"What a waste!" That's a phrase I sometimes hear from people who know something about my printmaking work. They say this after looking at woodblock prints I have made, some of which are actually quite beautiful, being delicately carved and finely printed.
"What a waste, that you are using such good skill only to make reproductions of old prints! Why don't you make your own designs? You could make such wonderful prints."
I can see their viewpoint. In their eyes, I am sort of 'cheating'. Of the three distinct jobs involved in making a woodblock print (designing, carving, and printing), I am only doing two. For the first step, the design, I am 'stealing' from a long-dead Edo-era artist.
But I do not feel that I am 'cheating' by doing this. Back in the 'old days', woodblock prints were never created by one person from start to finish, but were the product of a team: designer, carver, and printer. Which one of those three men was the most important? Many people will answer, "Of course, the designer!" But actually, without the carver, there would be no finished print. Without the printer, there would be no finished print. Who then among the three was the most important?
My answer of course, is that none of them were. They were all essential to the process. When people now say to me, "What a waste, that you are only working as a craftsman ...", I reply that removing any one of the legs from a tripod will cause it to fall over. I am not only a craftsman. I am a craftsman!