The Value of Art

I was asked recently by a student working on a senior english project if I would respond to some questions about values and art. I thought they would be good material for this blog as well.

My senior English class is doing a research paper on What does it mean to be human? The slant that I would like to take is with the music/arts and philosophy or the benefits aspect. For some of our primary sources, we need to have three interviews of professionals, not any one at our school. As I have done some research your name came into my field and I have a few questions that I would like to ask.

1. How are human values materialized in art?

Our values are a foundational element of who we are as individuals, as a society and as a species. Our values influence every choice we make from what we wear, what we eat, where we work, how we play, ultimately how we live our lives. It is no different for the art we create. The artist chooses a subject or a medium based on their personal interests and desires. Every stroke of a pen or brush or chisel is a choice the artist makes. Implicit in each mark is the motivation behind that choice. Those motivations and desires pass through the artists filters of values and beliefs before becoming that choice, thereby becoming manifest in the world and communicated both implicitly and explicitly in the physical work of art.

2. With cultural aspects, How does where you live, or your heritage affect our value on art?

Clearly the answer to this question is as unique as every individual and culture. At first thought, one might think that if an individual grows up in a culture or a family that values art and creativity that the individual would have those values so ingrained in the make up of their psychology that they would have no choice put to also value art and creativity. And where in many cases this is often true and a primary influence, in other instances it is not. I met a young man a few years ago in an art class. Let’s call him Mark. Mark was defiant and argumentative regarding every idea about the value of art that was presented to him. I asked Mark why he was taking this class if he felt so strongly that their was little value to art. He told me the story of how his father was an artist. That their family travelled all over the country as his father pursued artist residencies and exhibits and the other opportunities that artists explore. Mark then told me how he resented his father and art in general for the lack of foundation in his childhood. So I would make the case again that our cultural has a huge impact in how we value art, just not always in the way we might at first think.

3. Why do you believe that people will spend many amounts of money on specific piece of art?

Again the motivations are as varied as the individuals. Some are just looking for an investment. Like a stock or bond. Something that will hold its monetary value and ultimately appreciate in financial value. Some for the cultural value. The ownership of a piece of culture provides them with a sense of satisfaction or meaning. Some because they want to decorate their lives with objects of beauty or status. Others because they experience an emotional or intellectual connection with a work of art. Some as a memory of a place, person or experience. Whatever the motivation it says something about the values of the collector.

4. How do you believe that people benefit from art?

I believe that people benefit from art both from the creation of art and from the appreciation of art. Creativity is one of the primary gifts of the human species. At its base level creativity is life. We have the ability to tap into that life stream and channel it to manifest our hopes and dreams. The pure expression of that is no easy task. It is a task that few ever succeed in accomplishing. It is what I believe is the ultimate goal of art. Art is a teacher for us to grow and actualize our potential as human beings.

The appreciation of art also provides a tap into that life stream. Perhaps not in as direct an experience. A deep heartfelt appreciation for a work of art can be equally as transformative as the creation of a work of art. I have a work of art that I purchased recently from a local artist because the painting reminds me about a shadow facet of myself. The work reminds me what to be aware of in myself and to have faith in who I am and who I can be.


Well I finished my first 6′ cyanotype panorama for the installation, Sisy and I are working on titled “Remembrance”. I have two more to do now. I also need to finish mounting the image. I intend to mounted it like a Chinese hand-scroll and I am using the following book as my source.


Gulik, R. H. V. (1958). Chinese Pictorial Art as Viewed by the Connoisseur; Notes on the Means and Methods of Traditional Chinese Connoisseurship of Pictorial Art, Based Upon a Study of the Art of Mounting Scrolls in China and Japan. With 160 Plates, and 42 Actual Samples of Chinese and Japanese Paper, in Pocket (p. 537). Roma: Istituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente.

Here are some pictures of the print in process and a final digital capture of the image.

I am working on a new project in collaboration with my partner Sisy. The working title it “Remembrance”. I am printing cyanotypes and she is painting over them with watercolors. Now for my part their have been a number of technical hurdles to overcome. First I want to do some split toning with the cyanotypes. So I have been experimenting with a variety of chemical toners. Mostly household products such at Tri-sodium Phosphate, borax, and tea. No real successes or breakthroughs their yet. Although, the tea looks promising. I have also been using a 2% citric acid solution as a developer which has been great! It has really allowed me to get 3-4 steps in the midtones. It softens the image quite a bit. Though the blue does not wash away nearly as much so the prints tend to be darker. This has allowed me to print with a higher contrast negative. Before using the citric acid I was applying a Photoshop correction curve in addition to a custom Quadtone RIP curve. The adjustment curve softened the contrast. One down side to the citric acid is that the solution becomes saturated with prussian blue VERY quickly and depending on the paper has a tendency to stain. Regardless I am having difficulty getting the highlights to clear. Well I have discovered that the bleaching effect of sodium carbonate helps with this issue.

The second hurdle is with the size of my negatives. Our final images are intended to be printed on moon palace rice paper, which is used for chinese brush painting, at a size of 17″ by 72″. From what I have read the epson print drivers on the Mac OS have a max length of 44″. Fortunately I am using Quadtone RIP for printing the digital negatives and it has a max limit of 128″. So I created a custom paper size of 17.2″ x 72″ (17.2″ because I want to print borderless and the epson manual suggests this for custom sizes). I scaled the image to 17.3″ (again based on info in the epson manual regarding borderless printing). Then I printed the image. the first two only printed halfway across the Pictorico OHP film and I can not identify what part of the image it was printing as it did not match any of the edges in the image. What was I to do? I tried printing using one of the provided paper sizes. I chose 17″ x 22″ centered in the Quad driver. This started printing all the way across the media. So I knew it was possible. Now what? I began searching only and final find this post in the Quadtone RIP forum on Yahoo!.

“re paper sizes: see the pdf that comes with the rip re the borders – basically
document size must be smaller than your page setup size by the amount of those
– selectable in PAGE setup> manage custom sizes> printer margins – the quad
will be selectable and will tell you the border sizes

any time your doc size approaches page setup size it does that “print half A4″
just give it some space

You can’t print edge to edge..

Also re resolution: you just have to print on the highest one
it is slow” 

Based on this I decided that the borderless option was mote and that I would add margins to of .13″, .13″, .13″, .56″ and scale my image to be 16.76″ x 72″. That did the trick. I have now cleared the 17″ x 72″ pano hurdle.

I am using Ron Reeder’s technique for printing digital negatives on the Epson SP4000 using Quad Tone RIP and standard Epson Ultrachrome inks. I am using the Matte Black as Ron indicated. At the start I did not print using the Unidirectional or 2880 dpi settings as Ron suggests in his article. In my experience the printing quality between the 1440 and 2880 is negligible to the naked eye at a standard viewing distance and the savings in ink is to my liking. Part way through a series of test prints, I decided to try one with the 2880 setting instead of 1440. To my surprise it made a difference but not in the way I would have expected. There was some perceptual difference in the quality of the negative. In particular there was a reduction in visible banding. Once I made a print from this negative, I also discovered two other differences. In the first, it appears that the densities are more linear with fewer spikes or divets in the curve. I assume this is due to a smoother printing of gradients from the increased dot resolution. The second difference was also in the density of the negative. I had expected that there would be an increase in density over the entire negative as there are more dots and therefore more ink being laid down. Lo and behold, the opposite is true. The density of the negative overall was reduced by about two thirds of a stop in exposure. I am surprised by this and do not understand the reason. If anyone out there has any insight to this, I am interested. I am also uncertain as to whether this reduction in density is an arithmetic or geometric one.

I am reprinting this info here from Michael Koch-Schulte’s website RNP Array Digital Negatives because I find it extremely useful and also very difficult to locate anywhere else

Process logDensity
Silver Halide 1.6
Gum Bichromate .8 to 1.2
Cyanotype 1.2
Ware’s New Cyanotype 1.8 to 2.0
Platinum – Palladium 1.5 to 1.9 (as high a 2.9)
Albumen and Salt 2.4

Well I am off on a new artistic exploration, seeking the truth to life the universe and everything. As with any grand aspirations, humble begins are the place from which to start. I began experimentation in creating digital negatives with an Epson Stylus Photo 960 using Pictorico OHP transparency film. I am printing on Crane’s Kid Finish Stationary for my tests. I will move to something more suitable once I am comfortable with this process. For an emulsion, I am using Mike Ware’s Cyanotype II recipe. Just as I was getting close with the Epson 960 I ran out of film. I went to Pro Photo Supply in Portland Oregon to purchase a new pack and lo sitting at the end of their consignment aisle was a used Epson Stylus Pro 4000 for $500. I have known that I would buy a better printer soon. I was just uncertain what to get, i.e 4880, 7880, 9880. For that kind of investment, I wanted to be certain I was getting exactly what I wanted. I was intrigued with this older yet much cheaper by almost $1500 model. However, I am usually not one to jump into something with out studying the pros and cons ad nauseum. So, as I was checking out, I spoke with the clerk. He gave me the basic run down. “The SP4000 isn’t good for Black and White printing, plus the new K3 inks reduce metamerism, bronzing, and gloss differential, etc.” I said, “Thanks and I will think it over.”

Now I go to my car and pull out my trusty 21st century digital swiss army knife, the iPhone. I fire up safari and start surfing for info on the SP4000. After considering the cost difference, I steeled my nerve and walked boldly into the store. “I’ll take it.” So with a full set of inks and a new to me SP4000, I drove triumphantly back to Eugene.

Setup as been fairly straight forward. I needed to replace all the ink carts as they were mostly empty and seriously out of date. I also need to update the firmware. Finally, I ran a serious of head cleanings. I started with the auto cleaning. It cleared of all of the heads except for the magenta. So I ran a power clean. Still this did not clear the magenta head. After hours of additional research, I decided to run a supersonic cleaning that is hidden in the hex dump menu on the SP4000. Still it did not clear the head. To this day there is a small patch on the magenta test print that is flawed.

I decided to print an actual photo and see if the magenta head clog was going to be a major factor. I was sweating my impulsive decision. After running a test print and comparing it to a standardized calibration image, I have decided to keep the printer as is. The print looked fine. There was a slight magenta cast to the print compared to the calibrated print. The image was not as neutral in tone. However, I did not see any evidence of banding or flaws in the print as I had expected from a clogged head. Perhaps the color casting is from the head clog but I am not convinced. Forward ho!