Platemark series two: History of Prints
Click here to access the Bonus Episode | Ann and Tru's art origins
[Transcript has been edited for clarity and flow]
Ann Shafer: Hello and welcome to Platemark. This is series two, the history of Western printmaking. I'm your host, Ann Shafer. And I'm here with Tru Ludwig who is extraordinary.
Tru Ludwig: Ha ha
AS: You can’t even take a compliment straight!
TL: Thank you.
AS: You’re welcome. Tru is a printmaker and artist and art historian, and he is our subject matter expert. I'm the color commentary.
TL: Thank you, Howard Cosell. Howardena?
AS: Does anybody remember him?
TL: Yes, of course they do.
AS: Today’s episode is on how’d you get to where you are? What made you, what made you get interested in art in the first place? So, before we do that, we want to do our positionality statements as usual. Right? Right. I identify as a cis-het white woman, and I use the pronouns she/her. We're recording this at the Purple Crayon Press, Charles Village, Baltimore, the land of the Piscataway Conoy people.
TL: And I'm Tru Ludwig and I'm a gay, Iowan, trans man. I use he/him pronouns. Ann’s shaking her head.
AS: Well, I forgot to say I'm from Connecticut to match your Iowa.
TL: Positionality. I think Iowan, you know, that says a whole lot.
AS: It says it all.
TL: What’s the highest form of compliment in Iowa? “He's a good worker.”
AS: Oh, all right.
TL: Yeah, that's what that is.
AS: Okay. I didn't grow up around that. I grew up taking a train to New York. All the men in their suits going to Brooks Brothers. Yeah, I know.
TL: That's not how I grew up at all. That's where the positionality comes in. We were in the land of the Sioux. Sioux City, Iowa.
AS: You don't have… to tell you the truth. I haven't researched Connecticut.
TL: And where I used to summer, every summer, was the land of the Chippewa or the Ojibwe people. Up on the reservation up in Northern Minnesota. Absolutely stunning country. In fact, when I was a little bit of kid, Minerva Dahl used to make breakfast for loggers at this camp that became the little bitty resort, she taught me words in Chippewa.
AS: What?! You never told me that.
TL: It was just those cool things when you're a little kid. You just think, yeah, of course. Do I remember any of them? No, but we actually went to powwows and stuff too. It was very cool.
AS: I feel like there might've been a powwow at a day camp situation for me somewhere.
TL: Yeah. I think in many respects. I mean, it was very authentic, you know, Ojibwe territory up there. As opposed to…
AS: The non-authentic land of the Ojibwe?
TL: I'm talking about Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts and the bridging ceremonies and whatnot, which I think were wildly appropriate. And I should have been a scout as opposed to a campfire girl, which was miserable.
AS: I was a Brownie for two weeks.
TL: Two weeks! Look at you. That tells us a lot. What did you do?
AS: Oh, we moved. I know. I have no great story to share.
TL: I have nothing but annoyance to share with that little aspect of my life. Anyway.
AS: So, the question is how'd you get into this thing?
TL: Yeah, how did you get in this thing?
AS: For me, in series one, we did the role of the curator, which turned out to be my origin story, but only starting with how I got on the road to being a curator, which happened to be a college internship. But for me, my mother was a painter and actually a pretty crack watercolorist, I have to say. She died when I was twelve. Growing up with her, she had a studio in the house, in the basement. And I was always down there watching her do stuff and she would let me play with things. And it just, you sort of grow up with an artistic personality in the house, she had this great… Between one, zero, actually, and six, we lived in Rye, New York, in this great neighborhood who still have reunions to this day. I was on a Zoom call reunion with the Colby street gang a couple of months ago. She, in the summertime, there was a lot of, what do we do with all the kids? So, they would organize street fairs and bike races and whatever. And my mom would organize these art shows. So, all of the pictures would be hung on a string from the garage to the tree, and she would make little blue ribbons for people. And yeah…
TL: That's so sweet. I’ve known you for 16 years, and I didn't know any of that.
AS: I was a wee thing, I was six when we moved to Brussels and lived there for two years and…
TL: That would be across the pond.
AS: That would be across… My Dad got transferred. He worked for a company that was swallowed up by ITT. So, we moved to Brussels, and we did a lot of traveling there. So, we go up to Bruges and see all the cool stuff and Ghent. And we'd go to Switzerland and Germany. The best trip of our European two years was we took a horse-drawn caravan trip around County Cork, Ireland. Camping. And I remember… I get motion sickness.
TL: Really, really easily. Got a ride facing forward on the Amtrak to New York.
AS: Oh yeah.
TL: Never backward.
AS: No, no. Oh no.
TL: You've to be in a certain spot in an airplane too…
AS: Airplane is not as bad, although I can get sick on a plane. More seasickness. That's always been an embarrassment for me because we had this sailboat as a kid.
TL: [Snorts] Sorry.
AS: I know, I know. Privilege, privilege, privilege.
TL: That's not my point. It's like the kid from Iowa who has problems with corn. Digestive functions.
AS: Okay. Thank you. That's. Thank you. That's very kind of you. But running around County Cork in this horse-drawn caravan at three miles an hour was crazy, crazy, crazy. And you would go to various castles, and you'd visit them. And we finally went to Blarney to kiss the Blarney Stone and it requires you to be up in the tower and you have to lie down. Put your head over the edge backwards. And the stone is down in the side of the wall of the castle.
TL: I bet you would rather die than do that.
AS: I mean, they had a metal grate, of course and everything. Oh my God. I was terrified at seven years old, and I happened to be carrying my beloved stuffed Snoopy with me, and Snoopy kissed the Blarney Stone for me.
TL: Do you still have him?
AS: Yes. She, actually, her name was Floppy Ears. She is on the shelf in our library.
TL: Okay. So, you just trans’d Snoopy too. That's great.
AS: I have a second Snoopy, who I actually sleep with still—props up the shoulder…
TL: Snoopy Two?
AS: Snoopy Two—named Heidi.
AS: I know, I know, both girls. And then I got a smaller one that's actually a hand puppet, which is also perfect for reading when you stick it under your head. His name is George.
TL: You still have these.
AS: Oh yeah. They're sitting on my pillow as we speak. Little things you didn't know about me.
TL: Now that you're 12. With a son that’s 23 and another one that’s...
AS: 21. Crazy. Yeah. So, when we were in Rye and then later when we came back from Europe, we were in Connecticut, the museum that my mom would take us to was the Met. I don't think I ever went to the Whitney until I started interning there.
TL: Did you ever read From the Crazy Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler?
AS: Of course.
TL: I didn't even know that existed until I read it to my son.
AS: Yeah, we read Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, for sure. Yes. And we would go and have lunch in that courtyard cafeteria they had with the fountain and everything. And I was like, oh my God. It was kind of crazy. Well, back in, at that point, we had a VW bus. Not the camper bus, but the regular bus. And so, my mom would drive us down. You know, it’s the minivan of the 1970s. So, we would drive into New York. At that point there was public parking under the Met, there was a garage, so we would pull in there and we would park there for the day and do the Met and do whatever else we were doing.
TL: I think that probably is part of the reason why you just kind of go do these things because it just comes naturally to you. In terms of, oh, I think I’ll go to the Met. I'm going to go do this. I want to go do that. It's just.
AS: Yeah. Well, and now, as a person who has been in museums for a long time, whenever I travel somewhere I go check out the museum, usually with a critical eye to how do they do the labels? And what's their visitor services, what's the entry like, how does the shop function? You know, I'm very critical.
TL: Yeah. It makes for a fun trip when we're both solving the problems with other museums.
AS: Yeah. I did a lot of drawing in elementary, junior high school, high school. I did one class in college, but the professor was sort of non-emotive. “Well, that’s a nice little drawing.” I'm like, okay, I need more than that from you. So, I kind of gave it up when art history made more sense to me. And then I also took photo. I took photography in high school and college.
TL: That explains An-My Lê.
AS: Yeah. An-My Lê is a photographer who I did a show with at the Baltimore Museum several years ago. She's amazing.
TL: Well, yeah, it was an exceptional exhibition.
AS: It was. And in fact, in series one at some point I started talking about my store manager at the Shoppers that I shop at for groceries, Phil. And I was trying to remember which exhibition he came to see that one time he came to the museum. And he reminded me that it was An-My Lê, not Alternate Realities, which is what in my memory I thought it was.
TL: Actually, that makes a bit more sense. That should have resonated with him at least a little bit. Photography's a little bit more of an easier access.
AS: I know, but I think he just, I think he was seeing. I think he was just seeing the equipment really, you know, the military equipment.
TL: Oh, of course.
AS: And he couldn't move past that to see the layers of meaning.
TL: The content.
AS: I think. I mean, who the hell knows what he was thinking.
TL: You were like, why did this woman who buys food at my store…
AS: Well, he suggested it. I didn't, I mean, I'm sure at some point I was like, oh, you should come see it. And then he took me up on it. I was shocked.
TL: Yeah. Congratulations though.
AS: It was great.
TL: That's a good thing. You know, when you get folks that have never done any, anything air quotes, artistic, and they go see what it is that you do. And then they sort of look at you like, ooh.
AS: I know. I feel like there… I probably have some friends who've listened to some of these episodes of Platemark and are like, I had no idea you did that kind of stuff.
TL: Interesting. So, okay. So now you took some photography. So, then what?
AS: Well, then I started taking the art history.
TL: Which was undergrad?
AS: Yeah. There was an art history class offered in high school, but I didn't take it because I don't know. I just didn't, it didn't dawn on me. I don't know why I didn't take it. Too much memorization, I think was what my brain was thinking. I started taking it in college and of course, a professor, much like you have affected the bazillions of students, it was a professor who turned me on and his passion was palpable in the classroom. Arn Lewis was his name, College of Wooster. And I just was like, I will follow him anywhere. He could talk to me about anything, you know, he had wide ranging interests and it was just, he was just amazing. Amazing. So then, my father, I’ve told you this story. There was this moment when I was deciding between studio art and art history and my father figuratively got down on his knees and begged me not to go studio.
TL: Really? I don’t think I remember this one.
AS: Yes. Oh yeah, he did. He begged me. He said, please, please don't do studio art. I watched your mother suffer. Trying to quote unquote make it or, you know, whatever. Please don't do that to me. I think in the end, I’m sure I've said this on another episode, for me, I realized pretty quickly that I didn't have the artist need to create every day. You know, writers have to write something every day and artists have to create something. I don't have that. So, it was a great way for me to… Well, I think there's a lot wrapped up in my mom, obviously, who, as I said, died when I was kid. So, there was this sort of honoring her legacy somehow, by getting into art history, and museums just made sense for me.
TL: And then after undergrad. Art history, you went to Williams.
AS: Yeah, I graduated from Wooster with a major in art history.
AS: No minor. That was it. Full bore. And I worked for two years at the Whitney.
TL: Is that all? So just the Whitney?
AS: I worked for… when I interned there during college, I interned for…
TL: This would be the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.
TL: Which would be sort of like getting to the Emerald City for some of us that grew up in Iowa.
AS: Yeah. And this was the Breuer building on Madison Avenue. So long before the move downtown. Anyway, a great building. I worked for Barbara Haskell as an intern, and then when I got done with school and was working there for two years, I worked as the curatorial assistant to Patterson Sims, who was the curator of the permanent collection at that time. And Jennifer Russell, who was the deputy director who's now at, I think she's at MoMA. So, two years there, then I went to Williams. Two years at Williams to get the masters. And then I landed at the National Gallery.
TL: Poof. Just like that.
AS: Well, it took a year to get the job, but yes, poof.
TL: Poof. At the ripe age of what…
TL: Please. Oh Jeez-oh-pete.
AS: I know. And then when I got married and started a family, we moved to Baltimore because we couldn't really afford an actual house in DC at that point. And we thought we would commute and that lasted three months or four months at the most, because… with a baby, it was nuts. So, I was on a 6:15 am train and I didn’t get home till 7:00. You know, it was crazy. So then, it took a while, but then I landed at the Baltimore Museum, which was a good move for me in many ways.
TL: Well, boy, am I glad you're here. That is quite the pedigree, Miss Ann from Connecticut.
AS: It was lots of luck.
TL: See, I'm that dopey kid from Iowa. I grew up in a family that was very artistic, but that was just the way things were. I didn't know everybody else's parents didn't do community theater. My mom was Eleanor Roosevelt in Sunrise at Camp Bellow, and she was Mother Courage in Mother Courage. She was like the grand dame of Des Moines. I know this may sound silly, but Des Moines had a really lively, two very lively theater companies. My mom was also in a group called the Folk Singers and was occasionally on TV and they would tour Iowa.
AS: And she worked for the newspaper, right?
TL: She was a journalist. And taught journalism. Did raise a family of five. Yeah, I'm the youngest, duh. So are you.
AS: I am.
TL: Isn't it a miracle. And my dad, well, he did all kinds of stuff, but in many ways, the idea of community service was at the base of it. You know, he was pioneering programs in disability rights back at a time when people who had had polio were being treated and starting to be mainstreamed as opposed to just marginalized completely.
AS: It’s hard to imagine that now.
TL: Like United Cerebral Palsy of Iowa, he took it from… he was the executive director of that, and he took it from bankruptcy to telethon status with some actual stars of the day. And he had designed a pen that would be useful for people with disabilities. It was triangular, the body of it.
AS: I remember that!
TL: He invented that. So, it wouldn't roll off of their trays and they could grip it more easily.
AS: Do you have a patent on it?
TL: Of course not. We had zero, zero bucks. He actually wrote an article in the 1950s about distance learning, about how a student with a disability, they would have been called crippled or handicapped in those days, which of course is now so wrong. Handicapped--you do understand that that comes from cap in hand. As in beggars, as an invalid, or…
AS: Are you kidding?
TL: That's where all of that comes from.
AS: Language has baggage.
TL: That's why, you know, when I started going into disability rights, it was, yeah... So those were the kinds of things… Again, it was the idea of service to community... But when we were growing up, there was zero, zero, zero money. But the Des Moines Art Center was free, and it has a wonderful collection. The original part of the building was designed by Eero Saarinen. And the next part was designed by I M Pei. And the last part was designed by the guy that makes things look like refrigerators. Oh gosh, I forgot his name. Much more modern. But it had a remarkable collection. Kick ass Sargent and they had amazing Goya.
AS: Not to mention a print collection.
TL: Well, yeah, but you know, honestly, I'd never seen it. I mean, there were works on paper, but you know, we would go around the sculpture garden and we took ballet lessons, and our folks were active with theater and ergo, all five kids were. Four of the five of us were in summer operetta workshop. For six years I was performing Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, and I was in orchestra.
AS: Tell us what roles you sang.
TL: Okay. I was Phoebe in Yeoman of the Guard. No, I was Phoebe in Ruddigore. Damn. I was…
AS: I was only ever a sister, cousin, or an aunt.
TL: I started in the orchestra and then I made it onto the stage, and I was in the chorus and in, oh gosh, Pirates of Penzance and Mikado, and then eventually I had a small lead in Ruddigore. And then I had a major lead in Yeoman of the Guard. Yeah. And by then I was being the president of it, and, you know, leadership things by default. Because the cool thing about this was it was all student run. We would hire our own artistic directors and music directors, all of this, and all of the proceeds would go to a charity, local charity, like the center for battered women or buying materials for people who need braille. And those were the kinds of, that was just kind of service that our family did. So, there was this artsy thing. I didn't know that that wasn't how people live.
AS: Oh, of course, you only know what you know.
TL: My dad also engineered all kinds of international programs. So, we were eating sukiyaki and gado gado back in the sixties when nobody else did.
AS: I didn’t have sushi until after college. I remember you telling me, which I thought was such a great story, about the answer shelf.
TL: Oh, the argument shelf. Oh, this was before God invented water and the internet. The argument shelf was… the family was killer in terms of intellect. And so, there’s an argument shelf. Well, next to the complete Encyclopedia Britannica with the big, beautiful Atlas. And remember that in the anatomy section were all of the plastic overlays. We had the complete 1968 Bicentennial edition of the encyclopedia.
AS: I think ours was 1970.
TL: Well, 68 was a big deal. But there were also Latin, Latin–English, English–Latin, French, German, Indonesian, Italian dictionaries. There was Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. There was the thesaurus. Because they also played killer Scrabble, the Oxford English dictionary. It was the argument shelf. So that if there was a disagreement, it was like, well, look it up, and you had to go look it up and then you'd have to defend your position on something. Or let's say that you were playing Scrabble—my dad played such killer Scrabble, like 256 was his highest score for some word that used X with seven tiles and a triple word score. My parents would almost come to blows doing competitive crossword puzzles in the Des Moines paper. So, it was a life of the mind. And even though we were bright collar workers, you know, we had no money. We weren’t blue collar workers; we were bright collar workers. They had no money, but if you lived adjacent to a university… As far as the art thing, it was just that we grew up looking at it and wanting to know about it. And I didn't know, I thought everybody drew. And I didn't know that I had talent. I just could draw what I saw and… like remember old Coke bottles were pale green and they had that twist, that beautiful twist, there was the banner around it and the script? There had been some assessment where the draw kids draw a bottle. It could be any random bottle. And I just... So, what kind of a bottle? A pop bottle. I'm from Iowa, so that meant Coke. So, I did it with the spin and the banner, and they're like, what's that? Coke bottle. You know, you didn't specify. It was like just drawing what you could see. And that was what I was used to doing. You know, and trees look different. They have different shaped leaves and it's just noticing. And so, growing up, the thing that would happen was people would push pencils at me or my grandparents would put together exams for people who are getting their ham radio operators license, and they would have offset litho-printed pages that you had to hand collate. This was before Xerox machines. And there would be stacks of paper that had printing on one side, but they give me… They were depression era people. They’d give me these stacks of papers. So, I had all the paper I could ever need to write and draw. I always thought every drawing had to have printing on the back. And things like not having money. So, Betty Lou and the House with a Magic Window. She would show that you have construction paper, and you can use rubber cement, but if you don't have that, then you can use, you can make paste out of flour and water.
AS: Wait, hold on. Betty Lou and the Magic Window is from a television show called…
TL: Betty Lou and the House with the Magic Window, which was…
AS: Oh, not like that… It wasn’t Wonderama or something.
TL: No, it was like local grown thing. Betty Lou changed my life because she would do these crafts. Well, she would have rubber cement, which was exotic. She would have construction paper.
AS: I love rubber cement.
TL: I never got rubber cement. So, I bought some with my own babysitting money because it was expensive. So, she said you could make it out of paste. You can make paste out of flour and water. If you don't have glitter, you could use salt and pepper because they twinkle. If you didn't have construction paper, you could color on it. And so, she would give you the budget version, which of course is what I did. And so, it was always how to find ways to get stuff to look great out of nothing. That was how we grew up. You know, it was just simple things that could be made elegant. I guess, in retrospect, you made me remember a big thing. And so, people would give me stuff. Now, my oldest sister, 10 years my senior, gave me my first set of printmaking tools.
TL: Yeah. I was eight.
TL: I know. For some reason she thought this looks like something you would do well with. So, she got me a couple of little blocks of lino (linoleum) and some carving tools and three different colors of ink. And a brayer, which I still have because it's my very first brayer. So, I think like, oh great. Teaching myself how to do these images. And the very first thing I ever carved was a cat sitting beside a fireplace, which was our fireplace. And it's a mantle with all the stockings hanging down and the stockings are supposed to spell, Noel. And I printed my first cards and give them to all my family members. And my brother said, that's great. Who's Leon? And because I didn't know that everything reverses, right? But I’m eight. And that was also when I learned that when you carve, you got to keep all bleeding material behind the cutting edge. So, you…
AS: I’ve got one of those scars.
TL: That's why in my syllabus when I was teaching printmaking, it was like, if you bleed, you fail. That was like rule number 9, rule 10 was no whining. But the materials somehow magically were there. Like they gave me pastels. I don't my sister realized she gave me my very first printmaking stuff, and I don't know what moved her to do it. But I didn't know that that was something that you could turn into a thing. It was just fascinating to me, like seeing multiples of an image because of the newspaper and seeing those front pages, like I mentioned in another conversation we had. Then I had Clifton Rooney in eighth grade. Clifton Rooney was also part American India. But Mr. Rooney had this enormous personality, and he was the art teacher. That's when I learned about what he would do to teach us about how sharp these tools were. How to treat your tools with respect. He would show us that we were going to get to work with linoleum, linoleum tools, and he would inject oranges with red food coloring because oranges have the same consistency as human flesh. So, he would do this whole demonstration saying, “well, don't walk with it like this and then drop it.” And he dropped the tool, and it goes straight into the orange, and it would bleed out. And so, he put the fear of God into all of us. Again, if you bleed, you fail. That was from Mr. Rooney. Well, that's what I started doing my carving, because—I think it was in eighth grade—I was like, oh, this is so freaking cool. And I got it. And I did multiple colors. Because it was just cool. He's like, how did you know to use these colors? Because they're the colors I own. And he said, I was hoping you'd say because they're complimentary colors. Mr. Rooney was also the one that made us learn line, shape, form, color, texture, space. You know, he made us learn the rules of art.
AS: What a gift.
TL: And so, you become the people you respect. Then I got into high school. I didn't get to take as much art as I would like. There was Mrs. Milligan. I was a surly withdrawn high school student, but I made a lot of stuff. My design posters for high school, blah, blah, blah. But that's not something that you major in. My dad, my God flat out said “don't go into teaching. There’s no money in teaching.” Is that why my mom's a teacher. And why is that? Why? My grandfather's a teacher and my grandmother's a teacher. Mom's a teacher and my oldest sister is a teacher. You were a teacher. Is that why we don't do this? At any rate. Through a series of events, I ended up unloading semis in the lumberyard for years of gap year back when nobody took gap years. Cause they had no idea what to do to go to college. And I went to college and because my dad had been terribly sick, I was fascinated by medicine and biology and thinking surgery's fascinating. And I loved all that. You know, cells and all of the animal bits and there's this… because that's drawing. Yay. And so, I was going to be pre-med. And it was my sophomore year, it was Reidar Dittmann who was from Norway. He was the first teacher I had for art history in 19th century, European art history. He was from Norway. So, we had to learn a lot about Edvard Munch, which was fine. You know, of course he's such a merry soul—not. But at any rate it was the most riveting thing I had ever experienced. The second class I took was with John Maakestad. Because at St. Olaf College everybody has names with lots of double As and SSON. And John Maakestad was an artist as well as an art history teacher. To me… That was where I went: “Oh, that's why he's so good. He's a maker and a teacher.” That was why the way he delivered it was so fascinating to me. Oh my God, this is… So, I’m pre-med—I don't have the self-discipline and they hadn't invented ADD yet. So, there was no medicine for people who flaked out and couldn't stay focused. I mean, I literally had to tie myself to a chair to study for classes in the wee hours of the night, but I could sit and do art stuff for 27 hours in the sitting and nobody did that. It's a proper school. Everyone had schedules and they went to the library for three hours. I didn't do that. Well, there's this thing called art history and it’s amazing. And I started taking, for some reason, I took color theory, and I also took architectural drawing. I loved architectural drawing. See, I was in the very first class that ever allowed girls to take shop.
AS: Yes: By the time I got through the boys did home-ec with us and we did industrial drawing and shop with them.
TL: I fought tooth and nail. I was damned if I was going to take more home-ec with Ms. Lucille Wiser. Yeah, such a hung-up person. So, I sailed through this architecture class. Oh my God, axonometric drawing? It’s just all so freaking cool. And, and you know, so I took architectural drawing. Ooh, architecture. That sounds noble. And then I took printmaking and again, that's my junior year. I was like, oh my God. So that's how I ended up doing art history as a major and studio art as a major. And I minored in music history because everything goes together. Because art history is history with pictures, with souls, with emotions. That was all by accident. And then I thought someday I would get, because I didn't think I had any self-discipline at all, because I didn't know how to…
AS: Which we know you do.
TL: Well. I certainly wasn't wired properly to behave like others, but I thought I'll go get an art history degree because that's the prudent one to get first. And then someday when I have self-discipline, I'll get an MFA in printmaking. Someday. So that I can teach both. That was my goal was to be able to teach both. While I was an undergrad, I did do an internship at the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts, which was absolutely lovely and wonderful. I was in the public programs department. I was the public programs and scheduling assistant. And so ultimately, I ended up working at that museum programming the concert series so that the concerts would be a way of magnifying whatever current exhibition was up there, but also giving an opportunity to local students that were getting ready for the master’s recitals or what have you to perform. With the arts, it was the sort of this whole sense around… It was kind of edgy in the eighties. That was kind of neat. I'd had this internship as a junior and then I eventually went to get my MA in art history, and I still hadn't had any print history at all.
AS: None of us did.
TL: And then 10 years later, after having my little family, and actually working as an art handler for four years driving a truck up and down the Eastern seaboard delivering art and hanging it in homes and private collections and so on. And, in and out of artists’ studios, thinking, I can do that. I'm that good. I can do that. Then one day I did a delivery to the Washington Printmakers Gallery in Washington, D.C. And I'm looking at the prints on the wall and I'm thinking, I can do this. I'm capable of that. And I asked a woman, so what does it take to become a member? She said “oh, it's terribly competitive.” And I thought, oh really? To become a member of the Washington Printmakers Gallery. So, you have to submit a portfolio and be adjudicated in. So, I submitted a portfolio my first six images I'd made since college. And I turned them in, and I got voted in and I went to the first meeting and this woman looked at me and said, aren't you the woman who came to deliver…? And I was like yes, because that was absolutely indicative of how I am so annoyed by people who presume that they know more or have more value than the person that delivers their art or handles their food or cleans their stuff because they have just as much education or certainly as much smarts as you do.
AS: And as much right to be wherever.
TL: Exactly. I was thinking about that the other day. How dare this woman says it's terribly competitive. Don't even test me, sister. Watch me. And I got in and I was a member of that gallery for 20 years and it was good because they gave me a reason to have a new print on the wall. Every month I'd have something new on the wall in a frame.
AS: Every month?
TL: Every month. And I was on the hanging committee. So that gives me something to hang every month. And you would have a solo show every four years or so. Eventually I thought, I'm good enough to go get my Master of Fine Arts. And so, I finished. I did it. Yeah, none of this was because I thought “someday I want to be an artist.” It was that someday I want to be able to teach art history and I want to be able to teach studio art because those are the kinds of people that I respected that changed my life and saved my life. To find something that amazing and wonderful and communicate that to folks, you know, realize that there's that much more. That's how I got at it. And you know, I was just that dopey kid from Iowa. I always thought everybody else had a better, bigger right to be someplace more than me. But I was still going to test them.
AS: All right, folks. So, you've heard a little bit about where we started and how we got here. And we're going to cut it off there. But I hope you've enjoyed the episode and look forward to more. So, stay tuned.
TL: And you'll see Ann and me learning more and more about each other, even though we've known each other for 16 years.
AS: Right. That's true. Yes. Thank you, Tru.
TL: Okay. Catch ya later.
AS: Thank you for joining us for Platemark series two, the History of Western Printmaking. The podcast is produced by me, Ann Shafer, and a special thanks to my co-host for this series, Tru Ludwig. Couldn't do it without you. And also, a thank you to Michael Diamond for the use of his original music as our theme song. Show notes are at platemarkpodcast.com and otherwise, we will see you next time.
Platemark series two History of Prints
Producer and host: Ann Shafer
Co-host: Tru Ludwig
Theme music: Michael Diamond
Show notes and website: platemarkpodcast.com
©2021 Ann Shafer
,Platemark series two: History of Prints
Click here to access the Episode 203 | Albrecht Dürer (part one of two)
[Transcript has been edited for clarity and flow]
Ann Shafer: Welcome to Platemark series two, the History of Western Printmaking. My name is Ann Shafer and I'm your host and I'm here with the fabulous…
Tru Ludwig: Tru Ludwig.
AS: Tru Ludwig. Now, if you've been following along, you know that Tru Ludwig and I taught the History of Prints on behalf of the Maryland Institute College of Art using the collection at the museum I worked at, the Baltimore Museum of Art. And so over, I don't know, 15 times, I think 15…
TL: 17, 18, if you really think about it, but 15 legit full boar…
AS: But it was a lot. So, nobody teaches it better than Tru. My plan is to talk through the history of Western printmaking, but honestly, when I started making the list, following along on the syllabus, I mean, it would be an endless, endless, endless list of episodes. So the plan is to have us talk to you about certain figures in the history of Western printmaking and probably moments in time and movements and things, and then provide you with either links or the images themselves on the webpage with the show notes, which is… What is it? Oh, platemarkpodcast.com. And before we get rolling, we're just going to do our usual, traditional positionality things. I identify as a cis-het, white woman and I use the pronouns she/her. We are recording this at the Purple Crayon Press in Baltimore, Maryland, the land of the Piscataway Conoy people.
TL: Indeed. And I'm Tru Ludwig. I identify as a gay, white male. I'm from Iowa, but I live on the East Coast. I think my positionality as a Midwesterner has a lot to do with my making and my doing and my thinking and my work.
AS: Well, it pops up every time we do the positionality statements.
TL: I can't help it. Well, that's my position and I’m sticking to it.
AS: Tru is from Iowa, hear ye hear ye. Okay. So in order to keep this to a manageable, bite-sized sort of thingy-o-bob, where you are going skip stones across the history of Western prints. So when, if you've been following along, you should have listened already to some establishing episodes that talked about sort of the social milieu at the time. And the start of printing and also materials and techniques, right? And some other stuff that you should also listen to.
TL: Well, you could, if you chose to, but then again, you may just want to cut to the greatest hits, the best parts. When you get your first big star, like Albrecht Dürer, then yeah. Maybe you just want to go to the best parts.
AS: Okay. So one could inch back a bit earlier than where we're starting, but we're going to start with our boy, Albrecht Dürer. He's the man. He kinda changed everything.
TL: Kinda did. And it's interesting. I said Ann had to spell out for me, what is it that we're supposed to be covering in this? Because if we were going to talk about it as a history of prints class, we really would have to set it up. You know, we talked basically about how paper had become a commodity, a newish commodity in the Western part of Europe about 1400. And then we had mentioned our good old friend
Johannes Gutenberg. He didn't invent moveable type, but he certainly was the one that made it, put it on a map by printing the Bible about 1455 or so, for the very first time. It was only a mere three massive volumes, huge thick volumes, maybe 24 inches by 15 inches wide. And you know, having the idea and the use of a printing press to get scripture out there was a big deal. But also it made a need for images that could go with the text as well. And there were stand-alone prints. We talked about how certain people could, people with a few pennies to rub together, could go to pilgrimage sites and pick up a print of their favorite patron saint. Let's say it was St. Christopher, the guy that would be your patron saint of travelers, or Saint Sebastian, who would protect you from the plague. You would have this sort of as a pocket talisman. The early images in the history of prints tend to be fairly simple, maybe one person on them. But by the middle of the 15th century, there's a bit of an expansion of what images can be.
And artists… Actually at that time they weren't even really artists yet, because if you think about the history of prints, we don't start thinking of artists making prints until we get to people like Martin Schongauer, and Albrecht Dürer, and you start realizing these by the end of the 15th century, it's where the artists that were painters and had other aspects of a trade, an artistic trade, could look to prints and use them as an ancillary part of what they did or try their hand at them. But it was really Albrecht Dürer who just flat out… Yes, he was a brilliant painter, but he realized he could make a whole lot more money with his prints. He was smart enough, savvy enough, to figure out a way to reach a broader market than anybody had ever managed to before. I mean, he was a shrewd businessman and really quite visionary in putting together the zeitgeist and his skills and what he had in his command and the forces that he could muster. The fact that he, well, it doesn't hurt that you'd come from a ton of talent.
AS: Well, also he's got publishing houses left and right around him. Nuremberg was a center for that, but also members of his family were…
TL: All right, so let's just dial back to little Albrecht being one of 17 children—shout out to Mom. Maybe not all of them made it to maturity, but he certainly was the biggest hit. Others in the family had also learned the goldsmithing trade from their father. And that was common to be an apprentice to your father or a family member, an uncle or so. In class I love to show them a picture of various items that a goldsmith would make. And Albrecht having done this at silverpoint of himself at age of like 12 or 13. And it's just ridiculous. A self-taught person whose incisive vision… You know picking up a piece of silver and making marks on a piece of prepared paper, a little self-portrait. It's so winning. It's just full of his own vision of self. You can see him running his eyes over every aspect of his own physique, of his nose and the slant of his eyes and the pudginess of his young flesh in his face. And this finger pointing out at the world as though he's going to take it all on. And this is just essentially a pre-teen figuring out, “Hey, this is cool. I can do that.” And by the time he's 15, his Dad says off you go, I've taught you everything I know. And so he's done apprenticing to his father and then we get to Ann's point.
AS: My question is how good were the mirrors at this point to give you an accurate image to draw from?
TL: You know, that's an excellent question because if we were to look at some of the great, what we would, air quotes, fine art painters, such as Jan van Eyck. Essentially the Northern Renaissance artists have a mode of looking. I like to have my students learn the term omnivoyant. Meaning, they see everything, they see the surfaces of everything, they see from the tiniest dew drop on a leaf and every vein in the leaf, all the way to the macrocosmic, you know, the billows of a cloud. And they're able to put that onto a painting, painting it onto a wooden panel where every single jot and tittle before your eyes is visible. If you're Jan van Eyck and it's a self-portrait, which—I don't know if you've seen that, Ann. Have you seen the self-portrait of Jan van Eyck? It's in the British Museum, no, it's at the National Gallery in London and it is a whopping, oh, maybe six by eight inches.
AS: Remember when we were there, it was really crowded, and we could hardly see the Arnolfini Wedding Portrait?
TL: Oh for crying out loud. It's the self-portrait of Jan van Eyck in a red turban. It's eerie because you see the stubble on a man's face. You see the feathery kind of wrinkles around his eyes. You see his gaze straight at you. And it… The mirrors have to have been pretty good because he could record that, you know, and if you were to say, gosh, how could they see such things? Well, you know, you actually do see little moments of people holding magnifying glasses and whatnot when they're trying to read. If you look at any kind of medieval manuscript, all the marginalia, all those beautiful little drawings of whatnot, it’s this idea of looking at things with incredible precision and making the tiniest marks. That was something that the Northern artists had always been really exquisite at doing. And so, in a way, I think that Albrecht Dürer was an inheritor of that. That sense of being able to capture and replicate with your drawing, hand, everything in your sight, but nothing was unworthy of being scrutinized and then put to paper. That's why, when we look at this youngster, this self-portrait, it gives you a huge salvo of what this young man will do when he gets out into the world and can do something other than just drawing himself. He's an inheritor of a very rich tradition in the North in terms of wonderfully rendered drapery and beautiful hair.
There's an oil painting tradition in Northern Renaissance art, which is just absolutely exquisite and actually outstrips anything Italy was doing at the time. And yet, we don't always know the structure of the body underneath the drapery. We don't always know just exactly how the body will move in space, but it was Albrecht Dürer who managed to take all of the mastery of vision of the North and the way it was applied to the surfaces of things and traveled to Italy and realized, oh, this is how my Italian counterparts are doing it. They're used to a different culture of understanding the body nude. Being able to depict a nude body because they see the sculptures of antiquity around them or this completely different mode of rendering things in physical reality, understanding the proportions of the human body in perspective.
AS: My theory has always been that it was too cold to pose nude in the North.
TL: I always tell my students that—they're always swaddled in drapery. It's a great way to get around. Like I say, like when you were in grade school and you need to draw a picture of yourself, you didn't want to draw hands because you knew you'd suck. You just put them in your pockets, right. Or you have your hands behind your back. Our Northern Renaissance artists really convince us that they look fabulous under all that drapery. But it was also because in the North, the textile trade was so huge. I mean, there were all of the beautiful woolens because of the wool that could be imported from England.
And yeah, it's pretty damn cold up there. It was Dürer’s ability to think… He was the first artist to become an international celebrity. Nobody in his time, nobody in Italy would have known an artist in the North at all, really, until he crossed the Alps. That’s the first thing I always tell my students, the big volley was when some Medici bankers that had been up in Bruges purchased the Portinari altarpiece and brought in south. This big, gorgeous altarpiece was painted with beautiful colors and wonderful figures in a landscape that was gorgeous. They put it into their chapel, the Portinari family chapel, and the Italians would have gone, oh God, that oil paint is so gorgeous. The scrumptious those colors are. What are these tempera paints that we've been using for kind of, you know, dim and real pretty, but they're not sensuous and succulent. And frescoes looked great. But look at that oil paint, it's sexy, but what's wrong with these Northerners man, those bodies all look pudgy. And here's another joke: if it's Northern art, Northern Renaissance art, do you know how you can tell? Everybody in it looks like Putin. They do actually, they do. Even the Christ child does. And that's real drag if you don't like Putin.
AS: But I love the differences in… That people forget that the differences in styles between the North and the South are more driven by materials and culture and what's at hand rather than some, you know, decision about aesthetics.
TL: Oh, absolutely. It really is. And it was Albert Dürer who permeated the Alps. But I want you to think about somebody that… Dürer was born in 1471. He's with his dad and his dad says, off you go, you've done a beautiful job, but now you've got to go learn something. And he shoves him off to Michael Wolgemut, who happens to be a printmaker who's working conveniently in Albrecht Dürer’s godfather's printing press. Anton Koberger had one of the biggest, most successful presses in Nuremberg. Well, Nuremberg. That's not that far from Wittenberg and Mainz where Gutenberg was printing.
Dürer was at a perfect moment to be able to absorb these things. And, you know he was a total sponge. Sort of like an artistic cocklebur. He could stick to a thing until he got it. He really understood it. It's interesting to see his Northern traditions in his drawings and his woodcuts and he's doing a serviceable job. He has apprenticed and then they cut him loose when he's 19. And he does his wanderjahre. He's a journeyman, he's no longer an apprentice. He's a journeyman. And that's the second part. If you're going to work your way up in a guild, you start as an apprentice, you go to a journeyman, and then you become a master. And how do you become a master? You do your masterpiece. The way you gain entrance into the local guild is that you have to present your best work to date, and you present it to the members of the guild.
If they decide that it's good enough, they vote you in. And that work you showed them is your masterpiece. And so if we think how that's a certain form of validation. That's pretty huge. Well, so Dürer’s done his apprenticeship. He's going to go be a journeyman now. And he's 19, and he has to go start selling books for his godfather. And then he decides I want to go visit one of these other printmakers I just heard about. He's so cool. His name's Martin Schongauer. And he's done these prints. I've seen this print, it's a Temptation of Saint Anthony and it's amazing. Nobody's ever seen anything like that. You imagine the best creatures out of Dr. Seuss yanking and pulling on this wizened old man, as he's being raised up in the air by all these hideous little creatures that are snapping and snarling. They have hunker-hootie noses, and one of them knees and has his little unclad bum hanging out and plenty of drapery and their yanking on his beard. It's just this amazing image of St. Anthony being tormented. St. Anthony's face is as calm as it could be. And I think what happened was the Dürer saw that image and thought “it's a print.” Because Schongauer was actually a painter, but he had started doing prints. And so Albrecht wants to go visit the man that made this cool print and then some other gorgeous prints, which we won't even allude to. And he gets to Strasbourg to meet him, and what's the problem, Ann?
AS: Schongauer’s dead.
TL: Dammit. So he's made this trip from Nuremberg and he's wandered all the way over there to Strasbourg. He ended up working in Basel for a while, trying to sell some books for Uncle Anton. And eventually he decides, you know, I think that the art up here just looks kind of stodgy. And I think I should go find out more about what's going on in Italy. And so he goes over the Alps. Imagine walking over the Alps. You're a whopping what? 23 years old. And you're like, I've heard there's a bunch of Germans down in Venice because… There's a whole bunch of mercenaries down there, and you could hire them. It's really fascinating. In fact, if you look at some of those Bellini paintings, like The Tempest, that's a German mercenary soldier that's standing there looking at the—well, we would call a Roma now—but the gypsy woman nursing her child. So he goes down there to see what's going on down there. And he wants to learn about this guy named Bellini and some other painters. Just think about walking. You take your junior year of travel, and you walk across the Alps, and you walk over to Venice and start looking at what the artists are doing and start looking at the difference in the countryside. And you start looking at how nature looks different. And you know, I just can see the eyeballs on this young man just jiggling with delight and his records of these journeys are really something.
Ann was reminding me earlier that Dürer is one of the best documented artists we have with all of the copious notes that he took and the travel records that he kept and the sketches that he does. And then in the artwork that he subsequently produces you can say, he totally saw that in Venice. But he does a great cover of it in his own work, adding the Italian sense of structure and knowledge to the Northern sense of wanting to put all of the most beautiful cladding all over something. He really marries the North and the South in a way that never been done before. And it makes him just magnetic in terms of what's possible?
AS: Yeah. He's okay. So we've gotten to Italy when he's 20 or something. 19.
TL: We’ve got to give props to his godfather in the publishing business. That means that he's understanding what is a publishing business, what sells. You don't just print a whole bunch of something and just let it sit around because you had to make the paper, you had to cast the type, you had to set the type, you had to print every bloody page. You had to sew that stuff together. You had to make all of that happen. So you're not just going to make stuff because “I'm an artist and I think it's important.” You gotta know your, as Ann would say, read your room. And so, that's something that Dürer figures out and if you start…
AS: And that's a first, really.
AS: That needs to be emphasized.
TL: That we're aware of. It's the first of its kind. And what's really fun to do when I'm showing things in class is I'll show an early work of Dürer, and then he saw this by Schongauer and how it influences what he makes next. And to just really see where he's been. Another thing that had totally dazzled him was just this Italian sense of the body underneath. But he had seen prints by Mantegna, I believe. He knew he wanted to meet Mantegna who was a great Italian artist, painter, a fresco artist extraordinaire, who had made very few prints, but extraordinary engravings. Well, he wanted to meet Mantegna. He wanted to understand how Pollaiuolo had made this Battle of the Ten Nude Men, where you have 10 male figures in maximal pumped-up motion as they're fighting each other, nude, in front of a backdrop of corn or sorghum. It's a lesson in how many different kinds of weapons can guys brandish at each other. And how many positions can the human body be seen in any one space. It’s brilliantly composed. That was something else that Dürer absolutely adored about Italian art was that the structure of the paintings, the compositions made so much more sense than the way images were laid out in the North. That Italian sense of the stability of arranging things in a pyramidal structure. Perspective, how to render objects convincingly that look as though they are in three-dimensional space, even though you're looking at a two-dimensional surface. Dürer is the one who really put those lessons together. In fact, late in his life he would publish several treatises, one on human proportion and another one on perspective, another one on battles and fortifications, that's not fair. And then you start thinking, huh? This guy knows a whole lot about a whole lot of things. That would be why we might call him a Leonardo of the North. Because he, in some respects, really aspired to be as Leonardo and have all of those various kinds of knowledge. It's rumored that they met in 1505 when Dürer went over the Alps the second time. Putting together all the best, best, best ideas that you can find in a far-away place—going to Mars and finding all the best stuff and bringing it home and making it work—would influence his ability to create and render and teach and make.
AS: I don't think I really, I mean, I know those illustrations that must have come out of those treatises, but I don't think I realized that he was writing the text.
TL: Yeah. Some of them were published posthumously, but the other thing that's very interesting is when you look at… There's one drawing that he does of the figure scene from above. And they're topographical maps and he is seeing as we would a computer, they look like computer generated drawings because he can understand the top of the head. That's the circumference of the head. Then we go down, we get to this width of the shoulders and how the shoulders are positioned over the midrift. And then the feet underneath. He can see, like Leonard, in three dimensions and be able to understand that and really understanding the concept of human proportion, which is another thing that made Italian painters so dazzling to him because the bodies made sense in space. They could stand on their own two feet. He learned things like the marvelous concept of a contrapposto pose. This S curve. When you stand in line at the grocery store do you stand on both feet stock still, or do you put more weight onto one foot and relax. One of your legs is tense and the other is relaxed. And the other part of your body responds to that. And one arm will be tense and one will be relaxed. There’s a beautiful S curve and understanding how the body can hold itself in space is something that Dürer really figured out. Ann and I are looking right now--I wish you could see them—at two self-portraits. One that he had done early in his career. And then one that was very evidently done after his Italian trip. What do you see in that first portrait? The one on the left?
AS: Well, it's certainly well done, but the proportions are kind of weird. The shoulders are bizarre. The faces, the necks are too long. I don't know. It's weird.
TL: What's wonderful about it. Look at how the hands were folded. The hands are brilliant, where they're folded in those gloves. Here's something that the Northern artists did before the Italians was that three-quarter view and the view through the window, having that landscape that we see through a window. But the three-quarter view was not something Italian painters were doing until much later in the century. Italian portraits were almost invariably dead-on or in extreme profile as though they were medallions, like on a coin or on a triumphal arch. The Italian painters went, “ooh, these Northern artists are doing three-quarter poses and I get more of a sense of you.” And then if you look at the portrait that Dürer does, his self-portrait from 1501. It's at the Alte Pinakothek.
AS: The one that's at the Alte Pinakothek is full frontal. And he, honest to God, looks like pictures that you see of an imagined Jesus Christ. And he's got his hand on the fur lapel of his coat. But in my brain, it's always the blessing hand. Hilarious.
TL: It's well, it's hilarious, but it's also such a wonderful literal conceit, right? What's one thing you can see in both portraits is that “man, I have some gorgeous hair,” right? His beautiful ringlets with gold filaments.
AS: He looks like Chris Cornell from Soundgarden.
TL: Okay. I'll take it. But it's interesting to see that in the second portrait, he wants to recreate himself as an artist and have the kind of respect that Italian painters had. And that was not a tradition in the North. People didn't regard painters as great stars in the North at all. They were more of a craftsman set.
AS: Were there self-portraits in the Italian schools by then?
TL: Yeah, yes, but it's not like that Jan van Eyck portrait from 1434. That's one of the very first and it's minuscule. And it says, even though it looks bizarrely photographic, it says Als Ich kann. I've painted to the best of my abilities. Well, it’ll make you weep. It's so unbelievably convincing and true to site. And one of the things that Dürer picked up from that was the painter’s looking right at you and he's taking everything in, and you get the glint of the window frame in the eye. And by golly, it's also in the eye of Dürer in this Alte Pinakothek one. You are forced, it totally demands that you walk up to it, and you go, ooooh. The down of the fur, his beard is a softer kind of a whisker. And then you notice that there is this window. Literally it forms the highlight of his eye. And you understand that fur, this marvelous kind of mink is there. And look at what he did to the back where he left all the background out, he painted it away. You don't even need that. All you need to do is look at me. I am the creator. And that was that Northern sense of the artist as creator. I see everything in God's sight, and I will help you understand what all God has made. And there's a spirituality to that when you think about the time and care and intensity and meditation lavished on an image such as this. Yeah, sure. We can chuckle about it, hey, it’s Dürer’s selfie. Or you could go, oh my God, look at what he's figured out here. Look at how hard he's looking down inside himself. It's a manifesto. This is who I am now. And that's in the space of three years.
AS: When you will see these, guys, it's that three-year bit. I had forgotten that. That is amazing. Well, and also the idea of artistic genius. Prior, they had all been part of guilds and it was a job job, not like you're sitting in your studio doing whatever.
TL: You don't just dream it up. Like I'm going to go to my garret till I shall make this. You’re part of a guild. In the guild, you have contracts. This is what your client wants. They want an altarpiece. They want these two patron saints, because those are the guys who represent my family. I want this many cherubs. I want it this size. It's going to go in my chapel, and I needed by X date. And this is how much I'm going to give you. And if you want a lot of blue, it's going to cost you more. It was a business business. But this is a young man. Think about going to Italy. You've walked across the Alps, and you want to go meet great artists and you see what they're doing. And you look at how the community respects the maker in Italy. And you look at how much better they're treated. Dürer says, “I'm going to bring that to the North.” And he does.
AS: The Italian painters were rockstars?
TL: Oh, certainly by the end of the century. Sure. So, who were the ninja turtles?
AS: Oh, right. Rafael, Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo.
TL: Donatello we think of more as a sculptor. But…
AS: A kickass one.
TL: He could do it in wood, he could do it in bronze, and he could do it in marble. You know, he can cross train and it's not fair. It's interesting also because he was so early. But even if you look at Donatello's work, you start realizing that he's an inheritor of the understanding of the human body unclad. He lives to be 80.
AS: Is that right?
TL: Yeah. That's another weird little thing I do is I like trying to figure out how long people are around and how long they had to create. And when was the greatest idea? There's a great book out there called Old Masters and Young Geniuses. In some respects, Dürer was a young genius. Then you think about somebody like Titian, who was still painting in his seventies. And you look at how his work changed over time. He should have been a ninja turtle too, by the way. He got whooped. Right. But I think they didn't want kids to be saying Tit-ian. So, you know, you go with Raphael and Leonardo and Michelangelo. You look at a painter like Michelangelo and who lives to be 89 years old. That's two lifespans. And Dürer, my buddy Dürer only makes it to 57. And I start thinking, having passed that age myself now, where are you as a maker? And in a way you're responsible for what you make at this point. You know, the reason these people are so astonishing is because they found the doors, they invented the doors to open and go through. They invented an entire new way of thinking, seeing, doing, and that's something that this young man figures… Cocksure. But then he does it and he transforms so many things. He gets back home. He's now back in Nuremberg. It’s 1498. He's trying to sell his paintings and they're okay. You know, if you looked at his paintings, they’ve got the brilliant, wonderful oil paint of the North, and he's regarded as a master. He's like, this is stupid. I don't make nearly as much for my paintings as I do for my prints, because you can make more.
And so here comes the part that just totally stokes me. Here's why Dürer is such a bad ass. He's been working for Anton Koberger, his godfather is in charge of a printing business. What do they print usually? Oh, Bibles and other things. There are histories and plays and sonnets and stuff that are going on out there, but largely it's going to be religious texts. Dürer decides to publish something. The Apocalypse based on the book of Revelations, the last book of the New Testament. It's going to have an image on the page. Might be a quarter of the page, maybe. Because it's about the scripture and it's going to be one small image on the page and then maybe, you know, a column and a half of text. And Dürer, let's see, it's 1498. All right. So he's 27. And he thinks “I’m gonna make an Apocalypse, I'm going to do a book about the end of time.” The Apocalypse being the great revelation, the unveiling of… And in some respects, it is a day of woe. But it’s also a time when you come to see more clearly. And he thinks, “So I make this Revelations and it's going to be big. I'm gonna make a woodcut Revelations.” And the pages are all, I don't know, like 11 by 15 inches. That's a good size page. That's a big piece of paper, frankly. And he makes this kickass title page. Oh, by the way, the Baltimore Museum has all the pages of The Apocalypse. It has a nice title page. And then 15 other images that are the entire page. The entire page is filled with an image of St. John looking at God and heaven and the seven candlesticks, the seven tribes of Israel, or St. John consuming the text that's being handed to him by God, the father, or the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. And they fill the entire page. Dürer sold them two different ways. You can buy them with text or without the text, but the text was on the back. You could buy them as fine prints unto themselves, or you could get the texts, but it was on the back because his image owned the page. So in that sense, he created the first artist book. You can buy it single sheet, you can buy the whole suite, you could buy them with the text on the back. But that is brilliant. Not only that, he published them, not just in Latin, which was the language of the Church, but what else?
AS: In German.
TL: Auf Deutsch! Why?
AS: The language of the people.
TL: So you mean so the people could actually have access to the end of time and understand what this great moment would be when all is judged. That makes sense. And here it is 1498 and it's the end of time. Hmm. Wonder why he's so smart that way. Well, gosh, that's two years before 1500. Now, if you were a person living in the north of Europe at the time, and it's the late Middle Ages and maybe starting the Renaissance when you're in there, you're still living in a world that's really based on scripture and that's a super hard demarcation. And that was going to be the year of the second coming and all would perish. It would be the end of time. It was time for the second coming. We had talked about the Nuremberg Chronicle in an earlier talk, that was published by Hartmann Schedel at (Dürer’s) godfather’s press. It was published in 1493, and the last seven pages of the book were left blank so that you can buy your book and you could write about your family and then you'd all be gone. So not only is it smart, it's also timely. It's the end of time. So that worked out and he designed all the images and he carved them and they're fricking brilliant.
AS: There's some debate about whether or not he carved them. But before we get to that, I want to ask you if you were to own one of these 16…
TL: Hell, that’s not fair.
AS: What do you mean? I mean, the obvious one of course is the Four Horsemen.
TL: Well, everyone would own that one.
AS: That's the one I’d own.
TL: Well, I mean, sure. The Four Horsemen. Okay, Ann. Why would you want to own The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse?
AS: Well, I think because it's… The seven candlesticks and the language of the book coming out of the mouth are good, but the Four Horsemen is very clear in that that sort of symbolism of the four horses has come down through popular culture. So it's more understandable for people who aren't mired in the scripture. And there's all sorts of fun, cool gewgaws and animals, and all kinds of weird stuff. There's ghouls and demons and the maw hell eating the Bishop.
TL: It's just delightful.
AS: It's amazing.
TL: It’s amazing when you think about it because it's a motion picture, too. These four horsemen, these four entities galloping from left to right, which instantly helps us carry our eye in motion, and you've got these four terrifying forms that are being carried across the picture plane by these beasts. These horses have beautiful legs. They're knobby. They have hair, you can almost sense the steam coming out of its nose. To the right, the first one on the right has got a bow, a bow and arrow. The second guy is wielding a sword. The third guy has got dangling behind him is a set of scales. And then in the lower left-hand corner is this scrawny little horse carrying the figure of death on it. So the guy with the bow and arrow is pestilence. That's the symbol of the plague because you got the plague by being shot with arrows. War would be the one with the sword. Who is the guy with the scales? What would he be? Well, if you got pestilence and you got famine. That's famine. Weighing of grain plus it's also weighing of souls at the same time. These terrifying figures are… They're just absolutely fierce in their mission. And in the top left corner, you see the voice of God coming down with these almost lightning bolts. God’s saying, “take care of this business and get it over with.” And these four horsemen are trampling over the people in front of them. And yes, it is the Pope being eaten by the maw of hell in the lower left-hand corner. Convenient little political thing there. And the Archangel Michael above is going “Go guys, go!” with these marvelous almost what I would call pie crust clouds. It's beautifully stylized. And yet it is such a phenomenal leap from any kind of image making that had come before because in cutting the wood, he's created something that looks like gray, as opposed to here's a place that's black and here's a place that's white. It's that he's managed to give a three-dimensional vitality to each and every object, animal, figure, motion in this. The tails are whipping in the breeze and the hooves are clearly going to land right on these poor twisted-up people that are already suffering. In the background, he uses horizontal lines that do nothing but carry our eye from left to right. It's packed full of activity. There's no eye-resting space. But of course, when it's the apocalypse, it's the end of time. I don't think you've got, “I need a resting place for my eye.” It's just not part of the way you need to sell an image.
AS: Well, true. But the size of it, the scale, and the amount of dynamic carving that's going on in there. You're absolutely right. It's heads and shoulders above anything that had come before it. And it's, I think it must have shocked people.
TL: Oh my God. I mean, that was going to IMAX when all you used to get to see with something, flickering on something the size of your phone, but without the graphics of your phone. Oftentimes in class I'll show the students a similar scene, a Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which was carved about 1450. And it's like, okay, this is what you're drawing of a person or the sun looked like in first grade, and this is after you went to art school. That's not to denigrate the guys that were carving in mid-century, these fellows had figured some stuff out. And I'm saying fellows, because I'm presuming they were guys. These folks have figured this out. But notice here that they are also carving the image and the text in the same block. And Dürer’s like, “no, I don’t want a text in there except for two little letters you should be really aware of.” What's he do right there center bottom big as life?
AS: He puts his monogram, A. D.
TL: It's so smart because the capital A D, the A is bigger than the D, Dürer the family name. It's Albrecht. It's impossible to miss, but it still works compositionally. It's almost like the fulcrum. Almost like the energy is all stemming from him. If you really look at the thing, looking almost like a metronome or a fan with everything rotating around it. It's all about me, but it is dammit, you know, and he figures this out and of course it's a dandy image for that. Now the other thing I do like to point out is that with woodcut, he had managed by looking at these copper engravings that Schongauer was doing, he managed to take that same fiercesomeness in all of the incredible fur and scales and fins and feathers and managed to recreate that in wood. And it's completely different things. I want you to try and imagine carving a really delicate image into a carrot with a kitchen knife. And that's essentially what Dürer was doing. It's miraculous.
AS: Oh, it was a single-edged knife, wasn’t it?
AS: No V-gouges.
TL: Nope. You have to cut around every one of those lines and so that's where you start wondering about how the hell did he manage to make those little tiny areas? So, yeah, of course it's the one that's got all the best juice. But (choosing one) that's impossible. So, the St. Michael, that's a great one, but I, because I'm such a biblio-whore, I'm a total book slut. We’re sitting in my new house. And I can't tell you how many volumes of books there are here. And they're all very important. But it's the one where we're St. John is being handed the text by… He's literally devouring the book. And you know, that to me really says, that's an understanding, it's a statement of faith. It's not as iconologically easy to read, but like the one we're seeing with St. Michael, he is vanquishing all of these hideous creatures. There's this gorgeous little Tyrolean landscape underneath it. That just says this is happening right around you, right over your head, be aware of that. But every one of those is… Yeah, it's hard to say. If you go online and you look for all 15 and you'd have to pick out your own favorite and you could, because he would have sold you a single sheet or he would have sold you all of them.
AS: I want one.
TL: I do too. I think they're probably out of a price range, but I still go for the dancing skeletons from the Nuremberg Chronicle.
AS: I haven't looked at the prices lately. I was interviewing another artist recently and we were discussing Dürer’s Rhinoceros and the prices on that. He believed that they were above $500,000, and I was like, that can't be, that just can't be. And I looked one up, of course. And it was from a 2013 sale at Christie's. It was $866,000 or something. But the estimate was $100K to $150K, and as Ben rightly pointed out, two people wanted that.
TL: That was one of the smarter things I've ever had Ben say. Ben has a marvelous little pithy way about him. Yes, somebody wanted that. But that (the Rhinoceros) comes later, that's 1515. We may end up having to do two days on Dürer.
AS: We may well.
TL: Because to understand, oh my God... Just think in your own mind’s eye, think about some voyage that you personally have taken that absolutely transformed you, that totally rocked your world. That changed the way you thought and saw and functioned. You personally, I'm talking to you, the listener. Ann is going to go, what, what do we mean?
AS: No, I'm trying to think of one.
TL: Seriously. And, that's the thing. You might think, gosh, I was what, 13 or 14? I could say it was something in the past year that totally transformed the way I thought. But the enormity of what goes on in our lives at any given time makes us receptive to something. Or how hungry are you for new information? How badly do you want it? And this is a young man who was not dumb. He knew he was already consorting with brilliant people of his own time. He was aware of the brilliant artists of the day. And he went out, he literally walked over mountains to meet them. Even if he wanted to go meet Mantegna, because that's why he went to Italy. And well, he was dead. I'll figure it out another way. So we're all the way up to 1498 and Dürer doesn't die until 1528. So he does a few other things after that. But the other thing I'll bring up just about The Apocalypse is that the first edition was published in 1498, both in German and Latin. And yet there was a second printing in 1511, only in Latin. I bet it was more expensive because it was well-known, and only the folks that can read Latin would want it or could afford it by then, because by then he's very, very famous. And he's wealthy enough to have a really fine four-story home in downtown Nuremberg with his very own indoor bathroom, unlike anybody else in the city.
AS: Was his press in the house?
TL: Yeah. Oh yeah. It's there. You can go visit it and you should. I'm telling you. It's really lovely, Nuremberg. Well, you know, they have really good beer there, too. They have a beautiful cathedral. It is that city that's right in the center of the Nuremberg Chronicle. So you can visit it, you know, as it was in 1493.
AS: Wasn't Nuremberg firebombed during World War II?
TL: The fact that so many of these things still exist. You would maintain Dürer’s house. Because he put all of this part of Europe on the map as a place to contend with. So here's this 27 year old fellow. The point also is of course the world didn't end in 1500 and now he's got this thing and what else is he going to do? Hmm. Another annoying thing about our buddy Dürer is that he could do not just the woodcutting (and I believe he cut those first blocks). I do. They're too hard. It's 1498. He's on the cutting edge. He's on the leading edge of what can “I make this knife and this piece of wood do?” And, so the formschneiders, the woodcutters, of the time had to learn to keep up with these folks like Dürer. It's entirely possible he didn't cut all the later ones. He would have been the reiser. He would have dreamt up the idea. And by the time he such a big hot shot, he maybe could have handed it off to a form carver, but let's talk about it when he's designing a copper engraving. Copper engraving, where you're plowing, you're literally taking that insanely sharp beveled edge of a burin and driving it into a copper plate. There is no way anybody else is going to carve that. What I'm showing Ann right here right now is an image from 1497. It's The Four Witches.
AS: Was it called The Four Witches or do we just assume now that it is The Four Witches?
TL: Admittedly, it's all part of the strangeness of its time. Let's see what Linda Hults, the one who knows it all… Four Witches, or Four Naked Women. There's your other title.
AS: Oh, Four Naked Women.
TL: What did I just say? Naked women? Naked? I don't think they're naked. I think they're nude. I don't think they look the slightest bit embarrassed.
AS: Is that the difference?
TL: Yes, you don't go to a nakedist colony, do you? You go to a nudist colony, right? He has this image of four women, essentially standing in a circle. It's also called the Four Witches for several reasons. Tell me what you're seeing? Go ahead.
AS: It's interesting. Because when we were showing this in class, I was always looking at it upside down. Today we're looking at a PowerPoint that Tru has on his computer. And for the first time, I'd never noticed that skull at the foot of the center woman. And I've also never noticed the oddness of this back on the figure on the left and what's going on over here?
TL: That’s a little bit of Hell. Okay. So there are four women. You're being very kind. But the oddness of that back, well, it's an opportunity for him to show nudity. And only one of them was facing towards us. They definitely seem like women that might've existed in the world around him, as opposed to Greek goddesses that were rendered by an Italian artist. I think this is a piece that he dreamt up to teach himself some things. I got to admit that the leg on the left on a woman with very strange back in the weirdly strange small buttocks that look very odd, that lower leg looks exactly like my late sister, Jeanette. She had these teeny little ankles and that's the formation of her leg. I mean, there are parts of that are absolutely convincingly human. The back on the one doesn't quite read, but I don't think he'd learned enough yet. The back on the woman in the center…
AS: The center is much better.
TL: Much better. Well, the right bun cheek as we're looking at her back. It's sort of drifting off a little. But is this a goldsmith’s son? Look at that hair. How beautiful is every curl? A goldsmith’s son would be able to do the kind of engraving you would expect to see on liturgical chalices. The beautiful decorations in her hair. And then the woman on the right. Actually, she's doing pretty well.
AS: The boobs are a little Michelangesque.
TL: A little Michelangesque. Yes. You mean like softballs glued onto… That was Michelangelo's gig. I told you that whole “Michelangelo, here?” story.
AS: I don't think so.
TL: Should I do a sidebar?
AS: We can do a sidebar.
TL: Alright, because remember big Mike is working at the same time, too, right? Because all three of the ninja turtles were alive at the exact same time that Dürer is working. In fact, our notes are telling us that Dürer and Raphael had a correspondence. But Michelangelo really did look to the Greek models for figures. But there's a scene actually on a very funny 1964 film, The Agony and the Ecstasy and book by Irving Stone. There's a scene where the soldiers of Julius II are trying to find Michelangelo because he's so pissed because he doesn't want to paint the ceiling and he he's run away from the Pope. So the soldiers are hunting all over Italy to try and find him and they go into a house of ill repute and they storm into this room and there's a prostitute who looks up and there's a man who pulls the blankets up under his chin and they say, “Have you seen Michelangelo?” And she says “Michelangelo, here?” Because they knew he was homosexual. Well, it's not like he spent a lot of time looking at women at all. And that's why those always look…
AS: They always look weird because he didn't have any experience with boobs.
TL: Well, why bother? He's not interested. Okay. But look at the beautiful turn on the neck of that one. Now the thought for this is that three of these witches are initiating the youngest one into their coven. There's a peculiar orb that's hanging above their head with O G H on it and then the year 1497, which could translate as, Oh God forbid. Why is he doing this image of witches? Hmm, this is cool. Well, women, you know, are problematic. And there had been a book called the Malleus Maleficarum that had been published in 1487 (translation: The Witch’s Hammer). It was an entire book about how to ferret out witches and punish them. It was essentially the Renaissance version in the Salem witch trials. And it was so conveniently published the year before at Uncle Anton's press. Well, it's hot. People are buying The Witch's Hammer. It had been translated in many languages. So he's made a print that tackles an issue of the day. Are they beautiful or are they icky? And the answer is yes. Yes and no. But it's engraved in copper. And another thing to remember about any carving, whether it's engraved in copper or a woodcut, is that there's a huge difference between what it looks like when you're carving it and when it's printed. The whole image has been reversed and on the human figure, boy, it can be wildly unkind. If we were to walk that over and shine it in the mirror, they might read a little bit more. But it is also an opportunity to see how insanely much he has learned between this print in 1497 and when he puts out the Adam and Eve in 1504.
AS: True enough. But my question is… It's not very big, right? It's eight inches, maybe by something. But who is going to want this in their home? Witch hunters?
TL: That's an interesting point because he's also developing the taste of the collector because you know, what was a print going to be? The concept of collecting prints was changing. And if people were buying engravings, that was the idea of having a collection of images now. It's not like you're going, “Ooh, I'm going to go home and worship my Four Witches.” You're going to pull a “Hey, come, let's take a look at these and ponder these small things.” Now here's a perfect example of patent evil. And look what they're doing and women are evil. It's a perfect way of blaming it all on the wife. It's a way of putting together a collection of things that dazzle and interest you. And I see him ferreting out a part of a market and training it in a certain way. It's odd. But I think we can't skip over it because I think it's an important learning piece. And it's an opportunity to see him not just doing churchy stuff. You see him doing a lot of churchy stuff. Well, obviously he wouldn't have… You don't make something and say, “oh, it was a dud,” and throw it out. There was something going there. So that's a big deal. And yet if we compare it to his engraving of Nemesis, which is something that would always get my students and make them limp in the knees. And this was only three or four years later. You can tell that this woman is definitely Northern European, definitely fed. She has that Northern European belly, which should make us all feel really great, you know. You don't always have to suck it in. Be a woman and enjoy the fact that your body does these things. But Nemesis is this almost jowly figure, would you say?
AS: Her boobs need to be about four inches lower.
TL: Maybe they're just perky.
AS: Super perky.
TL: Well, the thing is that the figurative proportions are based on Vitruvius. He'd been looking at Vitruvius, who was the classical Roman architect who had published his books of architecture and human proportion in the first century before the common era. Vitruvius is the same dude that was writing that book that made Leonardo decide he had to do the drawing of the Vitruvian man. You know, the guy that's standing there looking like a star in the circle in a square. There's these certain kinds of geometric truths that exist in the human body that Vitruvius and others would believe was an extension of that and that the true proportions of our body had spiritual meaning.
AS: I've always read this as really right on. Because I focus on her belly, her thighs, and her butt. But the boobs are now... I can't look away.
TL: You can't unsee them.
AS: No, they're weird.
TL: Well, do you know why they seem small? It's because the wings are coming out of the scapula. I would venture to say that if you were to think about the curve in the back, they wouldn't seem quite so small, but if you look at how he's managed to make it seem… You guys, there's a woman standing nude on an orb, which could be the world. And this globe is divided from this astonishing engraving of a Tyrolean town, beautiful town seen from a bird's-eye view with little Alpine, Bavarian houses and a river and trees and all this lovely normal world beauty. And here is Nemesis (she's also called The Great Fortune) standing on this orb and above the cloud line is this negative space. It's all white. All we see is this magnificent profile figure of a woman with a bridle in one hand. Look how important that piece of drapery fluttering behind her is because it echoes the wings that she's sporting. And in her left hand, she's got a bridle, in the right hand she's got this beautiful chalice. Her hair is all done beautifully. And she's standing there with both of these objects. Of course, we're going to ask why. But it's interesting. Nemesis, this is where you start asking why is he making this? It is not Joe blow who goes to church on Sundays who’s collecting this. It's people who read Latin and Greek. Nemesis is the figure that, if I recall correctly, carries the knowledge from Greece to Rome. It’s all part of the Humanists of the day. And it really shows you actually, how insanely well-read Dürer was. He was gobbling up all of the smarty McMarty kinds of reading of the time. And Nemesis is there. And why is she holding a bridle and this goblet, this big, gorgeous goblet, which a Goldsmith has clearly made? One is a reward and the other is a punishment, and it has to do with choices that you make. And it's very cryptic and we don't know entirely what it means. That's the beauty of things like this too, is that we don't know all of those meanings, but that's why you sit here and you study this and why is she separated from the earth below? And why are we given this translation from one state to another? And, but I'm sorry. It always goes back to the wings.
AS: Oh, they're quite astonishingly beautiful. And the print is big. It’s a really big one.
TL: It is good size. That's a big piece of copper, which means a big piece of paper. It's, if I recall correctly, it's more like 10 by 15 and it's a good size. It’s bigger than the Meisterstücke, than the big three, which we probably won't get to today. But here is a guy that's finetuning two completely different skills at the same time. That's not fair.
AS: Wood and copper.
TL: Yeah. I mean, it’s as if you were fluent in Vietnamese, right? And also be fluent in Urdu. They have completely different temperaments and sources and demands. They have different tools and a different kind of weight and speed and placement of the touch of the artist. And you have to understand what each of these substances will permit you to do and how far you can push them. Wood may just laugh at you. It'll break anytime at once. And metal, copper's going to say, sure, go ahead and put some marks in me, but don't sneeze. Don't be nervous. Don't be jittery because every mark you put in that has to be there the right place at the right time. It's like being in tune and you can't fix it. And there's no place in there that you could fix. The only way you can do it is scrape it out of the plate and that would show. The beautiful thing also is, if you covered up my Bavarian Nemesis woman, it is sort of the body, a nemesis of any woman who doesn't want to look like that. It's like, if you want to know what you're going to look like when you get older, look at your mom. Well, she's very mom-ly. And it's fine. She's beautiful and she's being represented. Let's think about that. You know?
AS: Well, her age is… She's not some young sprite or something.
TL: Who would be smart enough to deliver knowledge from one civilization to another?
AS: I love that he's paying attention to those kinds of details.
TL: Absolutely. And the details again, like all the bits of nature, just the things that he could see around him. Like those clouds. They're absurd. I mean, they turned from fabric into vapor. So that's 1501. Another thing I show my students is like, how acute is Dürer’s awareness of the world around them? How much time are you going to give yourself to really study something? And I remember going on about giving things time. There was this glorious exhibition of Dürer’s work down at the National Gallery. That's been 10 years now. They had this amazing… Watercolor was not something artists were doing at the time and Ann should be kvelling par excellence. It's a watercolor and it's big. It's closing in on 18 by 24. And it's weeds or it's yarrow. These are botanically correct specimens of vegetation that spring out of a moist kind of Earth. And he's given you that, and he shows you the way one blade of grass crosses over another and he pays attention to the spaces between these objects.
AS: The ground reversal is amazing.
TL: That’s absurd. And to spend that kind of… Dandelions, it's a weed, but they're not, you know. They weren't weeds back then. These were parts of the Earth that God made and he made every one of those things. Each one of those leaves has a certain shape and they have a function for why they're there. And oftentimes I will compare this to the way that Leonardo uses the vegetation next to the Virgin of the Rocks. That kind of understanding of have having actual nature visible in this highly spiritual space brings it to us. And it’s not, “oh, it's up there in Xanadu or someplace in the clouds.” It's literally called The Great Piece of Turf. I'm sure he didn't call it The Great Piece of Turf, but that's what it is. He’s noticing these things and the little… How long do you suppose to took him to paint that? Hours. How long do you think?
AS: Oh, God. Well, it depends on how facile he is, but it would take me days.
TL: It would take days. Even he would have spent at least a day on that because you'd have to wait for things to dry, go back in and pull them out, you've got to reserve your whites. And that's a watercolor. That's not even fair because that's a totally different skill than oil painting. And yet that kind of study and that kind of devotion. I really believe that when you make an image like this, anything that you took a great deal of time to render, it's a meditation. You shut everything else off. You can only make that if you are fully present at looking at that piece of soil and noticing every aspect of it and making it visible to someone else. And that's why Dürer is showing himself to be God-like. He is creating, he's recreating so a viewer would be able to have an entrance into an image. That doesn't even make sense, you know. That's a Northern Renaissance concept of how to make the world visible to everyone. Yeah. It's fairly exquisite.
If you think about an image of Dürer’s that you've seen, it would be the bunny, the rabbit. It's a lovely, lovely drawing with some watercolor highlights of a rabbit. It's just sitting there being a rabbit. And with enormous ears. It was done on 1502, it shows you what he's studying. If you think of the praying hands—you've seen remade in so many things—just looking at a pair of hands. They could be anybody's hands, but these two hands happened to be pushed together and they happened to be viewed from a certain angle so that they're praying. They've been put on postage stamps and wedding presents and necklaces and placemats and coffee cups and neckties. But you'll realize, “oh, I have seen his work” because his vision and taking that in is so important and it is happening at a time… We know these things in ways that we don't know about Leonardo, who had that same inquisitive eye, but Leonardo’s stuff was never published (like Dürer’s was). How do you guys put it in your world? Is it public facing? Dürer was always public facing. Leonardo was always in his head. And that's why I think these things were made. Artists have to notice those subtle nuances of nature.
Maybe we'll just stop after this one, because this is a pretty high point right here. 1504. This was essentially his website. This is a print that you should know. It’s called The Fall of Man. It's also known, well, you will know it as Adam and Eve. He engraved it in 1504. And I would say that it is maybe seven by eight inches max. Pretend you've never seen this. Describe to our listeners what you see.
AS: You have two figures, Adam and Eve. Adam is on the left as we look at him and Eve's on the right and they're both nude (not naked). Funnily though, they have conveniently placed leaves in front of their private parts. Right between them is a pretty straight tree around a branch of which is the serpent with the apple. Adam in his right hand is holding a branch upon which hangs a plaque that announces the artist's name.
TL: It's pretty funny. It actually says Albertus Dürer of Nuremberg made this in 1504. It's a big old plaque that's hanging on the branch and on the branch also is a parrot, which seems to be parroting: “Hey, Albrecht Dürer made this.”
AS: Oh, right. And then there are also animals. This is the moment—correct me if I'm wrong—this is the moment before everything goes to hell in a handbasket. Right? So, the cat and the mouse at the feet of the two figures are happily coexisting.
TL: The kitty. I love this print. Not just because it's exquisite, but also because the cat in the front is… You can tell it's a big old ginger Tabby, but it's quiet, almost asleep. And you know, maybe a foot away from it is a little mouse just hanging out. Adam is standing in this very nice, glorious pose. What's behind Adam?
AS: Well, there's a forest, and then there's an elk, a hare, a rabbit, and an ox.
TL: All of these are behind our hero and heroine who are immediately in the foreground. Dividing this plate almost exactly in half is a tree as Ann mentioned, with its snake twizzled around it. And, the snake is literally handing this fruit to Eve who is like, “oh, that looks interesting.” And Adam appears to have one also in his hand, but they haven't eaten yet. Remember God had said “do not eat from that tree.” That's the tree of knowledge. And if you do bad, things will happen. I always love the fact that it looks sort of like a birch tree and it looks like a very Bavarian forest. And I didn't know that we were in Bavaria, but this is a thick, deep, marvelous, like almost a black forest, if you will. The forest is deep and dark, so much so that the figures are coming towards us. They're so sculptural. He's managed to give us the magnificence of the male figure based on Roman copies of mythology. He's obviously been looking at Roman art.
AS: Isn't that the Apollo Belvedere?
TL: Yes, of course. “I traveled to Italy and they have these aces sculptures, but I'm just going to use that pose and I'm going to make it this guy with nice close-cropped hair.” And he's standing there looking so righteous. He's got a six pack—he got the right number of packs, too, you know, later in the century people lose their way. And he's perfectly proportioned. Then he’s got the perfect contrapposto. He's stable but moving fluidly. On the right-hand side is Eve. She's looking at the snake, who's handing her this thing and she's also standing in contrapposto. And while the figure of Adam is based on classical sculpture, Eve is sort of a Venus, but she also looks a tad more Bavarian. She's got those great high, small breasts.
AS: She's like a German version of a Botticelli.
TL: Well said. Especially because of the wonderful hair. I am the son of a Goldsmith. I have to show you this. They haven't bitten of the fruit yet because once they bite from the tree of knowledge, that's when they realize, oh my God, we're naked. And that's when they covered themselves up. At this moment, they're nude. They're beautiful. They're pure. They're the most exquisitely proportioned humans that God had ever made. And he gave them dominion over this entire garden and these animals, which are all signifiers of the four humors of humankind. It’s a medieval alchemical concept about the four kinds of humors in the human body that are in perfect balance. The world is in perfect array before they bite from the tree of knowledge. But once they do, it all falls to hell. Women will suffer in childbirth and men will hate to work and we will have original sin and it will last forever. This is such a marvelous, arrogant little moment. In the top right corner, way back in the top right corner, there's this little craggy mountain top. And on that mountain top, there's this little ram, it’s a mountain goat. And literally the minute they bite from that fruit, that goat falls off that cliff. The animals will spring up and the cat will start to eat the mouse. And the whole world will fall to hell. And it's balanced and it's calm and it's not.
AS: It's got potential energy all over the place.
TL: Oh my goodness. All of these, you know, like the the snake is not just the snake's body curled all around the tree, but also the hair though, even the bending of these two branches, which conveniently place little figgy leafys over their nether regions. Then even the parrot is sitting quietly for the moment. But the four humors that are in there are also highly symbolic. So, let's see if I remember this: the phlegmatic elk, the melancholy ox, the sanguine rabbit, and then the choleric cat is yellow bile. People who are mad and angry and crabby, they're full of yellow bile. Like when an old cat will be crabby And rabbits. Well, we know if you've got too much of that red blood flowing through you, you get to do what rabbits do a whole, whole, whole lot. So you become sanguine. The melancholy elk. If you have too much black bile, you're saturnine and depressive. Then the ox. Phlegmatic ox. You're listless and tired and you don't do anything. So if you're out of balance… You know people that are cranky. You know people that are always depressive. Or you know people that are randy little dandies. All of those things are what make us up. And when they're all in balance, we're lovely and perfect. And it's a namaste moment. But it shows you the fall of man. The thing that's so thrilling about this print is they found these images as far away as India. In Dürer’s lifetime. This was his best-selling print. And he gave this one away a whole, whole, whole lot. It was literally his website. He took this with him everywhere. And that makes all the sense when you look at how it: oh, look, this is the guy that made it in this year. And you need to know who I am.
AS: His full name instead of just his initials.
TL: Oh, absolutely. And the parrot is going “this is him, this is him.” The parrot of falsehood. It literally is doing all of that. And it's brilliant, beautiful fine art. I mean, this is a painter's drawing. It is a painting that just doesn't have color applied to it. It's everything that goes under a painting, like an Italian painting, because these figures make perfect sense, physically. They stand in space in their own two feet. You can sense that there's air going in and out of their lungs. This is a vibrant and alive, but calm world for this moment. And all it takes is a bite of that apple. And, but remember there were two sets of teeth marks in that apple. Don't blame it all on the ladies, even though they could turn into witches, you know. That's the thing, you know, it's the Renaissance after all.
AS: Well, but it's all translations and interpretations of words that have placed the blame on Eve all these years.
TL: And it's wonderful when you can print it a hundred bazillion times and have it go across the world. That's how you perpetuate an image. But look at all the new that's happening here. He's managed to weave so many of the tricks he learned in Italy with that steadfast Northern sense of, I will show you every leaf, every apple, even the splits... And I love this. It's a Birch tree in the middle of Eden. I didn't even know Eden was there. It's just, it's craggy, it's brilliant. And that will be something you need to spend a lot of time looking at. And, you know, since you live in the digital age, zooming in on one of these suckers is ridiculous because every tone that you see is made of a multiplicity of tiny lines or stippling in the plate with a tool. A man has pushed a sharp thing into a piece of copper.
AS: Yeah, it's all line. There's no tone in there.
TL: It's all built on touch and that nothing had existed like this before. Imagine this was 10 years before the big three that we'll get to next time. But you can see why this would be somebody's website. So what is it, 1504? So he's a whopping 33 now. And then the next year he'll go to Italy again. He's now an art star. He's made it big time and he's respected. People can get their hands on his work. And that means that there's a whole bunch of artists that are going to want to be as him, as well. And it's far and wide, man. Think about it. That's the best website you could ever make in 1504.
AS: He changes the role of the artist completely.
TL: We‘ve just seen him with just three images that we blathered about, you know. It could be churchy. It could be the end of time. It could be witchy. It's just fascinating. It's so exquisitely done and it's unbelievably original. It never existed before.
AS: They're stunning.
TL: Yep. And that's why we think he's cool. And that's why he gets to have two episodes. This was the Italian trip one episode. And so that's all we're going to do about it today. Thank you for listening and happy looking.
AS: I'll do my very best to get good images up or at least links to places where you can zoom in closely to see the line work on these.
TL: To do this is to use Ann's wonderful phrase: it rewards scrutiny. It truly, truly does. And you know, if you zoom in with your camera or your phone, or what have you, you'll realize that in any spot you go, whether you can recognize what's in it or not, you're looking at the most beautiful abstract that ever existed because of the ways that the directions that each mark goes emulate whatever object it is describing. If it's a soft muscle, it travels across the muscle to describe it so that it looks volumetric, three dimensional. If it's hair, it understands and wraps in and around the hair. It is about burrowing under every nook and cranny of what it is you're going to look at and figure out where the light will be. And then show that to the viewer. Every moment is worth... I mean, you could spend an entire day with this thing, and you would not be able to drink it all in.
AS: I know. I see new things every time I look at it.
TL: Absolutely. So, enjoy.
AS: Yeah. When I said let's talk about Dürer because he's the bomb. Like I knew he was the bomb, but you know, he’s the bomb. All right, folks, we're going to take a pause there and conclude the first half of Dürer. We'll get to him in the next episode and finish him up and then we'll skip along to someone else.
TL: We’ll figure out who else kicks the can of greatness down the road.
AS: There are many debatable figures along the way, but Dürer is…
TL: Pretty much cornerstone. He’s foundational. He takes a whole bunch of good raw material that exists on both sides of the Alps and then welds it all into a new way of seeing, presenting, marketing. He creates himself to be the artist that he wants to be. You know, he sets out to become an international star, and he does it. And then he doesn't stop, you know, because he's only 33, he's got another 24 years to go.
AS: Okay, thank you.
TL: Thank you for listening. Happy looking. I mean it.
AS: Thanks for joining us for Platemark series two, the history of Western printmaking, with me Ann Shafer and my cohost Tru Ludwig, who is our subject matter expert, as you can tell. The visuals for each of these episodes is going to reside on the show notes page for the podcast, platemarkpodcast.com. And in addition, I'm planning to include some links within the text that will lead you to places where you can zoom in pretty closely on some of these prints. So take a look and let us know what you think. You all could do us a favor by telling your friends about us to spread the word. We know there are a lot of print-interested people out there, so we're relying on you to help us get the word out.
Platemark podcast series two was produced by me, Ann Shafer, and our theme music is by Michael Diamond, who I thank for its use. See you next time.
Platemark series two History of Prints
Producer and host: Ann Shafer
Co-host: Tru Ludwig
Theme music: Michael Diamond
©2021 Ann Shafer
Platemark series two: History of Prints
Click here to access Episode 202 | the beginnings with link to audio:
[Transcript has been edited for clarity and flow]
Ann Shafer: Hi, welcome to Platemark series two, which is covering the history of Western printmaking. I'm Ann Shafer, your host, and I'm joined by my friend and colleague, Tru Ludwig, who is a teacher extraordinaire and a printmaker himself.
Tru Ludwig: Oh, shucks.
AS: So, this is episode two. Last time we talked about the class that we taught together at the Maryland Institute College of Art. 15 years in conjunction with my position at the Baltimore Museum of Art using the print collection there. And this time we're going to start talking about the basics of the history of prints. We're not going to get too far into specific people but talk about society and how it developed. And why it’s awesome and why we love it.
TL: And one thing to keep in mind is that, that this isn't the history of prints, it's a history of prints. The way I taught it was to a group of young artists at the Maryland Institute College of Art. So it is definitely geared towards makers. I'm not going to try to keep track of every jot and tittle, like those who might be at the Ivys or something like that. I try to keep my art history very real, down to earth. Probably far more colloquial than some, but it worked for our student artists, and they turned into pretty great students.
AS: Well, yeah, when you're not choosing art history as your mode and you’d rather be in your studio, creating. it's challenging to engage them. So you're walking up pretty fine line between straight-up history and colloquial speech, and bringing it down to a level that's not high in the clouds.
TL: This is most certainly true. And it cracks me up because most art students are like, “I'm not good with names” and that's okay, swell. And “I'm not good with dates.” Okay. I would always tell them that it was a way of making… art history needs to be useful to you, because most of them would blanche, if I said, well, at Maryland Institute, you're going to have to take five art history classes before you graduate. “Art history.” Yes, it is the language and history of what you do. And of course, they were full converts by the time we concluded.
AS: Of course, they were. All right. So before we get into it, we want to make clear as usual, our positionality as artists, friends, people, and speakers to the public. I identify as a cis-het white woman, and I use the pronouns she/her. We are recording this in Baltimore, Maryland. In fact, we're sitting in the same room, recording it. Same mic. Which is unusual. But we're sitting in the Purple Crayon Press in Charles Village, Baltimore, and it is the land of the Piscataway Conoy people.
TL: And I identify as a gay, white trans man and I use he/him pronouns. And I'm happy as I can be sitting here looking right at Ann as we talk.
AS: Sometimes being in the same space helps.
TL: Yes, indeed.
AS: All right. So remember everybody that we're talking about Western printmaking. We don't pretend to be able to tell you the history of Eastern printmaking. It's a whole other thing. It's its own thing. And, it goes back way farther than Western printmaking. So, we're going to jump in probably in Germany, I guess when we jump.
TL: Ish. About 1400, but indeed our friends on the far side of the planet figured out paper several centuries before we did, they were printing with blocks and printing language centuries before we were.
AS: Movable type.
TL: Moveable type. Yet the Diamond Sutra was from 800. So, we didn't get to it. I think we were too busy being at war with each other. You know, the period of the migrations, the Vikings, the Huns, and the Goths, and the Visigoths. It took a stable society, I think, to get their poop in a group, to be able to say “maybe we should pay attention to this too.”
AS: Organized religion and all that.
TL: Well, there is that.
AS: You'll find that there is a through-line of religion through the early part of the history of prints.
TL: And it is inescapable and it shouldn't be something that needs to be escaped because it was something that did keep the thin skin around civilization. It gave a structure that was tremendously useful and the Church was also a phenomenally important patron. And so, you can start blaming the 18th century and the air quotes, Enlightenment, on the lowering necessity of the Church as an organizing factor. And even the questioning of the need for a God. When we're starting out, it's really going to be an issue of the importance of the Church and how the print could be used as a mode of expression to help teach. Using images to teach people who couldn't read. Giving people a pocket protector of a Saint Christopher, let us say, a small print in their pocket to protect them from whatever disease might befall them on the road, since they had no idea what caused it. It was a very functional art form, really.
AS: Doesn't it align with the sort of breaking down of the serfdom society, where you have just the upper echelons who practice religion, and that there was an evening of access to religion?
TL: Absolutely. One of the things for me as an Iowa kid is that, I'm just such an egalitarian kind of person and I always buck authority and I always buck class structures. That's one of the things that made me fall in love with printmaking because it really was, and in some cases still is, the people's art. And it really can address people at every level of society. There is, even when we start in 1400, 1450 or so, the idea that certain kinds of prints were collected or rather owned by different calibers or classes of people. The upper echelon would probably want engravings and the lower classes would probably get woodcuts because…
AS: An uncolored one…
TL: Yes, because they were far more accessible and affordable.
AS: That's so fascinating to me that the engravings are the engravings, but the woodcuts have this range from finely hand colored to sort of not-so-great hand colored, to not colored at all so that there were there even more layers.
TL: Absolutely. And even within the history of prints, we've got the invention of techniques and how sometimes it's driven by need, sometimes by peculiar discoveries. But it's a fascinating social history is what it really is. And that's the beauty of the history of prints. It really does cut across political lines. It cuts across societal lines and class structures. And so each of the kinds of prints can serve different purposes. You could have something that would be a memento, or it could be a postcard from your trip, when you took the Grand Tour in the 18th century. Or it could be in the 19th century, when lithography was invented. My dear Honoré Daumier came up with caricatures and biting social commentary. Then there's screenprinting, which really took off in the 20th century, which just basically defies paint. It can be multi colors that could be an affordable way to have artwork, if you will.
AS: If you've listened to series one, you will have heard me say something about really being drawn to art history as the social, cultural history of the world and people in it. It's kind of funny, because printmaking is even more…
TL: It’s all of it.
TL: You get everything. It's not just Mr. Richie Rich could get a portrait painter. He could sit for a portrait painter and have this as a memento for his family. But the idea that the print serves all of these different kinds of possible functions. And the other part of it is that a print is going to be in your space and it reaches more than one person and it tends to be something that's handheld. So there's a much more intimate encounter with this thing, even if it was pasted to the wall or pasted in an album or on a post to announce something that was coming up in a city, it is still a far more accessible form of visual encounter. It, in many ways, defies the ability or inability to read. Visual communications, graphic communication. It is indeed graphic because if you make a dull image, why is anybody going to look at it? With print you can have all of that. And it is indeed in your space. The people's art. That's important to me.
Prints could be used for social reform. That's where Martin Luther could be seen as one of the people that really started that with the Reformation and translating the Bible into German, the people's language. Because they didn't want to listen to it in Latin. Or he had said, let's have it be for the people. And having images for this New Testament. Prints are, as I said, affordable. They could be quite potentially within the economic means of a more average person. And of course, the print is an educational tool. There still Lutheran schools out there because it was Luther that said, “Hey, everybody should be able to read and go into your closets and pray. You should be able to have access to the word of God through the Bible” and in prints, but also in the images that accompanied the Bible. It's a fascinating kind of a tool. And I appreciate that. The fact that it could be everywhere. It's not just a painting on a wall in one place that you go visit. Like when you go to the Prado and you go see Las Meninas or The Garden of Earthly Delights? They totally rock.
AS: I mean, it's an awesome painting, but there's something, I don't know if something happened with it.
Doesn't matter… It was underwhelming in person.
TL: I don't know about that. I was whelmed. Definitely whelmed. Then again sculptures, occupy our space too, and you could do a 360 around them. But the fact that prints could come out of their hiding spot, if they're in a book, or that you can revisit it again and again, like listening to a recording of something that you love. That it's there for you. That to me is amazing. And if you think about how was art history taught? Well, Winckelmann, the father of Western art history, he never went to Greece. He never went to Rome. He studied prints of the stuff from there. When I'm teaching this class, I have a slide of two portraits of Winckelmann. He's got prints sitting right beside him because that's how he learned it. They're portable museums.
AS: They are the paper museum.
TL: Yes. And that is a delightful thing to me.
AS: It's incredible, really, that society and things happening in society push print and print media, but it's also true that it goes the other way. They're completely entwined with each other.
TL: Absolutely. It’s sort of like a Caduceus. They just kind of weave in and out, back and forth. And sometimes I think print can push things forward and sometimes the need for a new way to communicate can push print forward. All of those things—and I may have said it in the first episode—when you're looking at an image… I ask my students to sit with an image and look at it for a long period of time, and not passively. Be an active looker, because if you're looking at a fireplace, those flames are dancing, they're changing all the time, and there's always the opportunity for new discoveries. So, with that, it's the people's art. And then we have to try and figure stuff out about people and the virtually impossible task of how to imagine this image in its place and in its time.
The idea of this icon that is made by someone while that someone is an artist. Well, what are the restrictions or the motivations for that artist? And there's a huge difference because an artist in the Middle Ages who was doing a prescribed image, such as an icon or the Virgin Mary holding the infant baby Jesus, this is a recipe that still holds even today. I have one upstairs, by the way, that is the same exact version as something was painted a thousand years ago. But, in each of the two cases with the print, the change of an artist from an artisan to our conception of an artist, that it's art, because I say it's art, or I can paint what I need to paint or create what I need, is also a way of thinking about what is the audience that that work that this individual is making, who are the patrons, who's going to buy this, or who is going to refuse to buy it?
What is the audience? Who are those people that the artist is trying to reach? And what is it that the artist is looking at? Where is that person getting their ideas? How are they extending those or obliterating them or mocking them? Because some of the best prints from Lutheran times are the cartoons about the Reformation or the Counter Reformation. They're actually quite scurrilous and shocking. To the point where there's even some of nuns and you lift the little garment on the nun. Oh yeah. They're interactive. And there's naughtiness underneath…
AS: Oh. A flap of paper that you lift.
AS: Oh, hell.
TL: Or Luther as a wolf in sheep's clothing and you lift up his robes and there are his little wolf legs sticking down. This idea of what is the print in its own context and at least being somewhat sensitive to how that image was intended and also realize that people are very clever. There've been centerfolds in books since the 15th century, generally they were maps as opposed to Playboy bunnies. Isn't that magazine dead now?
AS: Oh, that's a good question.
TL: So, one of the lines from Linda Hults’ amazing book that we mentioned before… She'd said that printmaking is the only form of fine art that can be both an artistic and a commercial mode of expression. Commercial mode of expression. Well, that idea of, if you're going to make one, you're going to be making more because prints depend on multiples. You've got a matrix, whether it's carved or etched or drawn onto a litho stone. But the idea is to pull more than one. Maybe it's because I always root for the underdog because printmaking is always considered the ugly stepchild of fine art paintings. Because it's linked to popular audiences. Because it can be functional. Because it could be used for advertising or political cartoons or reproductions of other artists’ work. Or even illustrations, which of course opens up a whole other can of worms…
AS: That’s a whole other chapter.
TL: Because there's still a gulf between fine artists and illustrators. If you were to go to Maryland Institute College of Art, we'd see plenty of discussion on that. Or maybe now it's the elephant in the room that we're not discussing.
AS: Oh, maybe. That is the difference between having an assignment to illustrate something, draw something versus...
TL: For a client.
AS: Right. Versus your own self-generated brainchild.
TL: So I guess you could say that Cranach might've been an illustrator.
AS: Lucas Cranach?
TL: Because he did like 50 portraits of Luther, for sure, in paint, and then certainly had done a number of images of him in print to spread his idea. If you think of Luther in the same way as Frederick Douglass, who was the most photographed person of the 19th century. I find that fascinating. It's the same thing with Luther being visibly available, prints make that possible.
AS: I think that the thing that's hard for art-viewer people like us today is that when we view prints in general, unless you really are a collector and are lucky, that we see them behind glass on a wall of a museum. And so the utility of it is a thing that you can't really experience.
TL: Unless maybe you're in a library that's got some wonderful first editions.
AS: But you still won't stick it in your coat pocket and take a walk over the Alps.
TL: Indeed. The Alps. We'll get to know the importance of the Alps. Actually, I was watching a Rick Steves special this past weekend and realizing that barrier between Northern Europe and Southern Europe. You look at what it took to climb those Alps. That's going to be a situation as to why ideas traveled perhaps a little bit more slowly in the 15th century than they might've later on, because you're still doing that on foot or in a horse drawn something or other. It's just the facts of that…
AS: It’s not like there’s a 7-11 on every corner as you go.
TL: Absolutely. Right. Oh, and then the other idea, as you had said, Ann, about illustrations as being something that you were doing for a client. Well, okay. But then I always come up with a self-defense that the Sistine ceiling is an illustration. So Pope Julius said, I want this.
AS: Any commissioned painting would be.
TL: Oh, absolutely. So we could get real snotty about it. And some people do. There's also those who would say, well, it's too associated with craft.
AS: Oh, dirty word.
TL: Listen, when I was starting out, there was a particular professor who was like, “well, your work is just so illustrative.” Okay. It is. That's fine with me. But the other thing about printmaking is that it requires craft… craftsmanship. Okay, craftspersonship, whatever. But it requires a certain amount of technical skill and knowledge. Printmaking is definitely not something you take up on a whim like, Hey, I think I'm going to become an engraver. Doesn't happen. Because it's the most unforgiving kind of a mode of carving an image into a copper plate, or what have you…
AS: Right. The spontaneity of creation is tempered.
TL: I always say it's really delayed gratification. Because you have an idea in your head. Then you come up with a drawing, somehow put it onto a plate—and it has to be in reverse—and you either carve it or etch it in reverse because once it goes to the press, it comes up right reading. Well, that means in this incredible time-consuming process that there's a huge delay between impulse and the final result. So the craft of that is imperative and impeccable, if it's well done.
AS: Do you think that's contributed to it's being questioned as the craft piece?
TL: See, that's the problem for me because craftsmanship, I expect that of my students.
AS: It’s the default, right? It should be.
TL: Right. It should be. Indeed, for mastering your craft. And we can have a whole conversation about the idea of mastering something, but… Well, okay. Craft. What about it? Well, it's oh, that's a craft. It's not an art. Well, okay. So I had a coworker at Maryland Institute whose job it was to teach, I don't know, students how to use Moodle or some other stupid computer thing with a yappy name. Moodle? Really? This is a college. Can we call it something else?
AS: It’s catchy. You remember it.
TL: It offends me. But at any rate, this pleasant fellow walked up to me and I'm staring at the copier. He goes, “Tru, what's a difference between art and craft?” I stood there and stuff's going through a copier, and I looked at him and said, “arrogance.” A maker is a maker is a maker. I mean, if you're making potholders, that's one thing. But some of the most brilliant things that are ever made could be denigrated as craft. And so I think we have to get rid of some of that kind of chauvinism, too.
AS: Well, there’s the utilitarian piece of craft. If you can put a dividing line between something that's used and something that’s purely aesthetic...
TL: They used to call them applied arts. And then it became decorative arts. Well, now wait a minute in Ann's world, the museum world, “that's just so decorative.” Again, perjorative. So, terminology can be a problem. But the idea of the impulse and then the final product. Well, let's say we go back to the Renaissance when the whole print shop concept was starting out. It astonished me at first to find out there was a division of labor. The person called the Reiser, the artist, would have had the idea. And let's say that they did a drawing on paper and that drawing would have been transferred to a woodblock or glued to it. And then another person would come along, and they would carve it. That's what they do. So that person was called the Formschneider, the form cutter, literally. And they're the people that would carve away the extraneous wood and leave just the lines of the drawing there, raised so that they could be inked for printing. And then he'd hand that off to another person who would ink up that block and put it on the press. That person is called the Drucker. He’s the guy who pulls it through the press.
AS: Are there any women?
TL: Could be, you know, there's some new stuff out there, but it's not like you're going to see it in…
AS: Probably daughters.
TL: Oh, of course. I'm sure it's like, here you can druck and you can…
AS: You can set the paper on the press.
TL: Seriously. But honestly, we just don't know enough yet. And like many of those woodcuts, maybe it was just so common and got so used that everybody's forgotten it. But there, there was an article about women's hands making prints that came out not too long ago that I probably should ferret out. At any rate. So, let's say that your Reiser has come up with the image and your Formschneider's cut it. And your Drucker has pulled it. Now you've got this piece of paper with an image on it. Ooh, isn't that cool. Now, Mr. Client, Mrs. Client, you've got a print. Do you like this? Yes. I love it. Well do you want it like this or…
AS: Do you want a hand colored?
TL: Correct. Well, that's going to cost you a little bit more and we're going to have to paint that sheet. And that's the Briefmaler, the person that paints on the sheet of paper. So, they could do it. They could either do it through a stencil, which would mean things don't always match up. Or they could do each sheet separately. And, for instance, the Baltimore Museum of Art has two versions of Dürer’s Ecce Homo. Here's Christ Presented to the People. And in black and white, of course, it's stunning and lovely and wonderful, but for the Fox TV folks that needed it in color, or maybe the people that could afford it, it was hand colored. They took the time to color in some bricks green and some blocks not green. The cloak got to be blue. And then there was some gilded little tidbits here and there. But the worst part was all a little driblets of blood. So, it was really vivid…
TL: Totally. And of course, I'm sure the client adored having their magnificently colored sheet, but as a purist who carves, the idea of, of covering up some of those lines that you've carved in. The opacity of what you're brushing on could mar… I would bet you cash money that Dürer was like, don't you get that near my image. Because he was the master of making things gray. There's an on switch and an off switch when you do relief printing, particularly there's the white of the paper and the black of the ink on it. And Dürer was such a complete artist and could seem to make gray exist in a world that was only a black line or a white line. It's just the way he designed and drew his images. I can't imagine that he would have just… It would be like putting ketchup on a really, really good steak. It's just not done, but hey, you can't necessarily tell an audience what’s proper.
AS: That's true. I completely forgot until you said opacity, but there was white paint on the turban of one of the characters and you could hardly see the lines underneath. And it totally changed the composition.
TL: Of course, it totally raised the price because it’s in color and it took more time. So even that idea of the division of labor was something that was a standard part of the workshops of woodcutters or even the printers of engravings, and then subsequently etchings and the other forms of printmaking as they came along in the centuries. And it wasn't a person like myself, who does it from idea to finish print. I just always thought it was that way.
AS: Right. But in those early woodcuts, there's the artist who had the… So who's the artist quote unquote? So the person in my mind, the person with the idea, the conception of the imagery, counts as the artist, but they're rarely signed until Dürer or maybe Meckenem.
TL: Starting to put those, those initials… like Schongauer would have put his M.S. on there or Master E.S. His first name wasn't Master and his last name wasn't E.S. It was that his initials would be in there because as artists got more and more capable, they wanted their materials to be recognizable. So, Dürer has his marvelous D lurking under this A. That's his logo, his monogram. And eventually there are artists like Marcantonio Raimondi who was copying Dürer’s prints down in Venice, who was literally copying Dürer’s logo. And Dürer goes before the Venetian Senate and says, “Hey, make him stop.” And so the Venetian Senate, because this is the first issue of intellectual property, says, “okay, Marcantonio, don't put Dürer’s initials on it anymore.”
AS: And that's it.
TL: And he just kept making them and selling them because, hey, it works. So, there all the marvelously muddied parts of the river of life in the history of prints.
AS: I love that that historians have not been able to figure out who Master E.S. was or Master of the Playing Cards or whoever, the House Book, whatever.
TL: Ok, master, master. Ann, go through the master thing. You just go ahead on and tell the folks about what you have to think about that.
AS: Recognizing that words carry baggage… I work part-time as a realtor and the realtor world has stopped using master bedroom as a defining term. They're using words like primary bedroom or owner's bedroom. And so they're trying to not use the term master because it can be aligned with the idea of a master on a plantation, mastering over slaves. So in the case of art, and printmaking in particular, the master printers sometimes will… Ben will refer to them as collaborative printmakers, but the term master really is referring to mastering a thing and not mastering over people.
TL: Indeed, indeed. Right. So Ann and I, while I'm working…
AS: We went round and round about it.
TL: We did. I'm working on a project right now and how do you want to be listed? Master printer, and Ann said some people using collaborative printmaker. I am not collaborating. I'm teaching these people how to do it. They're using my skills because I got a master of fine arts and I have a master's degree in art history. And so mastery. We assume that Master E.S. was a guy, that he'd mastered… Are we going to say mistress? Yes. Oh, good Lord. That would be so naughty.
AS: Well, see how much baggage terms carry?
TL: So actor/actress. Right now, everybody's as actor.
AS: I appreciate that.
TL: Well, I do too. So the issue of mastering a craft, well, I am a master printer, apparently.
AS: You are.
TL: So, I'm fine with that because I wasn't collaborating with these folks on what it was they wanted. They needed something. They didn't know how to do it. I showed them how to do it. And I did it with and for them. So that is a different thing than collaboratively doing it. It's a mess. At any rate, I wanted us to throw that out there. Let's pick on another thing. There are purists who would say that the only printmakers would be—with my Iowa French accent--peintre-graveurs. The painter-engravers. There are a lot of artists across time that were great painters, but who also made prints. Even Cezanne, even though I think he's a little bit snoozy, was—I mean, I know he's wickedly important—but even he made prints. Matisse, painter.
AS: He made many prints.
TL: Great stuff. Ruben's, on the other hand, is a 17th century brilliant painter, had his paintings turned into prints. Well, the peintre-graveur, the painter engraver, is the artist who produces original prints. Things that come out of their own mind versus the reproductive printmakers. So reproductive printmakers are those that are going to reproduce paintings, let's say. Like a Rubens painting so that it exists as something that could be bought in multiples. Rubens would be painting altarpieces that could be 11 to 15 feet high. Those aren't going to quite fit in on your living room wall.
So we've got somebody like Vorsterman, Lucas Vorsterman, who was this amazing engraver and could translate the kind of brush work and color on hair or the satin of a gown or the trees, into a black-and-white set of marks, dashes, curves, what have you. And it was brilliant and turning some massive thing in brilliant color into a sheet that was maybe 11 by 15 inches. That's an amazing skill, but they're duplicating the works of others. So after the artists. Even the ones that are duplicating sculptures. Like the discovery of the Laocoön… It's so exciting. Well, they didn't invent the Laocoön. They didn't carve the marble, but they made the print of it.
Those are reproductive printmakers versus the autographic printmakers, the painter-engravers, like Goya, who was both painter and engraver, but he made three insanely important series that are the heart and soul of one of our big sessions at the Baltimore Museum. We call them autographic printmakers because you can see their mark, you can see their handwriting, their drawing, literally on the plate. It's as spontaneous as a sketch on paper.
AS: The reproductive printmakers perfected a system of reproducing various textures—like flesh or satin--with a pattern, a specific pattern that could be a replicated by other printmakers who were also trying to do the same kind of thing. So there's this whole vocabulary of mark-making that's very regimented within these reproductive prints. It's just fascinating.
TL: The whole concept of the dot and lozenge. This idea of creating a set of diamonds that would, that would create a light and shadow. And if you put a dot in the middle of each of those diamonds, that creates a different kind of light and shadow that you could see from five feet way and think, Ooh, that's really convincing. But up close, ooh, that’s a reproductive engraving.
AS: And if you alter the width of the diamonds, you can affect the volumetric-ness…
TL: Like the cross contour, like a topographical map, the quality of a thigh, or a breast.
AS: That's one of my favorite things to do is to zero in very, very closely on the reproductive prints, because it's astonishing, the line work.
TL: Sometimes they're just the most beautiful, two by two-inch abstractions.
AS: Like that mustache on that one.
TL: Just the idea of a print, a handheld object on a piece of paper, to me, that's exciting. And Ann lived in a world where everything's under mats and it's in a museum, but once upon a time you would have this image of St. Dorothy or Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, or Saint Sebastian, who was the patron saint of people with the plague. These were things that could protect you. And they would get used. And some of these early prints can be the size of almost the smallest, a credit card
AS: Like a passport.
TL: And literally that saint was in your pocket to protect you. It's kind of like in your passport now you might have that list of shots. (COVID shots, get your vaccinations today.) But you would have that to protect you, and sometimes we can talk about prints being bound in volumes because they're phenomenally important. It's the way that an artist could make their name. For instance, that whole biography of artists that van Dyke made. Anthony van Dyke. That's the one you're thinking about. That gorgeous Anthony van Dyck portrait. He's looking at us with his wonderful wild hair and he's got this magnificent mustache, almost kind of a handlebar. And he's got this little squibbit of a beard, which by the way, is called a van Dyke, and it's all hand etched and it's from his hand. It's autographic. But then van Dyke, whose ego must have been as big as that press over there, handed it off to an engraver and said, now put me on a pedestal and he did! So it's this gorgeously engraved pedestal. And it's got all the florid writing and it says, van Dyke is this and that. And that's the frontispiece for an entire volume of all of his images of artists across time. And that was at a time where the artist's role in society is actually starting to elevate, as opposed to being just some anonymous craftsperson. It's really being able to stand up saying, this is what I am, and this is what I do, and these are the people that we should be respecting.
AS: Well, they're named in these portraits. I mean, that's the switch, right? Once they have their own name… interestingly on those prints, it does say, by this person or published by this person, after a picture by this person, so everybody is now identified.
TL: In the address, that's what it's called, the address. So you'll have the delineavit. Okay. So Anthony van Dyke delineavit, he's the guy that drew it. And then so-and-so sculpsit--he's the guy that sculpted it, literally carved it into the plate, and then there'll be, it was published here, and it becomes the pedigree of this image. So by 1640, you've got all of this going on and 240 years before you were a nobody that was just sort of carving into a piece of wood.
AS: You weren’t anybody and forgotten to time.
TL: Being able to raise your own status in society, I think that's an amazing thing that prints could do too, because if you think about it, Dürer was doing it. Dürer died in 1527, after he'd kind of hit it big, let's say by 1498 to of the end of his life, he would have his images with his moniker and think about it, if he's traveling up to the Netherlands from his home base in Nuremberg, Germany, and he trades prints with a guy named Lucas van Leyden and his prints stay up there. That's his website. They're out there. For instance, the Antonio Pollaiuolo, Battle of Ten Nude Men, it's a remarkable engraving, it’s the only one Pollaiuolo ever made. He’s done this Battle of Ten Nude Men hacking and slashing at each other with hatchets and swords. And they're arrayed across the background, it’s a sorghum field, curiously with a placket that says Antonius Pollaiuolo made this because he's showing off. But the idea was also that it was a perfect teaching aid. And sometimes you'll find that they are folded in quarters and that an artist might have bought this print. And it was a guide to how to render the human figure. Because below the Alps, the Italians knew how to do this. The folks above the Alps…
AS: It was too cold to be nude.
TL: So they were all wearing drapery until…
AS: That’s why they're so much better at portraying drapery.
TL: Drapery, and snow. But the idea that they are again, portable museums or guidebooks, that one print can teach many different kinds of skills. So, in one respect, printmaking could also teach you things about architecture, painting, sculpture, all of those things.
AS: Botanical, medical.
TL: Herbals, all of them. Oh my God, Vesalius on the fabric of human body, 1543. First time he does all of these dissections—it's published in Basel, Switzerland, by the way, because dissection was still forbidden by the Church, and of course Andreas Vesalius had taken and Latinized his name so that it sounds very doctorly—but the very first real serious anatomical volume was published in 1543. Same time that Copernicus is saying this idea of advancing science through print. That's one time seeing prints and books, man, that'll be a life changer.
AS: And maps?
TL: Oh my God. Maps, absolutely.
AS: Topographical views of towns.
TL: It's just amazing to think about. Let’s say in the Nuremberg Chronicle, which was the very first real history of the world that was published. Let's say what's the most important book that we should publish. Well, let's do the Bible. Thank you, Mr. Gutenberg. So that's like 1455. The next big tome of world history is Liber Chronicarum. Also known as the Nuremberg Chronicle, because it was published in Nuremberg, curiously by the press that was run by Albrecht Dürer’s godfather Anton Koberger, it always helps to be taught a little bit in your relative’s workshop.
AS: I think that’s how it works.
AS: That's how all those early women printmakers made anything was because their Dad’s had a workshop.
TL: Because they were there. Take this, fix this, fix this, cook this, do that, and change the baby.
AS: And where’s lunch?
TL: And my beer, thank you very much. Because it’s safer than water. That sounds pretty good to me. I think it starts with God the father blessing, and it literally is the history of the world. It starts with the Creation: “In the beginning there was… he creates it and he separates light from dark and he creates Adam and then he creates Eve and it goes on and then are all these chapters on the Kings and Queens of the biblical era. And then they all become Kings and Queens of the medieval era until the present day, 1493. And the last seven pages are left blank. Because you could fill in your own family history there. And because, of course, the world was going to end in 1500, just like Y2K. However, the thing that's interesting is that there are all of these different views of cities, right? Well, there are cities that people had visited, like Venice, and then there are other cities like Damascus that they hadn't been to yet. So they'd have a picture of a city, which was incredibly 15th century, and they would use the same picture of a city for one of those cities that you hadn't visited before, because hey, it's a city. So, but in many ways, these maps of places that you've been, they can teach you tons?
AS: You can get that volume hand colored too. The copy of the National Gallery in Washington is hand colored.
TL: And there's was a copy at the Peabody Library where you could sit and turn the pages yourself, and it wasn't hand colored. And the other cool thing… Was on the title page. There are these little sketches in the lower part where you could put your family's initials and the date you bought it. And, of course, these books were published bespoke. You would buy a stack of pages. And you take your stack of pages and you'd take it and say, I want it bound in pig skin between these boards and it could be done that way. Or you say, no, I just want it done in leather or paper boards, whatever…
AS: And it's thick.
TL: It's about three inches thick.
AS: It's a big book. Generous in size.
TL: In a way it's also cool because it's published in Fraktur, which looks like the Germanic way of printing a book. Gutenberg had made that decision, because to print the Bible they used the Fraktur, which just looks like hand lettering. He used the hand-lettering-style type because they wanted this book to look as much like a handwritten Bible, even though it had been printed with moveable type, so that it still seemed real, valued.
AS: Like an illuminated manuscript.
TL: And some of those, even in the first Bible, they would have the initial letter would be there. The capital letter that begins an entire verse would be larger to be illuminated. And there's several reasons for that, because it was a way in, an entrance point onto the page, also was a way to shed more light onto the text because usually in a capital letter, there would be some characters that are doing whatever is being done in that following verse.
AS: It would elevate the value.
TL: Absolutely. So the books are an incredibly important way… Well, the incunabula—books before 1501, because incunabula is a Latin word for cradle, as in the cradle of printing and printing was the best. And they really were the best. They were printed on the best rag paper with the best handmade ink. And it was the best design. I mean, they really are spectacular. But by the 19th century, books were so widespread, they were using paper that had been made from wood pulp. And that's why, if you were lucky enough to pick up a 19th century book, it's going to fall apart in your hands because the acid of the woodpile is it's…
AS: They are really terrifying.
TL: Yes, and even though there will be brilliant illustrations in there by Doré or whomever… But that also tells you again about consumption by a larger number of people—bring the cost down. So, all of those things are aspects of the history of prints that…
AS: Everything is intertwined.
TL: Mighty tasty. So you get politics and you get religion and you get social satire and you get caricature and you get propaganda and you get all of that in a way that art history itself doesn't give it to you, if it's architecture, painting. sculpture. Prints are like boots on the ground kinds of art history. And I really appreciate that a great deal. I just think it's a much more accurate window into what might've been happening. And admittedly, we don't know what size and shape the window was. We don't know how clean or dirty it is.
AS: We don't know what we're missing.
TL: We have to scrub off our own chauvinism or our own ideas. And the other thing that you can get that was wonderful with prints, that many times they were in series like a Life of the Virgin or the Passion of Christ or a calendar or playing cards, or even tracing the idea of the alphabet. Beause there was no U, it was just a V, and there was no J, there was an I. And then you got W (doo-bluh-vay) in German. It's a double V. It's not a double U. This idea of a work of art that is produced in multiple impressions, many times over, and they're pulled from an inked surface, and they can be distributed far and wide, or it could be made very expensively. But it really is something that you can have in your hands and look at it and enjoy it and pull it out and savor it and learn lessons from time to time. It could be a biblical passage. It could be a lesson in mercy, like Rembrandt's Hundred Gilder print.
AS: It could lessons from Aesop’s Fables or Erasmus…
TL: Then you don't even need to have all of the book learning or have to read Latin. That you could pick apart and take the time to pick apart the lesson because it's all in there. I think we're so conditioned to just consume images and not really realize how many magnificent little tidbits are in there. For instance, Hogarth, William Hogarth in the 18th century. Okay. Actually in retrospect, Hogarth is an artist that I kind of respect a lot because he was a good painter. He would come up with these series, like Marriage à la Mode. You should marry for love, not for money, but he was also a brilliant engraver. So he came up with The Harlot's Progress, which is a cycle of 6 prints that show little Moll Hackabout coming to London from the countryside. And she's met by a procuress who's going to… It's like being met at the Port Authority or getting off the bus and being turned into a life of sex trafficking.
In these six scenes, you see the downfall of Moll and how she's now making her money sleeping with rich men who were climbing out windows. And she eventually dies of venereal disease and her child who was born with a crippled leg. It's just… It really shows all of these terrible things, and it was a lesson, and it was a small opera. Hogarth followed that series up with The Rake's Progress, which showed what happened to this young man who'd misbehaved and was whoring and had been drinking. He ends up in an insane asylum in Bedlam.
And once Hogarth had come up with these images—and he had engraved his own images and they're selling well—he gets pissed because somebody starts copying them. He thinks “I'm not doing this again until y'all pass some kind of a copyright law.” And it was William Hogarth, the artist printmaker, who did push forward on the copyright law that became law in England. And that's why he finally published his Marriage à la Mode, because then it couldn't be copied because it was cum privilege, it was copyrighted. It was printmaking that made that necessary. I think that's fascinating. It’s the 18th century, how to tell the story. Series are wonderful things.
AS: It just expands your possibilities.
TL: Or Audubon's Birds of North America, that's actually a cycle. It's not just, oh, cool, it's a turkey. It's actually part of 400 some images. So we got all of that.
AS: Printmaking, it rocks.
TL: And it wasn't until Whistler was like, “we’ve got to make sure that people really understand. We're going to limit these editions and we're going to come up with a system of editioning things. And we're going to say that there's 50 in this edition. And when this edition, when I finished having 50 images printed of this, I'm going to cancel the plate.” And it's really hard to see this sometimes, but he… There's a wonderful example of… I would show a class where he's scored, right through.
TL: Scored right through the plate. And that means that no more images can be printed from it.
AS: That's a question that I get from people who are just learning about prints and printmaking: the limited edition. People ask: “Do we know how many Hogarth made or Rembrandt made?” And the truth is, we don't. But at a certain point—thank you, Whistler—it becomes a thing.
TL: Then because of the whole etching revival and they'd all went, “you know, that guy Rembrandt (a couple hundred years earlier), he really had it going on.” And they're figuring this out. But it's the rise of the middle class. It's a rise of gallerists and art makers. All of this kind of visual literacy, that is now a part of the 19th-century world, they start limiting the editions of things. And again, printmaking is pushing the boundaries on that, which I find ultimately fascinating. There are other times, of course. There are no limited editions of let's say Posada’s prints. Because during the Mexican revolution, at the beginning of the 20th century, the idea was to make 20,000 images and get them out there on cheap paper. Because this was the way to help the people rise up. Again, you get all of these different ways of understanding, seeing, owning. And the whole world of print now is so peculiarly rarefied. You and Ben discussed that whole concept of value. One of the things that we can always say to our students in History of Prints was: what you should do with each other before you graduate is trade. Because if you trade with some of your friends now, in 20 years, some of y'all will still be making art and some of you will have really turned into something. And you'll go, oh, I have some of his work. An early work by Josh Bales or… That's exciting stuff. I do have some of those.
AS: That's the nice thing about the multiples. You can leave an impression behind for your professor.
TL: Thank you very much. So, um, what else would you like to cover today?
AS: I think, I mean… We we've hit 50-ish minutes, so I think we probably can wrap up.
TL: I think we should. And then next time we'll talk to you folks about—if you stick with the program, which I think you might enjoy—which prints are made, what way. So we'll start off with woodcut, and then we'll go into intaglio and what that means. And we talk about lithography, which comes about 1798, but becomes a big deal in the 19th century. And then there was even a whole bunch of chauvinism about that, because it was too new and too awful. And then I started realizing, that's just like me and how I'm behaving with the whole digital revolution. I should pull my head out of my backside. And, nevermind... And then when go into screenprinting, silkscreens, serigraphy, depending on what name you want to give it. I think that's for another day. Just understanding the wide range of what prints can do and can be and can teach.
AS: And how they're completely integral in the social, cultural milieu. The entire history of Western printmaking.
TL: Pretty much. I mean, shoot, even Gauguin did his prints and he did Noa Noa and he illustrated his own book of poetry. So did William Blake.
AS: Didn't they… some of them decided that prints were a great way to make money in between their paintings selling.
TL: Absolutely. And I think in many ways we know more about Rembrandt because of his prints and well, and frankly, I think Goya is a superior printmaker to painter.
AS: Some of the paintings are amazing.
TL: Some of them are. We'll get there. We'll talk about that. But in the meantime, enjoy the fact that you're in for the history of everything tasty. Yeah, that's it. History of Prints. Yum-ola.
AS: Thanks for listening to Platemark series two the history of Western printmaking. I'm Ann Shafer, your host and editor for this series. And I'd like to send a special shout out to Michael Diamond for letting us use his original composition as our theme music. We welcome questions and hope you will rate us and leave a review. That will help us spread the word. And you could share it with your sphere of influence too. We'd appreciate it.
And we'll see you next time.
Platemark series two History of Prints
Producer and host: Ann Shafer
Co-host: Tru Ludwig
Theme music: Michael Diamond
Show notes and website: platemarkpodcast.com
©2021 Ann Shafer
Click here to access episode page with link to audio:
Episode 201 | Introduction
[Transcript has been edited for clarity and flow]
Ann Shafer: Welcome to series two of Platemark, a podcast about art and ideas. My name is Ann Shafer and I'm your host. For series two, we're changing tacks a little bit on Platemark. Last time we were doing big ideas about art and the value of it and roles of the curator and all sorts of things like that. This time we are doing the history of prints. So, I'm sitting in the press room of the Purple Crayon Press with my best bud Tru, an amazing not only artist, but also art historian and professor extraordinaire.
Tru Ludwig: Gosh.
AS: Say hello.
AS: This all stems from Tru teaching a class at the Maryland Institute College of Art, the History of Prints. And we at the museum helped him do that by hosting the class in our print study room for multiple visits over the course of the semester. So I always say, well, I taught with Tru, but really the truth is I held up the prints and Tru taught.
TL: But we were always, I don't know. I want to think that we were kind of… By the end, we were the Heckle and Jeckle comedy hour in a meaningful way. Because keeping students alert for three hours was always a thing in a warm room. But it is also deeply committed and wildly thought provoking. And we always seem to give them more than they ever expect.
AS: Well, that's true. That was the best part about the class, watching the light bulbs go off in their brains. Because we were teaching art studio people, not art historians. So they were young artists at the art school in Baltimore, Maryland.
But before we jump in, I just want to make sure that we identify our positionality, that we report in that we're not trying to be experts on anything. We don't represent the Maryland Institute College of Art, in no way, nor the Baltimore Museum of Art, where I was a member of the staff at that point, but am no longer. So for clarity's sake, just to make sure everyone knows where we're coming from, I identify as a cis-het white woman, and I use the pronouns she/her. We're recording this in Baltimore, Maryland, the land of the Piscataway Conoy people. And Tru.
TL: I’m Tru Ludwig. I'm a gay white trans man and I use the pronouns he/him.
AS: All right. So this intro episode is really to set the stage. So we're not going to go into any specific, well we might talk about a favorite or two very briefly, but this is really to share with the listeners why we're doing it and where we're coming from and how we got here, really, because it was quite a journey.
TL: It was only a 15-year journey.
AS: It was a 15-year journey
TL: It was an unexpected journey to begin with. Ann and I met early on, but it was very strange to realize that my best friend is someone that I was intimidated by when I very first met them in a setting that is very stern and proper. And we ended up making sure that over 400 students had their brains completely rattled and shattered and tried to make sure that they were moved, excited, motivated, that their thoughts were provoked. And Ann was completely on board with that. It was not, in no way was it a dry experience.
AS: Yeah. So if you've listened to a series one of Platemark, you know that one of my and my cohost Ben's big things was trying to dispel this idea of the ivory tower, of the curator sitting in their scholarly nook with no people around. And the idea that the imposing marble edifice of the museum hopefully will be dispellable, that we will make it sound welcoming enough for you to walk through the door. And the print room was really a great way to get that done with young students from various local schools. We had students come through from not only MICA, but also Johns Hopkins and Goucher College and Loyola University, and even some of the high schools. Often it was their first visit to a print room for these students. And I always thought of the print room as the second front door of the museum.
TL: Which is actually quite a gift. I think so many people don't realize what a resource is there for them in the same way that they don't realize that they could schedule a visit to the Library of Congress print & drawing room. I try to make sure that the students would understand it. So it's a complete and thorough-going resource, that you could ask for a very specific image and sit with it for a while, or to realize that the 65,000 objects in the print collection could be things that would take you to the next level of being a young artist, a young maker.
AS: And I think it bears repeating, because I know you've heard me say it before, that museums across the country have print study rooms for the purpose of hosting people like you who want to come in and look at prints of your choosing. So, if you are writing a paper on the woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer’s Apocalypse, you can make an appointment and somebody will pull them out for you and you can investigate them very thoroughly, just you and the piece of paper and someone helping you.
TL: It's simply an email to, or even a phone call to the print room in any city. And that's, again, that's an issue of History of Prints was just really taking the, all of the obstacles out of a person's way to make them realize that there's nothing that stands between you and the artwork, except your fear or your lack of motivation or the things that holds you back. Because Ann got to know the students just as, almost as well as I did. At one point, we ended up giving them name tags because we were going to be spending a fair amount of time together. And it became easier every semester with those 20 students. It became by the end of the semester a small family. I mean, just a group of people who could stand close together looking at objects, but also really depend on each other to bring insights. One of my favorite things was to get the group to say Oh!. The big reveal, which was something that Ann and I tended to get very good at in terms of timing. Timing is very important.
AS: It’s theater, really.
TL: …when you're presenting theater. Absolutely it is theater. And one wouldn't think that in a rarefied space, in a museum, then it's kind of like a hushed library and everyone must be so solemn, but I'm one of these people that, oh, this might annoy some, but I'm kind of apt to say that the only person that can ruin art history for somebody as an art historian. And I always try to keep it real and keep it as jargon-free as humanly possible and… See at the Maryland Institute, you have one class a week. So it's two hours and 45 minutes long. So you have to keep a group of students focused and on point. And this is oftentimes a group of people who will frankly tell you, “I have attention deficit.” Well, okay. So how can we keep this group of people focused, excited, and have them stay the course, literally. I tell them on the first day, I'm your personal trainer and we're going to teach you stamina, by God. And it works out, you know, it really does because by the end of the course, they've found something that they've totally meshed with, an artist who rocks their world, a set of images that give them a wellspring to pull from in terms of their own studio output. That's what this course was about from my point of view.
AS: Right. All of this is why Tru and I get along so well because we have this shared goal of demystifying the jargon, allowing for close looking, which is critical to develop your eye. There were a lot of simpatico moments in the way we approach students and art. So maybe we should roll back and describe the class, right? So it's one semester, it's the history of Western prints. We make that very clear: Western printmaking.
TL: Although Japanese prints sneak in there simply because when they were introduced into France or into Europe in the early 1860s, it was such a thrill, a shock, a whole new wave of aesthetic modes of thinking, working, and seeing, that it had a pronounced effect. I’ve come to realize that modernism, prints, any images of the modern era so much depend on that sparseness that, that cleanliness of the Japanese print design. So they obviously had an impact, but that's the only time I would really bring anything from outside the West. Yes, I admit it, Europe because that's how this course started. And in fact, in the way, Ann, wouldn’t you say the collection it’s pretty much that, at least in terms of its history. In terms of the works that are collected, there tends to be older male makers.
AS: There will be women involved in the story, but they are few and far between in the early part of the chronology, which begins sort of 1400. All right. So the class was a combination of coursework in a lecture hall, but it was majority visits to other institutions, right?
TL: At the end, it was. Now to preface this whole thing, I was told in maybe October of 2004, “we got you History of Prints.” And I thought, well, this is strange. Because I’d been teaching printmaking in the printmaking department. And I taught art history. And I used to think, gosh, someday I want to take History of Prints someplace. And then the chair of the department at the time walked up and said, “we got you History of Prints.” And it was going to start in January and I thought, oh, and I had never had History of Prints. I just knew I loved them and I made them.
AS: And there are so few schools that offer a History of Prints class at all. I didn't have one.
TL: Oh, heavens no. When you start realizing how fundamental they are to visual communication, how they were to digital, mass information of their age, it should be at least a part of every… as opposed to two or three slides in your Renaissance to 1855 survey class. However, it was something that Maryland Institute had because we've always had a really strong affinity with the Baltimore Museum of Art. We're only 1.3 miles apart. I'm just saying that because the students had to get from MICA up to the BMA. And even that was an issue because they had to learn how to form little pods and get themselves together in cars or ride their bikes. All of which of course now is strictly forbidden. Anyway. “We got you history of prints and you, we got you four visits.” Okay. And I, as I say, I had never had this. So I had two weeks to prepare. Once the other semester had ended, I locked myself into the George Peabody Library for eight hours a day and read and read and read Linda Hults’ History of the Print in the Western World, which I,
AS: I have to stop and say Linda Hults was a professor, when she wrote the textbook, at the College of Wooster, which is my alma mater.
TL: And it was published in the University of Wisconsin Press, and I'm a Midwesterner. So I actually went to St. Olaf in Northfield, Minnesota, you betcha. However, I literally had to lock myself into this space and read everything that was in this one book, because at the time, back in, what was that, 2005, December 2004, 2005. It was the only real encyclopedic print history and it was published in 1996. Consequently, the images of contemporary prints ended at around 1990. At any rate, it was terrifying. And I had to meet Ann's predecessor and work with her, Jenny Fleming, who was absolutely wonderful. But at the time, the bulk of the collection of the Baltimore Museum's collection of prints was kept on these nice file cards in cabinets, card catalogs, they were so pretty, but you opened them up and you're picking through, and some of them are in this form of how their information is entered.
AS: And, and some of them are handwritten. Some of the older ones are handwritten still.
TL: Jenny basically said, well, here's some prints that I think would probably be useful to you. And she's pretty much handed me a list of what may have been used by others before her. And I essentially took those and added a few to that. And so we had our four visits. The class that semester was lectures and only four BMA visits. Let's see, for each of the visits I required a personal reflection. That's one thing that made this class different was that I expected to have a thousand-word reflection on each of the visits because I wanted the students to actually process what they were seeing, how it affected what they were doing or to reflect on what the situation was for the printmakers of the time or what motivated this particular printmaker. So there was one of those for each of the visits, there was a midterm exam, which ultimately became, rather than just some terrifying identification thing, it became a vocabulary exam because there was a lot of terminology. If you actually use it, the terminology became very, very useful. There was a written visual analysis, which was where the student would have by that point in the semester discovered something that just rocked their world. And they were going to get to sit with that print at the Baltimore Museum of Art and draw it for an hour and then do a visual analysis. But there's no better way that to learn something than to spend actual time looking at it. Looking at how the lines swell and taper, or how the light shifts through the print and what did the artist do to make that happen. And how does that start to work on your mind as you're putting together the images that are being laid there in front of you and put that together into a thousand words, a visual analysis. Which I actually came to call love letters because really, visual analysis sounds really tedious. A love letter indicates that you've fallen in love with an image. That you spent an hour caressing every line and nuance with their eyes. And then that would be a wonderful paper. Of course, they would contact the associate curator and say, I need to see X print. And they would make the time to sit with that print. And it was a revelation, I think, even for you to watch student do that.
AS: Yeah, it was interesting. We tried to bundle the students up, you know, four or five at a time because it started eating time like you can't believe during your week.
TL: Because you had to be in the room, present with them because they're there with the 3, 4, 500-year-old piece of paper.
AS: The staff has to supervise visitors at all times. So somebody needed to be there, but watching the students draw with pencil a reproductive engraving or the Claude Milan spiral line, that single line from the nose outward to create the face of Jesus Christ. I mean, it was fascinating to watch how they would either try and do the whole thing or zero in on one section and really dig into the line work. And I mean, I probably might've, in another world, been an artist. So it was fun. It was fun for me to watch
TL: You are an artist. We are all artists in our own way. I mean when you put together an exhibition, that's your own artistry. And then the final for that course was to either reproduce as faithfully as possible a print. Or you could choose three prints that rocked your world and combine them into an artwork that you yourself had made up, but be able to show your peers that they had used a trace of a Jacques Callot, a little bit of a Daumier, and a Käthe Kollwitz to come up with this new image, which attacks a social problem. I've used some of each of their magic, or, you know, whether it's the choice of subject or the way that they used the line or the technique that you use and whether it was a carving or a lithograph, or what have you. And that means that by the end of the course, the student has been shopping for mentors, as I would say, throughout the entire semester. And the stakes were pretty high because, you know, if you're going to spend time making a final project that's twenty-five percent of your grade. That's one motivation, but it's also by then you really care about what you're doing. It's not just information, it's knowledge, it's belief, it's an entire different sensibility. And so I like to think that we really changed the way people would think and consume art.
AS: Well, I think the whole class was you weaving this incredibly fascinating tale about visual culture and how it intertwines with history and not just of artistic creation, so that there was this… I think, I know I learned a shit-ton from listening to you however many, 14 times I guess, through, although I have to say there were moments that I, every semester I would miss a piece of the lecture because I was busy shuffling something. So I would miss the one bit on Max Klinger or something. I was like, oh, DANG! I missed it again!
TL: So here's the deal. So Jenny Fleming… So the first semester, it was four visits, and then at the end of that semester, I'm both sweaty and relieved and it was a pretty good experience, although, completely terrifying. And Jenny said, “well, I'll be leaving now,” because she’d gotten a job in another place and all hail and farewell to you, Jenny. I'm sure you're very happy and doing a good job at your new place. And then they had somebody else that was brought in and they were only part-time and it was this person called Ann Shafer. I'd never clapped eyes on them. And Ann was part-time and said, “Well, I could give you two visits.” Okay, thank you very much.
AS: Well, at that point, the department was down to me as a part-timer trying to hold together the class schedule and some of the various small things that would come through as gifts or something while they were looking for a curator to be the head of the department. So it was me and the assistant in the department, only. There were two of us, which is not a lot.
TL: No, not at all. It's usually there's, it's a good bit. And eventually of course, you also had a fabulous intern that would have been pulled from a prior semester of History of Prints. That’s how you got Ben.
AS: Eventually I smartened up and Tru helped me source interns to help me during whichever semester it was that we were teaching History of Prints. And it was usually somebody from the prior class of History of Prints, so they had every motivation to look at everything again. They came in and they would pull everything. And we're talking about between 80 and a hundred prints per visit.
TL: Okay. Ultimately it was that, I will admit it
AS: They pulled everything, and put everything away, but they got to look at everything a second time.
TL: When we first started this, you know, when you ask to go to most print rooms, the max they'll probably pull out for you might be 15, 20 at the max, which was how Ann sweetly started. Because if I recall correctly, you also said you didn't know where the hell anything was.
AS: You know, a lot of the prints were not yet in the database. So as I started finding everything that Tru was requesting, I would start entering them in the system if they weren't already in it. And I would definitely locate them. Because most things weren't located either. So it took me hours to find everything.
TL: And eventually there was this magnificent series of images, easily accessible in TMS. What was it, The Museum System?
AS: Yeah. I started taking snapshots with my phone of all the prints and adding them to the record so that we could pull these lists that would have little thumbnails, which is super helpful. The ins and outs of cataloguing a print collection.
TL: But also the list, I would have to say that, that one of the things I delight in is the really worthwhile handouts I would give to my students. Not only a list of everything they're seeing, but then they could ultimately get a printout of what they saw with the little thumbnails that Ann had done. So in every aspect of this course, if you think about it, we pretty much dreamed up and improved it across those 15 years.
AS: Yes we did.
TL: So the second time there were two visits and lectures in the classroom. Then the next semester I was like, oh, could maybe we go up to four visits, and Ann was a good sport. And so we did. And then eventually as Ann and I got to be much more simpatico. And then you would be so sneaky and I’d say, what's this? And you’d say, well , it was in the box next to it.
AS: So here's what happened. So if you've listened to the first series of Platemark, and the episode in which I talk about becoming a curator, I had backed into it through a watercolor painting because I was a painting person initially. So I backed into the print world and I didn't, I wasn't, I mean, I could identify a technique and I could catalog them, but I wasn't a “print” person. It wasn't like, oh my God, this is the coolest thing ever. So,
TL: And of course now it is.
AS: Yes, it absolutely is. We're going to get you in if it kills us doing it.
TL: I don't think, I think you'll find that you have a whole new life.
AS: As I was going along, trying to find all of the works that you wanted for your classes and the works that other professors wanted for their classes, I started what we called box surfing. I would look through the entire box as I was finding whatever it was I was looking for. And then I started keeping lists of cool topics, like great eyeglasses in Old Master prints or smoke from a cigarette. Lists of things that could become a show.
TL: Magnificent clouds.
AS: So I did have a good cloud list. Yeah. There was games, sports, night scenes, all sorts of stuff. Cycles, calendars, or wars. Yeah.
TL: Periodically then you'd also pull something aside and put it in a special spot, which was the Trudi drawer.
AS: Well, right. So as I was doing all of this other stuff, if I found something that I was like, oh my gosh, you really have to see this, I would put it in a drawer. And then Tru would come up every couple of weeks and we would go through all of these crazy, weird prints.
TL: We spent a lot of time together looking at, we really looked carefully a lot of prints, especially in those early years. I had no idea that you didn't...
AS: I was pretending. I faked it till I made it.
TL: Well. Yeah. I mean, we just look at, say like, I, oh, look at the… And Ann’s like, hmm, apparently just drinking it all in. But it was great fun because obviously…
AS: It was an education for both of us.
TL: I was having such fun and I felt very special having this cache of wonderfulness being brought out. And then we'd look at something and snicker and oooh and be compelled to figure out if it needed to be slipped into the History of Prints. There are other times though, that you would just have found something adjacent, like I would be talking about a Buhot, who is a magnificent artist and we'll have to talk about him in a later as well. But she would have snuck in a couple of others prints and I'm like, oh.
AS: A couple of extra Buhots because there they were.
TL: When you have somebody that's doing a monotype situation and you can show how many different ways you could do variations on a theme, this is a guy that could do that. And that's the kind of thing that you know you can also use to inspire students. So the stacks of prints tended to get a little thicker each time we taught the class.
AS: It was my own fault.
TL: Well, yeah, you totally spoiled me. And then eventually it's like, I gotta do this right. Because Ann's going to expect this and it was…
TL: Oh yeah, totally. I think I just kept trying to take it to the next, next, next level. It's like having your personal trainer, except then you didn't realize you're personally training the other trainer. That's really one of the reasons why we just totally meshed on all of this stuff.
TL: And Ann’s investment in things like the subject matter and getting totally enraptured with it, or simply looking at the students and watching them. I know for a fact that you being what I would have called the print Santa… I'd find out from a certain student what they really loved. How they would say “I would really like to see, uh, such and such,” let's say. And I’d say, “Ann, could we get out Six’s Bridge for this student?” And that would be Six’s Bridge by Rembrandt, which actually, I don't know if you knew this, but for that particular student turned into her final project, which they called Howard's Bridge.
AS: Oh, right.
TL: So the Howard Street bridge is a big deal. It's the bridge you cross from the Maryland Institute to get up to the BMA. And so she had staged this entire print, her final, to look like Rembrandt's Six's Bridge, but brought it into the 21st century. It was etched quite well.
AS: I had forgotten that.
TL: Yeah. And it's those kinds of things. Remember Zach's final was the huge restatement of a Goltzius figure. One of the four Disgracers, only now he's got him doing hip-hop dancing, which was just as clever as it could be, but also very smart in ways of bumping up two ideas.
AS: Well, some of the final projects where, I mean, the printmaker majors obviously had a leg up on other people who were scrambling around. And you would say, “find someone who knows what they're doing and ask them to help you.” And some people would attempt etching for the first time.
TL: And sometimes, I mean, that was again the small-town-ness of it, because at first it was only printmakers that took that class. And eventually people from other departments managed to sneak in. Illustrators, sometimes some painters. Do you remember Will Kauffman's final? Oh my God. It was exquisite. He did a restatement of Albrecht Dürer’s the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, except as a painter, he was using black velvet and he used bleach.
AS: It was crazy good.
TL: Oh my gosh. I would give my left arm to have that.
AS: It was sadly unique. Because sometimes they would leave an impression for you as well.
TL: Let's see. That was something I ended up doing.
AS: That was great.
TL: If it was a print, then they had to pull three. I mean, why make a print? If you're going to make a print, the idea to my way of thinking—I am absolutely no monotypist. I don't make singular impressions. I make multiples. That's why I do prints because if you're going to say something, you better know what you think about it. I know there are those that want to show how cute and lovely the world is and they do kittens and sailboats and it's lovely for them. But for me, it's going to be more an issue of creation, or a take on consumerism or a restatement of stained glass windows from the medieval era and how it would have been interpreted in the 20th century with 20th century characters. But the idea was that if you're going to make prints that you needed to pull an edition. Why make a copper plate and pull one etching? That’s asinine. Make at least three impressions, one for your instructor, one for the curator at the BMA, and one for yourself. And if you're really smart, you pull a larger edition because you've made something really worthwhile for yourself. So if it was a non-print major, they—let's say it was an illustrator—they could create an image that was based on prints. But it could be done digitally. I'm saying that with a twisted face because I'm a very analog person, although I'm trying to reduce my chauvinism towards the digital realm. And particularly after this last year on Zoom, we couldn't have made it, no way, no way at all. Teaching art history on Zoom is one thing, trying to teach drawing on Zoom? It’s a whole other creature, but by golly, we got it done. And the students were wonderful.
AS: You had a great crew last year.
TL: Each time, each night, I was very fortunate that way. But Maryland Institute brings in students that if they're quiet and seem like they're lax when you first meet them, by God, they're not going to be when we're done. But the idea was to have multiple so that Ann would end up with some pretty swanky prints a couple of times.
TL: Right. Some people who've actually turned into some people, right?
AS: Yes, that's true.
TL: And then there was that one guy who ended up becoming an intern, who ended up becoming the curatorial assistant, who you're now doing podcasts with.
AS: That's correct.
TL: And that was this guy, Ben Levy, that I'd been teaching, who I'd had in Renaissance through 1855. And I had him in History of Prints.
AS: Yes. He was our student first.
TL: So it goes around when it comes around and it's a beautiful thing.
AS: I don’t think we ever said that in series one, when Ben and I were yakking about all sorts of stuff, we never said he started out as a student of mine.
TL: Nope. Nope. I knew Ben from the time he was a freshman.
AS: I know
TL: They grow up so fast. And now he’s getting his PhD.
AS: We did good.
TL: Well, I definitely did some grooming and raising of this championship scholar, too.
AS: We've learned a lot from each other.
TL: All three of us have traveled together. Ann and I have traveled a lot.
AS: That's true too.
TL: So I don't know. Where are we in our conversation?
AS: Before we leave this topic of the final project, I wanted to mention that there were non-printmakers who made some really wacky final projects. We had videos…
TL: Oh my God, twice. Restatements of Käthe Kollwitz, different ones. Really stunning ways of using the light and the drama and the angle and the composition of my spirit animal, Ann calls her my Patronus, because of course Harry Potter. But the idea of how magically masterfully this woman created scenes that are very filmic in spite of the fact that the series that these were drawn from was done in 1907, 1908. But to have in widely differing semesters two different videographers do to different Käthe Kollwitzs. Wonderful stuff. Talk about the one you adored. The one that was done by a graphic design guy.
AS: You didn’t like than one as much as me?
TL: I was watching you get all gaga because you understood it far more readily than I did. There was the concept of the edition. Go ahead.
AS: There was a young guy who created a website and his focus was on the limited edition. So when you went to the website, you established the edition size. You could put in the number 10 or whatever, and every time you went back to the website, on the 11th visit it no longer existed for that user.
TL: And it magically continued. Very clever and beautifully demonstrated that day.
AS: It was great.
TL: We've we had graphic designers that learned how to do screenprints. In that particular class, there was a young man who had done a Lichtenstein and then he'd also switched it up because he realized he could switch layers. We had people who were fiber majors make tapestries. There were several books over the years.
AS: Oh yeah. There were books. And then remember, there was the two that teamed up together that were sculptors.
TL: Oh my goodness. So a sculpture major and a graphic design major got together. And the thing that had blown them away was Leonard Baskin’s life-sized figure of the Hydrogen Man. And it's an astonishing work completed in 1952, if I remember correctly. It's hand printed on Shoji paper, he had carved it into a big piece of plywood. But this idea of the disintegrating human after an atomic bomb, it's riveting image. Well, the two of these people got together and they didn't know about the signature of the wood, they got a piece of plywood. The signature is the grain of the wood and how it shows, appears in a print. They made a half size, really good reduction of this print. They carved it, it's huge. They printed it by hand at least three times. And honestly, that was, must've been close to 10 years ago and it's in my office. It's a stunning restatement. I just didn't know the level of commitment to the course and to themselves and to learning what it takes. Those kinds of things were just magnificent. And if I thought about it and looked over the list, we've got some greatest hits. But, just to know that you didn't have to be a printmaker, you could have been a Joe average guy, let's say, you still have to sit for an hour with a print and draw it and write about it. Which is something I have the music students that I teach at the Peabody Conservatory of Music. I teach art history there to the musicians. I tell them to listen with their eyes and they start to realize how beautifully art history and music history mesh because line and shape and color and texture and space are both used in music and in visual arts. And they have to write two love letters in the semester, which means they've had to have gone to a museum twice, which in some cases has never happened for them. They’d say “We have to draw for an hour. I can't draw.” I said, “Yeah, well, I can't play clarinet, but I still have to try and figure out how it's done.” And it's amazing to see how they really wrestle with it. But what it has taught them is how things were placed. They start to notice why is that sphere at that angle, or why does the light come in from this angle? And, it leads them to a higher level of perception. Prints don't have to be from printmakers even though, I mean… Well, we call it print porn sometimes because it's just so darn fabulous. But you know, for the non-art major, it could be a wonderful thing too, because it is the birth of visual communication and, you know, meaning what you say when you put it out there.
AS: Well, and I think that that is the reason why the class resonated. I mean, it got oversubscribed many, many, many times. We had to turn people away from it. We had 30…
TL: Oh God, that terrible semester when we had 30.
AS: We had 30-something people trying to look at an Albrecht Dürer that was four by five inches. It was a little nutso. They just would eat it up.
TL: Yup. And, you know, eventually—I don't know if we ever got to the point where I said, Ann, can we go to five sessions? In the end it was six sessions. And so eventually it was less in the classroom lecturing, or maybe before lectures throughout the semester to just to set the stage historically. Then I would have them go to the Baltimore Museum of Art six times. And interspersed in there, they would go to something like the George Peabody Library, which is the, one of the most beautiful things on the face of the planet. Seven stories of books. Cast-iron filagree. It was built in 1878. It's part of the whole Peabody Conservatory of Music, which is part of the Johns Hopkins University now.
AS: Which is worth visiting. And, or if not that, looking it up.
TL: Oh, you must, at least Google it. It's a cathedral of books. It's one of my favorite things. But I know it's taking us off the history of prints, but we go to the George Peabody Library because prints in books are wonderful things too. For instance, John Milton's Paradise Lost. It was illustrated by,
AS: John Martin.
TL: John Martin. And seeing the prints in the books as illustrations and these exquisite mezzotints, and then “I can touch those?” “Yes, they're books. With books, you can touch them.” The point was to realize that print is everywhere, real prints. It was like the scene in Beauty and the Beast, when the beast opens up the library for Beauty and she goes, Ahhhhh. Well, it was like that. You know, when Paul Espinosa would open up the doors to the Peabody Library and there's seven stories of beautiful books. Now this was a non-lending library. You'd have to use them in the space. And their rare book room. Ooooh.
AS: They have some great volumes.
TL: Many of the artists that we'll talk about, some of them will have some prints and books there, which students can pretty much just sit with them. Touch the page. So we take them to the George Peabody Library or the Evergreen Museum and Library, which has an exquisite collection. So you need to visit Baltimore because it's the city that reads and it's a city built on great libraries. And two of the most beautiful are right here in Baltimore, Maryland.
AS: The interesting thing about the Evergreen Museum and Library, which is part of Johns Hopkins University, as well as the Peabody, is that the collection of rare books there is from the Garrett family. And when the sons split up the collection, the books went to Evergreen, but all of the prints, 20,000 of them, went to the Baltimore Museum of Art.
TL: Garrett was the founder of the B&O railroad.
TL: He was one of the first kind of robber barons, but they were also culturally savvy and really did add to the life of the community. I mean, absolutely everything you would talk about white privilege in its time.
AS: For sure.
TL: You talk about conspicuous consumption. The difference between Martin Luther's September Testament and the December Testament.
TL: Yeah. Sorry, hon, they have the first edition. 1522, when Luther had translated the Bible from Latin into German. So it was the people's language and the whole Lutheranism thing started. Well, the first edition had an image at the back, which was, if I remember correctly, something like the Pope is the antichrist. In the December edition, they had to change the woodblock because it was so scurrilous. It was so brutal an attack on the Catholic Church that it had to be edited. They'd tried to excommunicate him. He's a wonderful figure, but you think about Martin Luther and then you think about people who change history like Martin Luther King, Jr., and you start to realize that idea that the power of one individual can do a lot. And the power of an individual affiliated with a printing press, some good artist is going to make a big difference. So there they could see the difference of those two, which I… Okay, that's totally book nerdy, but to me that's really, really exciting.
AS: It's a remarkable library.
TL: And the other thing, Audubon's Birds of North America, all the elephant folios that we would… it takes two people to pull them out and to see these magnificent birds engraved and hand colored in these gorgeous tomes and the birds had to be life size.
AS: And they have a plate or two?
TL: Yes, they have one Audubon plate and it has a wood-common loon, which is of course—I’m a dork. They also have the Fowler aspect of the collection of some of the finest printed books about architecture. It's a great learning library. And I actually sat with a weird little bound volume. John Buchtel, who was one of the very first curator slash librarians that I met when I was learning to teach this class said, “I was walking around the library and I found this in a bench someplace,” and it was actually all the plates from Goya's Disasters of War bound in a single volume. Which was just for the family, and they just started putting it all into a little binding. So I had to sit there and weep as I was turning the plates. But it's those kinds of things… things exist in all kinds of hidden places. All you need now is three mouse clicks to start discovering this stuff. You know, the world is yours. So that's, that's the kind of stuff we're trying to teach in History of Prints also.
AS: Just to circle back to the Garrett collection for a second, the Garrett library, as we said, is at Evergreen is a sort of collector’s dream of first editions. Right? Well, the print collection is fascinating because it is a survey of Western printmaking, read all male, white, et cetera,
TL: And really great impressions of them.
AS: There's some spots that aren't so great, but most of them are very good. But Garrett had purchased that collection from a Philadelphia collector who had put it together first. James Claghorn. So Garrett, in his effort to establish himself as a cultured person, lock, stock, and barrel bought this collection, as opposed to, you know, buying 15 Dürers from a dealer in New York and starting quietly to add… He bought the whole thing.
TL: So even the issues of collecting and just showing how savvy you are. I mean, it also gives some credence when you… if you ever heard somebody say, come up and look at my etchings sometime.
AS: It's a real thing.
TL: Yeah. If you have beautiful prints and they're etchings, which we'll probably end up talking about some really glorious etching when we get into the images-that-rock-your-world part of this effort.
AS: One of the reasons that Tru was making use of the BMA’s collection is that it was a mile and a third away from the school, but also with 65,000 objects in the print and drawing collection, we could tell the history of Western printmaking pretty much—I mean, with, we had obviously some gaps—from Dürer all the way up to yesterday. And it was mainly based in the Garrett collection and a few others. The museum has an incredible 19th-century French print collection that was collected by George A. Lucas. Not to be confused with the Star Wars Lucas. He was an artists’ dealer in Paris and collected multiple impressions of X, Y, and Z from Manet and…
TL: From the artists themselves.
AS: From the artists. And many of them are inscribed to him. There's a few Cassatts…
TL: Cassatts “To Mr. Lucas with all best regards.”
TL: I think it's The Banjo Lesson.
AS: I think you're right. And so that's, it's an invaluable resource because it's an intact collection. It also includes all of his catalogs and salon catalogs and reference books. And you could really see the totality of a connoisseur.
TL: And even that can become another issue because the Lucas Collection is a tremendously important part that the Baltimore Museum of Art has, but at one time it… Lucas, when in his bequest, he left it to the Maryland Institute College of Art. And so even this magnificent collection becomes an issue because it was part of the Maryland Institute, but ultimately in the mid-nineties, the Institute was falling on some hard times and was thinking about selling part of the Lucas Collection. And, Lucas had given it to the Maryland Institutes so students could use it, but when students use things, they use the hell out of them. They use them up. I mean, if you don't want anything to last, make sure you put it out there for student use. That's why Ann is always in the print room sitting with the students when they're looking at Dürers. But at the point the Maryland Institute, if I remember correctly, was trying to come up with funds and what it did was if you're going to destroy this, dismember this brilliant collection, that would have been a phenomenal loss to the history of art, to the history of prints, to a man's legacy. And so the citizens of Baltimore got together and the money was raised and it was brought into the custodianship… Or did you guys buy it outright?
AS: We did with a lot of money from individuals and also the State. But the interesting part is that Lucas dies in, I'm going to guess somewhere, maybe 1911-ish, somewhere in there. The prints were all in Paris. They get shipped to the Maryland Institute. They're there for not very long. They came to the museum in the thirties. They came to the museum as an on-loan collection. And they remained there until 1996, when the museum finally purchased them. So they were, they were loans for years and years and years. They were only at the Maryland Institute for 20 years, which is a long time, but it's not a long time.
TL: Who was the great curator though? The very first one, Blanche.
AS: Blanche Adler.
TL: In the story that the remarkable Jay Fisher, who was Mr. print curator for so long—we love him dearly—he had written an article about what would happen if we lost the Lucas Collection in the 1990s. And this is a reason I bring this up is because it's another lesson in how easy it is to lose history and, slicing a page out of a book like Audubon's Birds of North America so you set it up so it's pretty on the wall in your rich aunt's house is tragic because you've just ripped an arm off of a piece of a historical body.
AS: Well, he had to defend the purchase of it, which was a big effing deal.
TL: Oh, that's right. But it was also that Blanche Adler, his predecessor predecessor back in the thirties, had noticed that students were using a Cassatt to, they had it tacked against the window to diffuse the light. I mean these are prints that are now of course worth thousands and thousands of dollars. And at the time she'd only been dead maybe what 15 years? So it was just a thing then, and now it's a thing, you know, and we can use Mary Cassatt as one of the women artists we get to discuss. In fact, I was always sure to compare Mary Cassatt on the same day that we finished with Kollwitz. Because one is a child of privilege, mainline Philadelphia; one is a doctor's wife that chose to… she and her husband chose to live in the poorest part of Berlin. And the work that she makes is always of the poor, of the worker, taking solace in, finding the nobility of those who have far less and making them visible, I think for the first time. She was such a brilliant, but heavy topic, it's kind of like how you kind of had to end the day. Because she can suck all the oxygen out of the room, but in the most amazing way, you know? So it's being able to put two ideas or two concepts or two artists side by side. That's one of the brilliant things in the collection too. Also, as Ann and I went along in art history together. I mean, I'm looking at our dates from spring of 2005, we worked together until 2017. Towards the end of the time together, we were all able to bring out some of the newest accessions to the Baltimore Museum of Art’s collection, because those are some that Ann had curated (acquired). A couple of times I was there with her.
AS: That's true.
TL: Like the Jim Dine Raven on Lebanese Border kind of thing.
AS: That was a good one.
TL: But it was because that was the other part was to be able to see brand new, not even accessioned into the collection yet. So to get the students to realize that it is an evolving thing, it's just not this deep freeze of mink coats that you can never look at, you know, that it was a really vibrant part of history and to understand what the influences were on the makers in their own time. What was the governing force? If it was the Church, it was the Church. If it was the Church, it was still the Church.
AS: It’s the Church story.
TL: If it was the Church getting broken up and what that meant. And when that happens, does it change the kind of subject matter that can be there and why that subject matter? And if it takes you all to the way to the present day and how some artists are trying to trick or fool us, or masterfully restate something. It gives us all of these different ways of what kinds of life, the life of the artist's mind needs to deal with. Because an artist now has nothing in some ways to do with an artist that was making prints of a saint that someone could carry in their pocket for protection in the 1400s. But it's still prints, and you get the world.
AS: Yeah. And that's something that Ben and I talked about in series one a lot, which is beauty of prints and print collecting is that because they're multiples, their price point is usually lower than other media and because of that, you can have it. I can have that Rembrandt and you can have that Rembrandt.
TL: Well, I can't have that Rembrandt.
AS: I don’t have that one either. But...
TL: But I can have that Goya over there. That Bracquemond on my wall. I only paid it off over a year.
AS: I turned Tru into a print collector.
TL: Yeah. Well, you are evil.
AS: I did. It was so much fun watching.
TL: So if you were to walk around with Purple Crayon Press, we can go: “We were together. We were together.” “Where'd you get that one?” “I did that one by myself?”
AS: Yes, every now and again.
TL: And then there was one very recently that both of us kind of went for, but I nabbed it first.
AS: You did nab it first.
TL: Yes, I did.
AS: I wanted that print.
TL: Dude, it was in my price point, okay?
AS: I know
TL: I'm a poor little iris from Iowa.
AS: Yes, it is perfect.
TL: Yes, it is perfect, you can visit it.
AS: It’s a little John Taylor Arms print of the war planes flying, dive bombing.
TL: But the flying thing is, look, I'm a flyer. So at any rate. I forgot the point I was going to make you goober. No, no, no, no, no, it was “Why prints?” Well, if one were to go into the story of why even art history, that would be something, but mine was very fortunate because my folks, when we were growing up, there were five of us and there wasn't a whole lot of money, like none. My mother was a journalist and she also was a journalism teacher and an English teacher, but she would occasionally write copy for the Des Moines Register and Tribune, the newspaper that Iowa depends upon. And both of my older brothers and I also had a morning paper route and, you’d go out at four in the morning and you're dragging around this heavy paper and delivering it to homes, which teaches you wonderful things about milkmen who give you a free carton of milk because they see you walking around.
TL: Yeah. Oh yeah, absolutely. And you know, but it's also Des Moines and it's 20 below. You kind of need something on days like that, but my brothers, being older, there would always be two or three extra copies of the paper and it would be sitting on the table when I would come down. And there was always had to be at least two copies because my parents did crossword puzzle battles. I mean, they were fierce, but there would be at least two or three papers and they’d be lined up and that picture on the front right below the headline to see that repeated, repeated, repeated, and particularly it was burned into my mind one shot of a young man in the back of an ambulance during the Vietnam war. But to see an image repeated. At the time I was in my early teens, but I just remember how strong that was for me to be able to see those images, bop bop bop bop bop, and periodically I walked my mom's copy into the paper. Yes. Back in those days, we got on our horses and rode across the Plains to deliver. I'd walk Mom’s hand-typed-on-a-Remington copy into the Des Moines Register and Tribune. But you go past the press room windows that faced the main street of Des Moines, Iowa, and it was like Krispy Kremes, but fast, you know, the papers would be going (sound effect) and they'd be being printed and rolling down these huge things and they'd be up and over and round and folded and bop bop bop bop bop, and just like in the movies, but you'd see the repeated image. And that to me was so thrilling. And I think even editorial cartoons, because Frank Miller was and Ding Darling was also another one of the Pulitzer-prize-winning cartoonists whose cartoons would be on the front page of the paper. And that stuck in my mind big time too. And I guess that's where the Daumier thing comes from. I just realized that now, because I would analyze their lines, styles and all of this, and it was above the fold… It was the multiplicity of those images on the front page of the newspaper that got me fascinated. And then I hadn't had printmaking. We all did linocut.
AS: I did.
TL: Of course we did. And I thought that was really cool, but I didn't think it was something you got to do except in Mr. Rooney's eighth grade class. Until I got to college. And there's a circuitous path from being pre-med into going, oh God, that takes discipline. I have ADD, that's not going to work on organic chemistry and calc. No, I don't think so. Maybe I'm medical illustration or biology is gorgeous the way there's this thing called the computer. No, no, no, no, no. And then vocal performance. And then I took my first art history class. I'm like, oh, you can major in this? I just thought it was a neat thing that you could see, like my folks where I was taking us the Des Moines Art Center, because it was free. It was beautiful. But, and then the next semester I took a printmaking class. Oh my God, first semester, my junior year, it was the first printmaking class I ever had. And that was it. And it just the magical cookery of it, the care, the craftsmanship, the carving for me as a latent sculptor on a level playing field of doing things to a surface to make it do something to another surface. And then you get multiples. I mean, that's an amazing thing. As opposed to going—and believe me, I teach art history—dab dab dab dab on a canvas. For me? Not going to happen. To go click, click, click with a mouse. For me, not going to happen. To carve into a surface to get it in there, bite it in acid, put it on a press bed, crank it through, and then lift it up and go, oh, or damn. That, to me, is part of the making. So it's getting that whole life cycle of a print and what it can do once it's out there. That to me is absolutely thrilling. And that's the kind of thing that the History of Prints was there to teach these young printmakers. That’s why prints rock.
AS: But you didn't have a history of prints class in college?
AS: Neither did I.
TL: No. I had two weeks to prepare for that first one. And then, yeah.
AS: Yeah. I mean, it's kind of amazing to me that it's not offered, even in, not in an art history vein, like it's, it really…
TL: It really, really, really should be.
AS: I also find it amazing if you listen to the episode in series one on the role of the curator, where I confess that during my junior year, almost the exact same moment that you discovered your thing, I discovered mine. Day two in my internship at the Whitney I was like, “this is it.”
TL: Oh yeah, yeah. But wait, what part of the Whitney did you work in?
AS: Curatorial. I was with Barbara Haskell. She was working on early 20th century Modern painters.
TL: Which of course, we all have to read Barbara Haskell because she was like the thing.
AS: She's good. Yeah.
TL: And that's, that's the magic of a junior year also. It used to be that that's about when the students would also be taking History of Prints because they would have completed… That's the general idea, was that they would have completed their requirements, the first foundation requirements and drawing and sculpture and all of those things. And then sophomore year, there's some more requirements and you're starting to feel out what your major might be. And if you haven't figured out what your major is going to be by your junior year, you're in some hot water. But if you take History of Prints and it gives you this entire new menu of things to choose from, then you're really talking. Ideally, maybe there will be those that say, give it to a student their sophomore year. But they really need to have had some other art history first. Otherwise I think it's lost on them and senior year, it might be a little bit too late, but then again, they're real motivated because they only had but so much time left. And then eventually it was like, this should really be two semesters. And Ann is standing there panting. It's like, we're both like, yeah, it should, because that was an intense output. We were both sweating at the end.
AS: We were both cooked at the end of the class.
TL: Totally, totally. But it was a performance, but the magic of that and seeing the faces, the eyes light up, or the hushed tones, or learning how to… There's a tempo to presenting things so that I'm not, like I am now, endlessly fire hosing a ton of information at people. But to let there be silences. That is an important and wonderful thing too.
AS: So I think you're selling yourself short. There were some silences, usually while I was shuffling crap as fast as I could put the interleaving back in.
TL: I never understood how you can do that.
AS: It was challenging. But Tru, when you get on a roll and you start talking about something… So at some point in series one, we start talking about the three moments, Ben and I, started talking about the three moments that we were overcome with emotion about some object, and it was fascinating. Mine are sort of random and, like Las Meninas at the Prado. I didn't know anything about the painting. I was just struck by it. Right.
TL: Really? You didn't even know.
AS: I mean, I knew what it was, but I had never studied it. And Ben’s were all moments when you were talking about prints.
TL: How about that?
AS: I said, so what are your three? He said, well, let's see. The Three Crosses (Rembrandt) always gets me. Battlefield (Kollwitz), always gets… I was like, hold on, whoa, whoa. Now those are all moments that overcame you because you were listening to someone super eloquent on a roll, telling you something that got the emotions to link up with the visual for you. Which was just a whole different reaction than me walking into a gallery and going, holy shit. What is that?
TL: But at the same time then, Ben and his ability to start talking about things… Look how wonderfully florid he's becoming in his ability to speak extemporaneously.
TL: You know, and just like, why is this grabbing me? You know, if I can say, this is what's in this picture and eventually you go, oh, and you start to realize that you can start picking those things out too. I mean, he's got a laser eye and I think it's so… Oh God, it's so easy in this day, when all this random crap pops up on your phone and you don't even notice how much bullshit's flying up there, but it's you and this image that a person who's touched it and it’s right there. If you learn how to look… It was like, oh my God. And it's there and it's there. And, oh, what's that? Oh my God. And then you'd be… What I tell my students, if you got a 20-foot image, a 10-foot image, a 5-foot image and it still says, come on, come on, come on until you're two inches away and the museum guard is going to smack you, then the artist has won and you win, too. Because you're right there and you're trying to find it. And that's… Really giving people the ability to know that they have the power to do that. And if you don't, you're missing half a life because 90% of the information is supposed to go in through your eyes. And it still can. It could just be…
AS: 90%? Is that right?
TL: Oh yeah.
AS: I believe it.
TL: And yeah. And that's why you don't talk about like going blind. Oh, that's terrifying. But that's why History of Prints is there, and you can get that close. And so… What else are we supposed to say?
AS: In that same vein, Ben confessed and I remember the one time during--I think it was The Three Crosses. No, it was the one with Simeon (Rembrandt).
TL: Simeon's Presentation in the Temple.
AS: This is another Rembrandt etching. And…
TL: It broke me down.
AS: It broke you. And that broke us because we've listened to you for however many times through this thing. And you saw something new and that came through like a fucking laser. And the two of us were like, aughhhhhh.
TL: It was the first time. I think it was the first time I used that image and it was shortly after…
AS: It was the first time? Really?
TL: Probably, well, let's put it this way. It was the first time I'd seen it that way. Because it's a super important image by Rembrandt.
AS: Which goes to, every time you approach a work of art, it's different.
TL: It's like a fireplace. That's like watching a fireplace. It's going to be different. You know, there are times where I think, gosh, I'll never hear Beethoven’s Seventh for the first time ever again. But that's not really true because it depends on who's conducting it, what orchestra, how it was recorded. How heavy are the basses in that section? How, you know,
AS: Is it Bernstein?
TL: Or is it a German conductor? Is it von Karajan? The thing about Simeon in the Temple… It's when Rembrandt has totally hit his stride and he's really figured out how to have figures that are completely in the light and just barely scribbled in there. But they're a way of carrying light into an image. And then there's a way he focuses your attention at a moment. And then there'll be maybe a dark side of the image as well. And Simeon is this old guy and he goes to the temple and he's been told that once he sees that the Messiah has come, he may die. He's ancient. He's been waiting and he's just ancient ancient ancient. And so Simeon has approached the altar in the temple and there's this infant, and I swear to you that the face on Simeon must be no bigger than 3/8 x 3/8. Which means that it must be like seven lines max that creates this face. And it's this wizened old man leaning forward and there is this shaft of light on him and seeing the infant, he now knows that he'd may go. He's allowed to die, that he can pass on. His time has been spent well. Oftentimes when we were teaching History of Prints and I'm looking at stuff upside down and from different angles, which also teaches me just how important composition is from any angle. That's also a really useful tool. Here's Simeon is coming in. I don't know if I was looking at it right-side-up or what, but I, blah, blah, blah, talking about Simeon in the Temple, and then he sees the infant and he knows he could go. And I looked at it, I went, I’ve seen that face and it was my mother's face. The day she died, she knew she could go. I gave her permission, and it was like that. And it's this silly little piece of paper that holds a lifetime of love in it. And that's what you get in History of Prints, if you want. That's all.
AS: Demonstration number one.
TL: It was, so it was so her face, it was just, it's this wonderful release in this kind of awe. It was so exquisite. And Rembrandt, get this, I got choked up talking about the Rat Catcher one day.
AS: You did?
TL: Yes. Something was going on, it was partly a Trumpian time, you know, and it was like just being so evil to people of no standing or the lesser than, or the other. And, you know, talking about how, Amsterdam in Holland in the 17th century is the most literate, has the highest per capita lifestyle of any place on the planet, and there's a rat catcher that's coming. He’s got his rats, all dangling from his post that he's got the owner of the house is leaning over the Dutch door, looking at the rat catcher and he's standing there. And I was ranting about something about economy and about how these people would take care of their own. And even Rembrandt would show betters with humanity and actually make images that included them as prints. Which means there's going to be a market for people buying more because they're lessons in humility, humanity, mercy, those kinds of things. And there's this image and I'm blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And it's something I must have been in the news that had so addled me that I was ranting about it. And I looked at it and I said, and he'll do something like this. And it was just, it was like, he got me. It was like, just because the person who's come to the door. It's not like, oh God, here comes the people that are trying to sell you a new form of electric access or whatever. It was the face of the person who was looking at the rat catcher who is a beggar man with dead rats, but he's going to come and take these pests out of your home. He knew me, you know, and that's like the 1640s. And we can't even still figure this out. I mean, looking at COVID and taking away people's unemployment. People are people and people suffer, and we all have more than we think we do. And enough is a feast then why can't we be better to most, you know, or if not, all. So I think that I learned more about humanity in those times… Even Callot did beggars and street performers. And, you know, it's that as a subject. If you were to see that now… Let's see, who could do it. Käthe Kollwitz would have done it. A couple of the guys doing WPA prints during the depression, we could see something like that. And then let's move our way forward and start realizing how much less there is there of that. And it's more, you know, what is the…
AS: It’s more documentary photography now.
TL: Yeah. Which I think in a way as a little too easy. In a way, because I think people react to photography far differently. It's an immediate impulse and an immediate access in prints because your eyes have to wander through those lines and start having them solidify into something that I think has a different kick. You know? So it's those kinds of lessons in humanity or sometimes it's just what the artist went through to make something happen or how firm their belief is in something. Sometimes it's just the prodigal beauty of how a person makes their mark and makes it look so easy. And it's not. That it took a lifetime to master how to, with a very few lines, say so much with so little. That simple is beautiful, but simple isn't easy. It's those kinds of things, that's an amazing thing too.
AS: I think that's why Rembrandt continues to be the guy because he runs the gamut from religiosity to humility, as well as you, me, and your neighbor
TL: Or just, you know, he's a great story. Oh my God. Or the Adam and Eve. She's like this nice middle-aged woman and she's looking all crabby and Adam's holding the apple and he's looking all crabby and they looked like this bitchy married couple. And it's like, oh man, did you nail that, buddy? Just as a little bitty print, it's funny as can be. And you compare that to the Dürer where Adam is this Adonis of a body and the whole forest is beautifully rendered and every animal is present, but you know, you look at the Rembrandt and you're like, yup, I know that is that squabbling… The Bickersons. It's like, yeah, even Adam and Eve squabbled. That's a storyteller right there.
AS: I love Dürer, but I feel like Rembrandt would be a much more interesting conversation.
TL: Heck yeah. If you read some of the literature, he apparently was a really horrible little man, but I'm sure he'd be a lot of fun to speak to. Dürer, c’mon, man. He was so beautiful. Look at me.
AS: Ego, ego.
TL: In a way he has the right.
AS: I know. But I love a Dürer.
TL: Yeah, Rembrandt had his own little problems too. But sometimes you can't cancel people completely because the contribution they made or the change that they wrought could be completely useful, too. That's even something that I've been thinking about a lot. Gauguin was a total ass and left his wife and four or five kids to like, “alright, God, I can’t be a baker. The only thing I'm good at is painting. I'm going to go to Tahiti and paint these beautiful little Tahitian treat girls. I'll marry one, whatever.” You know, that's a jackass who really changed modern art.
AS: I have a hard time with all that, now. What do I do with Picasso and Matisse? They were all pigs.
TL: Yes. But they were allowed to be pigs because there was no group of women going, “oh no.” I mean, think about Käthe Kollwitz knew what she meant, but the Kaiser stripped her of the medal she won that year because no woman can be winning a gold medal for drawing and or that it was too naturalistic. You know, everybody has a point. That's the other thing about History of Prints, that we can get into those kinds of arguments, as well.
AS: Right. So let's wrap up with, if you don't mind… You always had the “what's your credo, what do you believe in” talk for the students as they were embarking on their final projects that I always thought…
TL: You mean what's your manifesto? That’s create your credo. It doesn't mean it has to stick with you forever, but what do you believe? It was what's your manifesto? That was, in fact it could be one of their final reflections. Each student, because we've talked about the futurist manifesto or the surrealist manifesto, would be asked, but what is your manifesto?
AS: That's the thing that I think separates art school education curricula from other kinds and separates the kind of brains that artists have, that people like me don't. Nobody ever asked me what my goddamn credo was ever.
TL: But you know what it is, and we talk about it, but…
AS: Well, I do now.
TL: What's your art, you know, what's your elevator speech, right? It’s like I believe in this and that and the other. It's like the Apostle's creed in a way. Right. And, the idea of, for this moment… it doesn't mean that you have to believe this forever, but what do you strongly believe in right now? Actually, I do that a lot with that final 20th-century one, when I was listing all of the stuff that had happened to Martin Luther King…
AS: That's the speech that always got me.
TL: Well, that’s so sweet.
TL: But that's because I was putting it together for me, you know? And I put together that timeline. To realize that in my lifetime, we went from the civil rights act to the civil rights voting act up to Barack Obama. In my lifetime. It's amazing to me that that that could have happened. And now we have Kamala Harris. And yet we have so much to do because there's so much that's still so fucked up, but that's where prints could be completely useful. So that idea of really taking a hard look at the world, and seeing what is it that I could do? What do I think? What is an image that I could make? And the other thing that I put in every single syllabus, I think for the last 20 years, and it's a quotation actually by a photographer, Walker Evans, who was taking photographs for the Farm Service Administration… But it is “stare, educate your eye and more, stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop, die knowing something, you are not here long.” And it always ended that way too. You’ve got now. Use it. That's what I do in those classes, because it's all we get, is now.
AS: I always try to describe your effect on the students and why they always say “the best class I ever took was History of Prints. I got so much out of it.” And between seeing things up close at the museum, but also just your incredible passion for not only your own thinking and beliefs, but also helping them along their own paths. I mean, it's a gift.
TL: It's a legacy. It's giving back. It's paying it back and paying it forward. Because we become the people we respect. And if I hadn't been taught the way I was at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, then, you know… The credo of that school was lives of worth and service. It didn't say lives of good and stable income. But if you'd say lives of worth and service and… I can't not teach. I can't. It's my expensive hobby. I'm not a full-time faculty member, but I'm not one that are going to get rid of, because I got these students and they're miracles and I want them to feel like I felt, and that's why that happens. And I don't know any other way to do it. And I don't honestly know where it comes from in the moment. That's why I was get all weird and squiggly about stuff like what we're doing right now, but we're doing it.
AS: It took me a while to convince you to do it.
TL: Ann’s pretty good at pulling teeth. I don't have very many teeth left, but… Yeah, but that's why History of Prints. Because it's the world. You get the world if you want. And if you don't, have a good time with your phone and your TV. I wish you luck.
AS: Alright. So, thanks for listening to the first episode of what we hope will be many. I'm not exactly sure how many we're going to do in this series, but we're going to start and keep going.
TL: It's an un-closed edition.
AS: There you go. It's an open edition. We're going to start chronologically, right? Skipping along, over prints that we think are linchpins or jaw droppers or whatever their effect. It's curator's choice.
TL: Yup. Yup.
AS: If you have requests, let us know.
TL: You definitely can. Because sometimes: each one, teach one. Cause you learn a lot from your students, too. So if you have a favorite, it's like if you like such-and-such by so-and-so…
AS: And maybe we can even, if we can find them and they are willing, have some alumni of History of Prints come on and talk to us about their experience. Wouldn’t that'd be great?
TL: Yeah, we should go look through the roster. Oh my gosh. Oh my peeps. I love my peeps.
AS: Anyway. Thanks for joining us today. We'll be back with more
TL: Hail and farewell, centurion.
AS: There you go.
AS: You've been listening to Platemark series two the History of Western Printmaking. I hope you're enjoying it and learning. We welcome questions and hope you will rate us and leave a review. That will help us spread the word. And you could share it with your sphere of influence, too. We'd appreciate it.
Platemark series two History of Prints is produced and mixed by me, Ann Shafer and my co-host is Tru Ludwig. And I'd like to say a special thank you to Michael Diamond for letting us use his original composition as our theme music.
Platemark series two History of Prints
Producer and host: Ann Shafer
Co-host: Tru Ludwig
Theme music: Michael Diamond
Show notes and website: platemarkpodcast.com
©2021 Ann Shafer