I differentiate between the various print forms and the source material. I understand too that my views may represent an elitist fringe perspective, but somebody's got to do it...
Several hundred years ago art was difficult to disseminate broadly (though images were printed on textiles and other materials in a limited fashion before paper). Mr. Gutenberg graciously provided the solution and the “modern” hand-pulled print was born. As the medium evolved, it became an art form in and of itself, and artists no longer used it as a mechanism to disseminate pictures of existing images, but created works designed for the medium, unrelated to existing canvases.
This is the case today with contemporary artists using an infinite variation on hand-pulled printing techniques, from the most intimate to using an industrial Steamroller. The core of the issue is that the conceptual aspect of the work is directly related to the medium of expression. This is why I have no trouble with digital printing based on digital source material - material designed to be printed - because there is no other reasonable alternative with which to physically express the idea. This is an exploding medium in contemporary art, as well as it should be. Artists have always explored new possibilities presented by new technologies.
Prints of existing work - of whatever quality - don't have the requisite requirements to be called art. They are pictures of pictures.
As to prints of old masters, every museum in the world carries them. The print quality, color-correction, Ph balanced quality paper (or not), were all a part of the aesthetic decision-making in their production; none of those elements turn those posters into art. That’s why they're 15-20 dollars (unframed). Why anybody would want to pay anything more than that, even for a Giclee of an old masterwork is beyond me. They too are not art, but pictures of art. If my view feels extreme, consider the logical conclusions of the opposing position; If a giclee of a painting is art, than so is a post card of a painting, so is a coffee mug with an image of the painting, so is a picture of the painting in a magazine article, so is a T-shirt...
The creation of a painting is art. It can be judged good or bad, but it's still a work of art. Photographing/scanning that painting and creating digital prints of it is not art. It's marketing. The ONLY reason to do it is marketing. What aesthetic/artistic/creative/conceptual reason is there to do it?
I'm not judging or denigrating this, or questioning the legitimacy of it. It's just not art, it's promotional material referencing the art, a reminder of the art, a copy of the art, a teaser... It can be an important tool in the artist's toolbox, broadening the base of those who may become purchasers of original works later.
Creating work digitally is a different animal altogether, and is growing by leaps and bounds. In NYC I saw the Materializing the Post-Digital show at The Museum of Arts and Design. It had amazing 3-D digitally printed sculptures. We're on the cusp of staggering possibilities in this realm, in an endless variety of fields.
Whether the source material is photo based, completely digital, manipulated in whatever way, digital explorations of image making is pushing the technical and conceptual boundaries of what is possible in art-making.
It may be a nice reminder to consider the position of Sol Lewitt, or Marcel Duchamp. Nearly 100 years ago Duchamp displayed a urinal in a gallery venue and declared it art. Thus was initiated the power of "concept" in art, to push beyond the merely aesthetic considerations. A half a century later, good old Sol expounded further to state that the ART IS the CONCEPT. That's why others were hired to execute his work.
So those that dismiss digital media as non-art are a century or two behind. As I stated earlier, some of the most important contemporary art today is digitally based. Much of it is brilliant. Having said that however, I think the resistance to digital works by the more traditional-minded is prompted by the saturation of "digital artists” that have found a convenient medium to crank out mediocre (or worse) artworks. This is less an exploration of an evolving potential-leaden medium and more an opportunistic laziness.
True, mediocrity doesn't restrict itself by medium... I just think that the digital realm presents everything with a sheen of professional polish that for those of less discriminating judgment serves to obscure the lacking foundation. Bad work can still "look" good.
What it always comes down to is the work, in whatever medium. It either transcends the sum of its parts, or it does not.
Can the digitally produced object generate the same emotional connection with a viewer as an object that reflects more direct human action? The hand of the artist, the mark, the visceral...? Much of contemporary art has an intellectual tinge - some of it true, some of it veneer - but a certain coldness permeates many shows. I'm feeling dinosaur-ish in my gut reaction, yet I think the more complex and layered the tools between artist and object, the greater the emotional distance? Is it like the difference between riding a horse and driving a car? Yes I'm in question mark mode, because I'm not sure my reactions are true, and even if they are, so what? Contemporary classical music is also less emotionally based, why shouldn't the visual realm also demand more from an audience beyond a more primitive emotional response?
Technological development always changes the greater culture; there are early-adopters, slow-adopters, and even Luddites. I have my Luddite tendencies and a strong sense of tradition, but am equally aware that those tendencies can lead to mind-numbing stagnation. An artists role is to recognize traditions and build upon them, challenge them since they exist in a different context from which the traditions were born. That’s how culture and art evolve.