Friday, February 20, 2009

The Wayback View - Graphic Arts Training

Gather a group of printers around the table to discuss the business issues they face and one topic that's sure to come up is the problem of today's graphic arts training - or, more often, the lack of training in their typical customer. They'll complain that today's creatives don't know anything about what it takes to prepare art for their presses. They will share tales of designers who supply art for a company's Annual Report in PowerPoint format, or the 200-page, fully illustrated catalog created in a shareware word processor and saved across 30 floppy discs.

In today's digital world, it seems that anyone with access to a computer can call themselves a designer and the printer is expected to happily receive their files and automagically go to press with them. Unfortunately, more often than not, those files are not even close to being ready for production. Instead, the printer's prepress department must often take on the task of rebuilding the files to prepare them for the press - usually without being able to charge for this service. Print shop owners will wax nostalgic about how much better it was in "the good ol' days" when skilled technical people created press-ready artwork for them.

Interestingly, the good ol' days may not have been that different from the reality of today. Following is a short letter to the editor that appeared some 86 years ago on the topic of graphic arts training - it could have been written yesterday.

"Because I have recently declared in one of our daily papers that our system of art and graphic art education is wrong, I have been plunged, immersed, turned over and over, in hot water.

It is essential that the school of art must give the commercial artist the right preliminary training. And what should that be?

The first step is a change of outlook. It is critical that the student artist be taught that his skills must first of all serve the needs of commerce.

The next step towards making the complete commercial artist is to enable him to become thoroughly acquainted with the methods of production. One of the most serious defects in the present system is that students are pouring from the schools to join the army of work seekers and find themselves but ill-equipped to do the work they seek. Young artists who know nothing of the means by which their ideas have to be produced. It is not just now easy for them to obtain inside knowledge. Manufacturers are secretive - and often look on the creative artist with suspicion and even contempt.

The art masters, the students, the printers, and manufacturers must learn to understand each other and work together. Equip the student with the right point of view towards commerce, the right perspective, and the right technical training, and commercial art will attain new heights of achievement. And print manufacturers themselves will profit by this new relationship with the creative artist through more efficient production methods and happier results for all."

- Charles A. Farmer
- Published in Commercial Art First Series - 1923

After 80 some years, it appears that the old adage that "the more things change - the more they stay the same" still applies.

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