transmitting verbal language brings us full
circle from where we began.

These notes are intended to illustrate a way of thinking, not to be com-
prehensive. Nor are the sections into which I have divided them meant to
be self-contained: certain issues are dealt with more fully under one head-
ing than under another, but many of those issues are equally applicable
to all the discussions. This interdependence reflects the fact that all the
arts are related and that thinking about the textual criticism of one art
can clarify the thinking about others, including those I have not touched
on, such as the olfactory and gustatory arts. After all, texts of every kind
of human creation are unstable (like the natural objects studied by scien-
tists), and it is this basic condition that textual critics in all fields are track-
ing. They are historians of metamorphosis, chronicling the changes that
have in turn affected the responses to human works at different times.

Textual critics' recognition of the inescapability of impermanence is
not at odds, however, with the urge to produce scholarly editions, which
are attempts to help an audience to encounter various past moments
in the history of a work, rather than merely to read about them. How
textual criticism and scholarly editing are carried out is contingent not
only on the surviving evidence but on the distinctive characteristics of
the different media in which works can be created. Yet the primary issues
are identical, and that is why textual study in any field can benefit from
being conducted with a knowledge of the questions that have arisen, and
the answers that have been offered, in other fields. Approaching every
human creation with an understanding of its textual history, seen against
the panorama of all other textual histories, helps us to appreciate the
humanity movingly embedded in each version of a work and to enjoy the
hard-won accomplishment represented there.


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