The printmaking and music com munities, though worlds apart in terms of technology, are both in crisis over how to find a creative place in a world where technology has changed our ideas of what we consider art.
I'm visiting Open Studio at 401 Richmond West, where in a setting of buffed brick and warm wooden floors printmakers are sanding down ancient blocks of limestone with carborundum grit, creating smooth, blank surfaces to draw on.
"It's a meditative process," says Sarah Kinsey, a local artist. "You get to think about the layers that have gone before yours. The stone is like your canvas, and by spending time grinding it you get to know it."
Next, the artist draws on the stone with grease, and then washes it in acid, which eats into the surface so it will hold ink, which is then transferred to paper by means of a press.
It's a technology that, in the words of symbolist poet Paul Valéry, "brought about an amazing change in our very notion of art," since beautiful pieces could now be copied over and over.
Still, each print is slightly different, retaining some signature of the hand that fed it through the press. As Jill Graham, technical director of Open Studio, puts it, "The human variations are what make a print unique."
But the proliferation of digital technology is drastically changing the artistic landscape.
In music, the story is the same. In August, obituaries littered the dailies paying tribute to the inventor of the synthesizer, Robert Moog (rhymes with vogue). Originally a theremin designer, Moog revolutionized music in the 60s when he found a way to create sounds from electronic signals controlled by a keyboard interface.
Moog's synthesizers were analog machines that created continuous, organic-sounding signals. Much like lithographs created on a hand-cranked press, the music made with Moog's invention was mechanized, but not devoid of soul.
But digital synthesizers replaced Moog's keyboards with sounds created artificially out of discrete electronic bits.
In the weeks following his death, Moog was credited with everything from sampling in hiphop to the creation of electronic music itself. But what's often forgotten amidst the hagiography is that Moog was uncomfortable with the idea of digital technology replacing more traditional forms of music.
In an interview with Amazing Sounds magazine, he said that with digital synthesizers "there is none of the characteristic warmth and richness of sound that comes from the little" imperfections of analog circuits."
In the printmakers' studio, similar anxieties can be found. Some artists wishing to skirt the arduous process of sanding and etching are using computers to print their creations on high-quality large-format Iris printers.
"The feeling in the industry" says Kinsey, "is that there's always a lingering doubt of effort. How much of the human touch was responsible for what's been created?"
The process itself has been given a legitimate-sounding name giclée which technically means "to spurt," just like the ink-jet printer nozzles, but on the street means something akin to "jerk off," a perfect descriptor of the instant gratification of digital technologies.
Many claim this new process can no longer be considered fine art. "How can it be a work of art if you can easily make 1,000 copies?" asks Kinsey, a sometime giclée creator herself. "If the original is suited to the format," says Kinsey, "then there is validity to calling yourself a digital printmaker."
But Graham objects to the confusion of terms: "Giclée is not a print; it's a reproduction."