The lithography situation in the contemporary age. A general case.

The lithography situation in the contemporary age. A general case.

Frequently, when we are referring to the situation of lithography (or the original graphic work) in the contemporaneity, the general public thinks about the associated condition with the multiplicity of the image, which can be misinterpreted as market eagerness and not enhancing the creative aspect or linked to the technique. Although lithography has served to socialize art, in recent years this technique has taken a big step, since it generates works in which the edition is unique or very limited[1], which reaffirms its unique character of creation, leaving misunderstandings aside.

A concept that we need to be addressed when we are considering the situation of contemporary photography, is the debate that has been around the concept for years. Specifically, I refer to the reproducibility of the image, an aspect that has generated a debate on whether the technique can be compared to other artistic manifestations. As Bernal affirms, in many occasions the image has been relegated to a minor art, since a support language for the expressive media, either painting and other media has habitually been used erroneously (Bernal, 2013, p.42). Although this conception has been linked to the technique, it has to clarify that after coming in touch with different contemporary artists and entities that work with this technique, this misconception of “minor art” has changed, to endow the image of the category of expressive language by itself, betting on the edition of high quality print[2], encouraging research to excel creatively, technically and artistically.

At this point, it is also important to clarify that to favour the fact that the lithography becomes a language of the first order, the entities and artists who work with the lithography technique have decided to take a very important step: reduce the number of exemplars of each edition, to favour the concept of exclusivity, an adjective enjoyed by the traditionally denominated “great languages”.

One of the considerations that we must keep in mind, linking with the previous paragraph, is that lithography never can be considered as a simple sequel to painting, since the first one has its own elements that make it a unique and incomparable with other techniques and procedures proper to painting. The technical process and contemporary creative innovations, in addition to the stamping process, provide qualities and characteristics to the final artwork that weren’t found in other techniques of the plastic arts (Carrete Parrondo, 1989, p.6).

Another important aspect highlighted by many specialists in the field and in my opinion, is that the lithography has already surpassed the ambiguity around being a sequel of painting. This is the case of the conception of the lithographic stone and the drawing made by the artist in it as an artistic work per se (Bernal, 2013, p.43-44). Likewise, we must keep in mind that the drawing that is made on lithographic stone is only the means to achieve a purpose: the work on paper. Therefore, and as many experts[3]explain, when an artist makes a drawing on the stone, it must be taken in mind that its artistic value goes further, since the artist works the matrix as a temporary support for his work, which subsequently it will be passed on to paper, its definitive support.

So, can we affirm that currently lithography is a well-known art? According to Carrete Parrondo, lithography is not a badly known art, but it is undervalued, whether by critics, public and artists (Carrete Parrondo, 1989, p.7). To talk about the courrent situation of lithography, we can’t stop referring to the public (since we will refer to the artistic field later on). Historically, the public has always had contact with the original graphic work, although lithography has been largely unknown due to the specialty of the technique. The relationship between the public and the original graphic work throughout history has been associated with the reproducibility of the technique, since it has served as a reproduction of the painting, for example, and for the dissemination of knowledge in various branches. At this point it is necessary to clarify that from the moment in which the reproduction and diffusion of the processes began to be carried out through photomechanical processes, the lithography fell into a deep ignorance. Currently, this ignorance has been saved by a few workshops and artists who continue defending the singularities of the original graphic work, an aspect that we will deal with on another occasion.

Esperança Llabrés


[1] For very limited we understood editions of 15, 20 or 30 exemplars.

[2] In this case, I refer to editions that have been stamped with up to five lithographic stones, either for printing different colours or different parts of an image, to fact that is rarely done out due to the huge difficulty for the artist to decompose by layers an image, each one of different colour (one colour per stone) and the technical hardness of registering each stone to form a final well composed image.

[3]For example, it is the case of Brown, B. (1930). Lithography for artists. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Throughout the study, Brown talks about the importance of conceiving the lithography stone as part of the process of realization of a work and not to work in itself, since the lithographic stone is only a temporary support, then which will be stamped on paper. Once the edition is finished, the stone will be grained, a process that involves the destruction of the image.


Bernal Pérez, M. M. (2013). “¿Qué es la obra gràfica original?”, “La reproductibilidad de la obra de arte” i “Congreso de Viena”. A: Cuadernos de Bellas Artes. Nº 14. Tenerife: La laguna. p. 41-46. Online: [27/05/2018].

Brown, B. (1930). Lithography for artists. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Carrete Parrondo, J. (1989). “Taller 6A. El camino a recorrer.” A: Edicions 6a Obra Gràfica: Llonja. Palma de Mallorca: Govern Balear. p. 6-7. 

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