Wednesday, December 2, 2009

oriiginal art?

One of my traveling companions took this picture of me blogging in a motel room.

The idea that something is an original print is a lie agreed to, in the contemporary art environment. All of the limited editions are limited only by the willingness of the printer to continue feeding paper into the machine, or the belief an artist or dealer has in how many of a given image they can sell.

I suppose it is good that they are signed and numbered, not because that confers any legitimacy but because it allows us to spot the reproductions. The idea of signing and numbering prints and thinking of them as original came from artist pulled etchings. Etching plates of copper wore as they were printed and therefore the size of an edition was "limited" by the ability of the ever degrading plate to continue to yield clear and salable prints. However today's printing methods, lithography, serigraphy and giclee are not constrained by these problems and are only limited because the maker chooses to make a finite number, not that he could make an infinite number anyway.

An etching is its own work of art, the artist makes the plate and prints or has a master printer pull an edition of prints, It is not a photographic reproduction of an existing painting. Most contemporary prints are actually reproductions of existing paintings by mechanical means. They are "prints", but so are pages from a magazine, or the label on a can from the supermarket. The people marketing these original prints" are capitalizing on misunderstandings the general public has.

For the public an image is an image, the difference between a painting and a photographic print is negligible. The dealers in "original" prints have been working to blur this line for several generations now. People, at least many people, just don't grasp the difference and if they do, they still want a picture by a famous artist like Juan Miro or Picasso.They want that big name to feel safe in their investment, and ironically that is what leads them to the dubious investment in an "original" print.

Sometimes they buy by subject, they are looking for a painting of a wood duck with a lot of russet colors in it and a driftwood frame. They find a print of that and are assured by the dealer that it is an investment ant they buy it. Often they could have had a poster of equal quality and by a better artist at the local museum for the amount they just spent in sales tax.

When I had my gallery in Rockport I routinely had people come in who told me that they had bought a painting by a certain artist who paints quaint English villages filled with radium colored flowers. Before I later quit the practice, I would gently explain to them that they had bought a print of a painting, essentially a photograph of a painting and not the painting itself, it was a mass produced imitation of the actual work of art. It took a lot of explaining but eventually they understood. However as the conversation continued they gradually returned to referring to it as a painting. They couldn't hold the idea in their minds that it was a print. The idea ran out their ears like sand. This artist and others before him had discovered this phenomenon and exploited it.


Does this mean that selling reproductions of your art is bad? No I don't think so, but there are some ethical guidelines to which I think you should adhere. Tomorrow I will pick up here and continue.


Gregory Becker said...

Good post. This is an interesting subject. I think the thing that drives people to like or dislike the idea of prints is the Thomas Kinkaide effect. He is a really good artist but seeing his work on everything under the sun is ridiculus. For me prints are a turn off. Alot of people are convinced through the popularity of prints that they can no longer be trusted with original paintings in their homes. Prints have somehow made them feel unworthy to own original artwork. I think it has gone a long way to debase people into thinking that all they are worthy of is a copy. It's like they are frightened by the thought of having an original.
Dont get me wrong I have plenty of prints. I mostly use them for inspirational reference That I can hold in my hand. I have a framed Degas print in my bedroom. However I would have no problem taking it out of there if I produced something that fit the frame better.
For me I want the original out there in the world. I have had people tell me I ought to make prints so that they can buy one and I tell them, "Why have a print you can have the original?" They say, "Oh no. I couldn't keep that." That is baffling to me. It's like art for the fearless and prints for the fearful. I know that there are economic concerns accociated with the original vs a print but all my stuff is priced to sell.
Recently, My wife had a yard sale and I wanted some extra money for art supplies so I put out some drawings for $5 and some paintings for $20. All good stuff. A woman saw a cloud drawing that I had out and started crying. My wife said the drawing was only $5 and she said she would buy it if it was a print. I was really touched by how much she liked it but she would not take it because it was original. Like I said it's baffling to me.
I haven't commented in a while. Can you tell? :)

Billy Guffey said...

I live in a rural area that has be inundated by popular local country artist "prints" for years. I keep 10 - 15 paintings hanging in my place of business (sort of a makeshift gallery), and hear constantly how nice my prints are.


Manatee Writers said...

I'm so glad you are on this. The whole idea of limited editions of giclee prints is silly, if an artist sells all the prints and then has more prints made the whole thing goes out the window. Now, is that unethical, to make money from more prints like that? Having prints made is an expense and a gamble, do you only get one shot at it? It makes no sense.

labrown said...

I am absolutely convinced that we need to be teaching art appreciation at an early age. You are right, most folks don get it. I used to think original art was expensive until I realized...20 years of experience, had to drive to the mountains, set up in a remote area, do the field study, bring it back to the studio, paint the larger version, buy the frame, photograph the art, deliver it to the gallery, pay the gallery to sell it, and then pay taxes on the sale. We had an interior designer once tell us, "You guys need to grow up and buy some original art for your house." Bold statement that did not offend me. It caused me to learn more about the subject. I now have six nice pieces in my collection and honestly could not buy a print ever again. It's not art snobbery as much as art appreciation. I am teaching my self to paint and love having the inspiration hanging on the walls! I appreciate the time you take to write for this blog. I really is the only site that I come back to every day. Well, except for mine of course! said...

Hip Hip Horray! Another very important controversial subject to get tackled by Stapleton.
Is it rue that some artists, vastly over price their original paintings so that they can sell more copies?

I suspect this does happen because I saw an artist nearly faint when her painting sold for 10K. I had the idea that she had never sold one before. Yet she has a big giclee presence.

PS- I LIKE the fact that you DO have opinions, Stapelton. Sometimes they are different than mine but how else am I going to get a debate,,discussion and in other words, a good fight in. It's always been the life blood good old Italian American communities. Now I have to Italy or go on line to find it.

julie susanne said...

Great points, as usual, Stape!

Recently at an art festival- I admired a larger piece by one talented artist, but was not able to purchase it right then. I was actually steered to stretched canvas prints, smaller pieces (originals) and then to the glicee box. I had to explain to the artist that I only buy originals.

On the artist's website the canvas prints are listed in various sizes and prices, but there is no reference at all to even the originals' dimensions. I was confused by this until reading your post and others' comments.

It seems he missed an opportunity for a potential sale, by going in the wrong direction...away from the piece I was admiring!

I would like to hear your thoughts about this situation. Someone loves a piece but does not have the funds for it. Are there creative ways to purchase it over time?

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Excellent post, Stape. I pride myself on selling nothing but original art. In fact, I note on my studio gallery page ( that my gallery is a "No-Giclee Zone." But I've always wondered if I should start selling prints, since so many artists have gone that way. One sees a lot of this at art fairs, and the artists seem to have some success. When I start thinking this way, I always remind myself that my little 5x7 sketches are less expensive than the prints and giclees out there. (Mine are about the price of your pair of tasselled loafers.) Why buy a print when you can buy a piece of original art for the same - or for even less?

When I asked this of one gallery visitor, she replied, "Yes, but how would that 5x7 look over your couch?" I said she could buy several of them and have a nice grouping.

billspaintingmn said...

Being a gilder, I've found that
art "buyers" will consider a gilded frame.
However most "artists" shy away from Them.
Cost is always on th mind of the artist, yet with the "buyer" cost is of less concern.
Once either of these two see what
a gilded frame can do for a piece of art,they become "educated, and
prefer them.
Some comment "you could put a print(sorry Jennifer)a reprduction
in a gilded frame and it will look good.
Art serves many functions, or purposes, I think the frame reveals the owners bond to it.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thats an interesting observation.It may be that they think of real art as so exotic and so from another world that they can't imagine even having it. That's for rich people who live far away.
I truly dislike the idea of you putting your paintings out on the curbside for 20 dollars.. Why don't you save em up and do some outdoor shows next summer for better money.They are your paintings but ............

Stapleton Kearns said...

you will like the story I intend to tell tonight.

Stapleton Kearns said...

There are ethical problems galore with the print market.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks;original art is expensive.WE have few objects in our lives that arfe made one at a time by a highly skilled craftsman who throws away the plans when he is done. Can you imagine if our shoes were made that way?

Stapleton Kearns said...

Without a doubt, but I think that the print thing is waning.There is so much jive going on out there, it is fascinating trying to figure out what is going on.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think that happens a a lot. AS for time payments, why don't you set up a paypal account and let people use their credit cards to pay. Then they can finance their purchase any way they want.

Stapleton Kearns said...


I am your ally and no friend of mass produced giclees and paper products marketed as original when they are not. I thought about whether I should discontinue using the word prints and I decided that it will cause me more difficulty in expression then it will gain in repositioning others thinking.You may of course use any words you want. I am on your side here though and the damage done to the fine art print market has been horrible.Art educators are somewhat to blame for this.So are the generation of interior decorators from my parents generation and a lot of womens magazines.
I once moved to a new town and needed to get an appointment with a vet for one of my cats. So I called one from the yellow pages, in my conversation with them I used the word pet. They corrected me and said "companion" animal. A moment later I again used the word pet, and again they said "COMPANION ANIMAL". I said thank you very much, rang off and called another vet.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I generally won't show in galleries that show giclees. I think I am in one now,but they aren't selling anything for me.
I always have evil things I want to say but never do. In that instance I would want to ask her, Wow is that a REAL diamond on your hand?Of course I would never say that, but.........

Stapleton Kearns said...

Putting a gold frame on a mass produced print is like putting whipped cream on a hot dog.

willek said...

Photoshop and giclee have changed everything. Now someone can alter an original work of art in Photoshop and have prints/reproductions for which there is no original!!

Makes me dizzy

I agree a print is a hand pulled print. Everythinsg else is something else.

A very acomplished painter once tole me that there was no way to make money just painting pictures and selling them. He not only sold prints, but napkins, note paper/cards, dish towels, calendars, memo pads, etc. Etc.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Your friend was wrong. I make my living painting pictures and have since the early eighties.That's what I do for a living, I paint pictures. I don't make 10% of my income teaching.