Why Non-Toxic Printmaking?
Printmaking is a widely practiced aspect of visual art and art
education that has historical roots going back hundreds of years.
Almost every well known artist in the history of art including such
artists as D?er, Rembrandt, Goya, Degas, Picasso and Warhol made
great works of art through printmaking media. Unfortunately there
technical legacy handed down through centuries of highly toxic printmaking
practices that have led to the untimely deaths of many printmakers
and to the decline of the practice of printmaking.
Health and safety regulations, as applied to the workplace, were
designed primarily for industry rather than educational institutions.
Due largely to the presence of industrial health and safety standards
and monitoring agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency
and OSHA university staff and students were able to seek external
support for forcing their institutions to comply with health and
safety standards. Unfortunately many institutions only responded
to health and safety issues after a staff member or students health
and safety were
compromised. Other institutions employed safety officers who either
became the printmakering instructors arch enemies or saviours depending
on their response to innovation and change. There are still many
institutions practicing archaic and dangerous printmaking techniques
who survive simply because no one has "blown the whistle".
Responsible educational establishment had to re-evaluate the manner
in which art students and staff worked with dangerous chemicals
and solvents used in traditional printmaking media. One way that
institutions dealt with the problem of airborne toxins was to instigate
controlled working methods and to exhaust dangerous chemicals out
of the class rooms or art studios with expensive fume extraction
systems often costing more than $200,000. For those institutions
who could afford the expense they were required to conform to Federal
health and safety legislation which meant spending thousands of
dollars equipping their class rooms and art studio's with expensive
fume extraction systems. If government guidelines were followed
to the letter this extravagant measure made these class rooms safer
for handling toxic chemicals (such as nitric acid) but the net result
was that these
airborne poisons were vented into the environment. In most
instances all noxious and toxic airborne contaminants were exhausted
into the environment without any filtration. The full question
of environmental impact and responsibility were not fully addressed
with these health and safety measures.
We believe that it is far better to implement
safer printmaking techniques than to spend thousands of dollars
in fume exhaust systems which enable students to work with toxic
chemicals in a safer manner. By teaching toxic traditional
printmaking techniques within art studios and class rooms that were
well equipped with expensive fume extraction systems leads to the
question of subject redundancy. If students learn toxic traditional
printmaking techniques under these highly controlled conditions
how are they expected to "safely" pursue this art form
outside the controlled confines of the educational establishment.
Health, Safety and the Environmental Imperative
The School of Art at R.I.T. specializes in non-toxic printmaking
techniques as an integral part of the fine art course offering.
This addresses the question of health and safety, environmental
consciousness, subject redundancy while offering the latest in technical
innovation. R.I.T has made a commitment to become a world focal
point where professional printmakers and teachers can learn to apply
non-toxic printmaking techniques in both the educational and professional
We believe that the principal by which we stand has a great long
term social benefit because it represents one institution's efforts
to contribute to a cleaner environmental. Our program strikes at
the very heart
the need for dynamic cultural/artistic activity
while addressing the concept of lifelong learning in the midst of
continuous change. The mandate of the Non-Toxic Printmaking Program
at R.I.T. addresses the universal shift towards health and safety
consciousness in the classroom/studio while offering our graduates
potentially new avenues of employment. As non-toxic printmaking
infiltrates the art education world there will be more and more
demand for highly trained and educationally certified specialist
within this field.
We are responding creatively and effectively
to the important choices we face as a society in reconciling cultural
and educational needs with the environmental imperative. The non-toxic
printmaking choice offer artists a far greater range of creative
possibility whilst increasing their artistic productivity. This
increase in productivity
must have a very positive cultural and economic ripple effect for
both artists and galleries.
Our leadership role will serve as an example of our willingness
to reverse the direction of the ecological devastation that effects
us all. Furthermore we are deeply concerned with the worldwide cultural
impact of the pending extinction of the art of printmaking because
of its historically bad health and safety record. We have
established a precedent and a model for change that will serve as
an example to the rest of the world.