Series 2 on the history of Western printmaking begins with a discussion of the History of Prints class that started Ann and Tru's friendship and art journey
Platemark Series Two, History of Prints kicks off with Ann Shafer and co-host Tru Ludwig introducing the series. They talk about teaching the History of Prints (HoP) for the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) using the print collection at the Baltimore Museum of Art over the course of 15 years. They talk about how the class brought them together and about how transformative it was for hundreds of MICA's BFA students.
Episode image: History of Prints class with professor Tru Ludwig, Maryland Institute College of Art, discussing prints with students at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Photo by Ben Levy.
Platemark is produced by Ann Shafer
Series one co-host: Ben Levy
Series two co-host: Tru Ludwig
Theme music: Michael Diamond
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.
T: 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 you, that 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 Durer’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 Kathe 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 Durer’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 Kathe 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 Kathe 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 Durer 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 Durers 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 Durer 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 Durers. 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. Kathe 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 Durer 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 Durer, 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. Durer, 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 Durer.
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 Kathe 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