It would be impossible to deny the impact of the computer revolution on the graphic arts, among many other fields. Although the computer has now found a legitimate place in the engraver’s workshop, it has little to do with an art form that brings together both a profound knowledge of technique and the intelligence of the hand. The engraver’s art – the quintessence of these elements – has nothing to do with the whims of a mere machine. The most outstanding example of this art is the line-engraved postage stamp, which continues to attract enthusiastic collectors and philatelists. The temptation to produce less costly stamps has of course existed since the creation of the offset press, and the advent of computers has made this possibility even more enticing. But this is only an illusion. It is of the utmost importance to point out that the very survival of an art-form and an entire profession depend upon continuing support for line engraving, a European art whose techniques have been documented since the fifteenth century, and whose prestigious representatives include Mantegna, Albrecht Dürer, Robert Nanteuil, and Louis-Pierre Henriquel-Dupont, among many others. The works of these great masters are held in museums throughout the world, and illustrate numerous books.

Technique, which underpins every kind of art, can be adapted to the demands and fashions of the present time. Although what was popular in the past differs from the styles of today, a common memory, an invisible thread, links them together. The postage stamp, which appeared in the mid-nineteenth century, naturally provided engravers with a new line of work as well as a source of inspiration. The process was so natural, in fact, that engravers were responsible for the high esteem in which the postage stamp was soon held. It should never be forgotten that a line-engraved postage stamp is first and foremost a work of art. It is also the smallest and the most economical kind of artwork. But it is a vehicle for the most glorious symbols as well. A stamp transmits the image a nation wishes to project, and shows above all what it wishes to represent. The postage stamp is imbued with deep symbolism. It sings the praises of famous citizens as well as commemorating the important events that have occurred in a given country’s history.

These symbols, or course, are inevitably linked with the artists who create postage stamps, artists who have devoted many years to learning a difficult and demanding technique. Their experience has been bought with their sweat and their blood. Does the average person realise, when putting a stamp on an envelope, that he or she is posting a tiny masterpiece made according to traditional techniques? Philatelists, of course, are fully aware of this fact, because they only include engraved stamps in their collections. It should also be recalled that the engraved stamp is one of the last bastions of figurative art in Europe. This is a very important point when one takes into account today’s international art market, which has become extremely trite. France has traditionally provided engravers in all types of artistic disciplines. But today, because of the computer and the offset process, it has become easy to reproduce any image. The value and significance of the stamp engraver’s art has risen considerably in consequence. Although some might think that an engraved stamp is therefore much more expensive to produce, the cost is in fact only 10% higher. The artistic gain, on the other hand, cannot be measured. The objective of our society is to promote and encourage the survival of observational drawing, of a specific type of graphic art, and of line engraving. Those who study these disciplines in art schools today do little more than scratch the surface in a training period that lasts only two years. It would be preferable if students could spend time in engraving workshops, where experienced engravers could train them, in keeping with an economic model that remains to be defined. Engraving is a form of cultural heritage that should not only be preserved, but also enriched. It is the one domain that machines, no matter how highly developed they are, cannot penetrate. The technique and the hand, which guide the artist’s gestures, are unique and irreplaceable.

 

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