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The 70th A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts: Contact: Art and the Pull of Print, Part 4: Strain

Jennifer L. Roberts, Elizabeth Cary Agassiz Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University. In this six-part lecture series titled Contact: Art and the Pull of Print, Roberts focuses on printmaking as an art of physical contact, involving transfer under pressure between surfaces—a direct touch that can evoke multiple forms of intimacy. And yet it is simultaneously an art of estrangement: it requires the deferral, displacement, and distribution of artistic agency, and it trades in reversal and inversion. In this fourth lecture, “Strain,” premiered on the National Gallery’s website on May 16, 2021, Roberts explores how many modern printmaking processes involve passing ink or light through screens or meshes, especially when converting continuous-tone photographs into printable formats. These processes create the conditions in which most exchanges between the ink-world of print and the light-world of photography take place, and also link the practice of making images to a long history of straining, sifting refining, and filtering in material and political realms beyond the art world.