One of the many delights of the Brighton Festival is the open houses. Every weekend in May, Brighton & Hove artists open their houses for the public to see their work. This year, I’ve noticed a number of giclée prints, a term I had never seen before. They are fine-art digital prints of an extremely high quality, so high that experts sometimes have trouble distinguishing an original from a giclée print.
I was very intrigued by this term. Indeed, gicler is a French verb that means "to spurt, to squirt", which is what happens in a way, as the ink is projected onto canvas by a printer. However, there is a notion of inaccuracy, of mess, of accident, that doesn’t sit well with the precision of this process. A giclée of something normally ends up where it shouldn’t and the next step is to clean up where it landed. Was this technology developed in France and the term coined by an eccentric artist wanting to demystify the process of creation?
I finally found the answer to my question here :
In 1991, Duganne had to come up with a print-medium description for a mailer announcing California artist Diane Bartz’ upcoming show. He wanted to stay away from words like "computer" or "digital" because of the negative connotations the art world attached to the new medium. Taking a cue from the French word for inkjet (jet d’encre), Duganne opened his pocket Larousse and searched for a word that was generic enough to cover most inkjet technologies at the time and hopefully into the future. He focused on the nozzle, which most printers used. In French, that was le gicleur. What nozzles do is spray ink, so looking up French verbs for "to spray," he found gicler, which literally means "to squirt, spurt, or spray." The feminine noun version of the verb is (la) giclée, (pronounced "zhee-clay") or "that which is sprayed or squirted." An industry moniker was born.
I did find that nozzle is sometimes translated as gicleur, but the most common translation is buse. Gicleur doesn’t shock me as much when used within the context of commercial printing, but it really doesn’t fit with the reproduction of delicate works of art, which are the result of hours of accurate brushstrokes. What is all the more amusing is that this word has been borrowed in French and is now widely recognised for this technique. It really is ironic that Duganne, who wanted a sophisticated name for this technique, wasn’t aware of the negative connotations of giclée and ended up with a word that doesn’t belong at all in the world of art