Saturday, April 01, 2006

Original Prints and Reproductions (a rant)

The following rant comes up do to a lot of recent things, seeing the print show at Ruschman's Gallery, a discussion with Chris West about a post he made on his blog about a Marilyn Minter print, seeing the words limited edition attached to a work with an edition of 35,000 prints (think Thomas Kinkade), and the ever growing use of reproductions as prints by local artists. Having a considerable amount of printmaking background, it really bothers me that several terms like "print", "original print", and "limited edition" get thrown around so often that people have now been confused and don't really know what they mean.

Marja-Leena Rathje, a printmaker has a nice concise definition on her site for "original print" that she scrounged up from another site. (more blog style footnotes, hehe) The defintion she has found states:

"An original print is an image that has been conceived by the artist as a print and executed solely as a print, usually in a numbered edition, and signed by the artist. Each print of the edition is an original, printed from a plate, stone, screen, block or other matrix created for that purpose."

I would add that in the broader sense of prints and multiples that this definition includes photo-mechanical as well as digital prints as well, if concieved to be printed in that manner as a finished product. The definition she has for reproduction is equally well stated:
"A reproduction (although often called a print) has no relationship whatsoever to an original print; it is a copy of a work of art conceived by the artist in another medium (painting, watercolour, etc.). The reproduction has usually been made by photo-mechanical means. Numbering and signing a reproduction does not change its essence; it is still a reproduction. It is not an original print."

This simple use of the word print is misleading to many art consumers and I feel that it is the responsibility of the artists and dealers out their to be forthcoming about what the work they are selling really is. If the so called print is actually a digital print made from a photograph of a painting that the artist has made. Say so. Don't just call it a print, or something much more cryptic like, dye dispertion on paper. Call it an archival reproduction, if in fact it is archival. This practice is no different really than that of making postcards and posters of an artwork. I understand that archival materials tend to cost more but let's be honest about the process and the conotations of the reproduction. I can understand selling a reproduction for a reasonable price, but be honest and call it a reproduction. I have seen numerous cases where an artist has made 11" x 14" (smaller scale) reproductions, often times in editions of over 100 of a painting that was originaly 4'x 6' (larger scale) and attempt to sell the reproductions for some outlandish price of more than $100+ unframed. $100 dollars for what is really no more than an archival xerox. You want to charge a reasonable markup for your printing costs, fine, I have no problems with that at all. We artist have just as much right to market our selves as the next person. But that is after all why you are doing this practice isn't it? Marketing. If we are to take the original artwork seriously, then how is it the artist now is willing to say that such a drastic change of scale, medium, etc., is still the same. A reproduction for the sake of taking home a cheap affordable memory of an artwork you liked is perfectly fine. But if you want me to take the original concept and artwork seriously don't cheapen it by pawning it off as valuable piece of work in a completely different medium.

I think of the work by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, who often created large cheap prints, concieved as the final product to be printed in never ending editions. These are often to be found in great stacks on a museum floor where every museum patron can go up and take home one of his prints. A beautiful gesture. I have always enjoyed that aspect of his work. Make no mistake, I am not against digital prints or photomechanical printing as such. If the artist has concieved of a work knowing that the artworks final output will be that of a digital printer or other photomechanical means, then it is after all an "original print" and not a reproduction.

If you don't see the difference between an original print and a reproduction and still feel they both deserve the same sort of prices, then ask yourself a few questions; Why was the original artwork made with the materials it was made from rather than some other materials? Is the size of the piece imporatant to the experience? What about issues of texture, luminosity, and other qualities not reproducable as a reproduction?

For those out there buying prints, you may want to start asking more questions before hand, especially if you are at all interested in the possibility of creating a collection of works that have the possibility to increase in value. Prints are a wonderful way to buy works by artists you may not be able to afford other works by. I love original prints and multiples. The more educated you are about the product before you purchase it the better. A good magazine resource for those interested in prints is Art on Paper.

8 Responses to “Original Prints and Reproductions (a rant)”

W. David Lichty said...
April 3, 2006 at 4:12 AM

Worthwhile, necessary, and could have gone on another 500 words. Perhaps even 5000. Distinctions are important. Words mean things. It's a nasty business trying to change a known process by re-defining the terms by which we already understand it. That's not clever, it's slimy.

Nice job keeping everyone's cards on the table, Scott.

Liriodendron said...
April 3, 2006 at 12:58 PM

Ok then!! Dang.....I just changed all the "prints available" to "reproductions available" on my site. It is what it is, no problem.

marja-leena said...
April 3, 2006 at 5:16 PM

Thanks for this! We do need to keep educating everyone on this, especially the buying public. The ease of digital printing unfortunately seems to have added to the confusion. Honesty seems to be the crux here, by artists, galleries, dealers.

Anonymous said...
April 5, 2006 at 2:09 PM

I sometimes feel that the printing process isn't as important a setting an edition number for the printing method. If it is being printed in a way that you think works with the piece (xerox, or whatever) and decide that you will print 100, or 5, then that makes a big difference to the value, rather than just printng as many as you'll be able to sell. Obviously F.G.T.'s editions would be infinite, but that's important to the value, as well, in a different way.

Scott said...
April 6, 2006 at 8:08 AM

Great Liriodendron! I for one appreciate the change and I am sure that many of the other print people out there do to.

And thank you Marja-leena, we all need to continue the good fight. Knowledge and understanding benifits us all.

Anonymous, I agree that edition size is a major factor when it comes to prints. But how to determine that edition size is the hardest part. When I was more actively making lithographs I wasn't interested at all in editions, and if at all i would keep the edition in the 3-10 range. But then on occassion we would do a portfoilio exchange with other printmakers (one of the most rewarding activites amongst printmakers, I have been able to collect some wonderful works by talented artists this way) wherw we each had to edition up to 50 or so pieces. And when it comes to print shops who publish the prints, they will often need to make a certain number just to cover the costs of materials and man hours that goes into making quality prints. Typically I am usually fine with editions up to 100, and on some cases more. There just isn't a hard and fast rule other than the demand for works by a particular artists. And as for collecting prints, I guess it may be obvious that the fewer of a particular print that exists that better the chance of it increasing in value. But then again if the artist is in such high demand, an larger edition may still be hard to keep in stock. But be aware that many prints in editions steadily increase in price as the edition continues to sell. A print that may start at $300 in an edition of 50, by the time it gets to the last few prints available the price may now have gone up considerably, say $1000. Prints are a wonderful art form that is often thought as a lesser art by some. With more education and more experience viewing quality prints by talented artists I think most people would disagree.

Rebecca U. said...
April 8, 2006 at 2:18 PM

Well, if I may toss my free-economy branch into the flame, Benjamin wasn't only arguing that photomechanical reproducibility robbed originals of an "aura," he also makes the case that there's a political and social efficacy to the potential for mass reproduction. I'm all for placing value on efficacy over rarity when appropriate, in support of Anonymous's point in his/her last sentence. But to deviate from previous sentiments, I own some works of art in open editions, and some in limited editions, and some that are unique, and I'm perfectly happy with this scenario. I don't have the capital to purchase unique works, so I'm grateful for the opportunity to purchase high quality prints at a lower price point.

But I would agree that it is dishonest to pass off reproductions as original artworks for the sole reason of bumping up monetary value. The ethics in that equation seem pretty straightforward.

jen said...
April 11, 2006 at 3:33 PM

I'm glad you brought this up. It's hard enough for people wanting to learn about art who go into galleries and as obvious as it might be to an artist the observer can sometimes barely distinguish the difference between a painting, print, drawing, and yes even a photograph. Calling reproductions prints is very inconsiderate to printmakers and those working with digital media because it could confuse potential buyers. Am I getting a reproduction? I am reminded of an artist in one of the art 21 episodes who made a large number of self portraits and then photographed them. She then destroyed the original drawings so that she was creating works of art as photographs, not just mere reproductions. I can't remember who this artist was does anyone remember this?

Scott said...
April 11, 2006 at 4:11 PM

If you happen to be talking about the most recent Art 21 episodes, then the artist you may be thinking of is Ida Applebroog. Applebroog, would sculpt these grotesque looking figureative forms, photograph them and import those into a the computer where she would continue to change and modify them, print them out and begin to paint on her finishing touches. Wonderfully grotesque images. I enjoyed her talking about her process.

Another artist I like a lot from this series is Arturo Herrera. He would make collages and drawings that were finished works themselves but then photograph portions of those to create new works. But before processing the film for these he would drop the rolls of film into water, coffee, or some other substance. Allowing for unpredictable results. He then would process the works as finished drawings. I have been a fan of his for some years now. He never gets boring to me.

If neither of these are the artists you were thinking of, you can find the entire list of artists that have been apart of Art 21 at this site:

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