This past weekend I had an interesting conversation with an art gallery owner. He was excited about a new artist he’d recently taken on. This artist has an innovative approach to picture making. He is a photographer with extensive training in computer graphics programs.

His method is to photograph a subject with a digital camera, download the picture information to his computer, and make the colour separations. This is easily done in many graphics programs, Photoshop for example. Then he edits (fades, darkens, alters colour, tone, texture, etc) for each of the separations. This can all easily be done with the click of a mouse. Lastly using a very precise printing technique called giclee, he prints the result on canvas. The resulting image is beautiful. It is derived from a photograph, but a photograph with colours you will never see in nature.

Now here’s the catch. Because he reproduces the image with printing ink rather than photographic developer, and prints directly from his digital colour separations, he describes the result as an original print. Technically it is. The distinction between a mere reproduction and an original print is that the reproduction is derived from original art, for example a watercolour, an oil painting or a photograph. In an original print, the image making takes place in the printing process itself. The print is the original artwork.

But in any traditional print making process the artist uses his (her) hands. His vision is realized according to the extent of his manual dexterity. With the advent of computers we are in a new age. No longer need humans be dextrous. The need for opposable thumbs has disappeared.

What appendage will go next? Will future generations be routinely conceived in test tubes? Arthur C. Clark in his science fiction novel A Space Odyssey 2001 carries this idea to its ultimate conclusion. He speculates that humankind’s final destiny is to lose our animal bodies altogether and merge with the universe as shear intellect. When we lose our animal nature, our sexual awareness, our desire for social contact, our mortality, we lose passion, humor, curiosity, love.

Our opposable thumbs were a factor in developing our enlarged brains and with it our heightened awareness. It is our dextrous hands that allow us a sense of fulfillment in craftsmanship and artistry. They keep alive the desire to touch, to communicate directly. In short they contribute to our ability to be human.