Reproduction Print Sales Impact Artists in a Big Way
The commercialization of the art business by big business is nowhere more evident than in the marketing of reproduction prints, particularly giclees (computer prints of digital files) by entities billing themselves as fine art publishing companies. These reproductions are typically advertised as signed limited edition "fine art" prints and can sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The great majority, however, are nothing more than computer printouts of scans or photographs of paintings, watercolors, or works of art in other mediums (as opposed to original digital works of art created by digital artists entirely or in part on computers which ARE considered to be unique). Repro print artists usually have nothing to do with producing these editions, their only participation being to sign their names which takes maybe thirty seconds or so per print at most. And that's supposed to be worth hundreds or thousands of dollars? Really? But the people hawking these reproductions sure want you to think so and sure manage to talk plenty of people into believing it.
The problem with this end of the art business is fourfold. First of all, the large majority of these prints and giclees are marketed in such ways as to confuse less sophisticated buyers about whether or not they're getting original works of art. Many people mistakenly believe that they are originals. Second, some level of collectibility and/or investment potential is often implied by sellers, when in fact, these reproduction "giclee" copies of works of art in other mediums are little more than glorified posters. Third, the markup over production costs is often huge with the bulk of the profits going to printing companies (aka fine art publishers) and to the galleries or websites who sell these prints rather than to the artists themselves; many artists only get royalties, typically well under 20%. Fourth, every time someone buys one of these reproduction prints or giclees, one less artist somewhere sells one less original or limited edition work of art. The bottom line? Many millions of dollars annually get siphoned away from artists by commercial interests who care far more about making money than they do about making art.
Even with this huge amount of money at stake, artists do little to combat the misconceptions and questionable marketing tactics that characterize the commercial reproduction print and giclee industry. Many feel powerless or have no interest in mobilizing, others ignore the problem out of elitism, still others try to join the printing companies rather than beat them by publishing and marketing their own signed limited edition reproductions. No matter what excuses or rationalizations artists come up with to explain their inaction, as long as commercial print and giclee publishers continue to do business unchecked and unregulated, they'll continue to maintain and likely even increase their market share while artists will continue to come out on the short end.
Another aspect of the reproduction print industry, perhaps even more insidious over the long haul than the dollars and cents going to commercial interests, is that a percentage of collectors stop buying art altogether when they finally realize what they've been getting for their money. Not only do many of them believe that their repro prints and giclees are original works of art, but they also view them as investments-- not much different than stocks or bonds. Buy now; sell later for more. So when these people discover somewhere down the road that their "original fine art investments" are neither-- like when they try to sell and realize they're worth nowhere near what they thought they were-- they become completely disillusioned about collecting and stop buying art altogether. The bad news? All art and all artists suffer for it because these people are out of the game for good. The really bad news? They warn their friends to stay away from "art" as well. Misrepresent or mischaracterize art in any way to someone once, and they'll be really reluctant to ever approach artists or art galleries again. That's a fact.
In the meantime, commercial fine art print and giclee publishing companies roll on. They flood the marketplace with slick websites, big advertising campaigns, beautifully appointed galleries in major tourist destinations, slick trained sales people, and ever more mutating terminologies and confusing explanations of what it is that they actually sell. All the while, they strengthen their foothold and effectively stymie a significant percentage of the art buying public.
If you're a printmaker-- ESPECIALLY an artist who creates original digital prints-- you might well consider getting involved and informed on this issue, and learn how to explain the difference between your originals (including original digital works of art) and signed limited edition giclee reproduction computer prints of works of art in other mediums produced by commercial publishing companies. Galleries that sell original art might get proactive on this matter as well and make concerted efforts to educate their clienteles about how to distinguish between original works of art, original digitally produced works of art, and giclee or print reproductions or copies of original works of art. On the legal side, lawyers for the arts should seriously consider lobbying for better disclosure laws. Criteria for labeling and describing reproduction limited edition copy prints should be standardized, made easy to understand, and be required reading for potential buyers-- BEFORE they buy their "art," not after.
Back in the good old days (the late 1990s on up until he passed away in 2004), artist, illustrator and printmaker Mel Hunter railed regularly about the commercial reproduction print and giclee industry. He relentlessly crusaded for all artists who create original limited edition prints like etchings, lithographs, serigraphs and silkscreens. Well aware that he was up against a highly capitalized and highly successful juggernaut, he began publishing a newsletter, PRINTthoughts, that attempted not only to inform and educate the public about the differences between original and reproduction prints, but also to establish industry standards and guidelines for labeling, representing and selling both types of art. PRINTthoughts offered statements and discussions by artists and printmakers, articles on various forms of printmaking, articles on original versus reproduction prints, discussions of the "limited edition" concept, and sample disclosure forms and certificates of authenticity which could eventually be legislated into law. I'm not sure about the current availability of PRINTthoughts or of Mel Hunter's contributions to the field, but anyone interested in inquiring might try visiting the Mel and Susan Smith-Hunter website or calling them at 802-465-8088. It would be nice to see all those essays and articles available once again-- online.
While you're at it, those of you looking for the best in original limited edition prints, from antique to contemporary, from top national and international dealers should visit the International Fine Print Dealers Association website. These people sell the real deal.
i don't exactly understand that article (nothing new there). but he's saying mass produced artwork represented as limited or original artwork is bad for the industry, bad for the artists? but limited editions sold by the artist is a good thing.
so in that sense, is his argument really about giclees? or about mass produced stuff misrepresented as limited. a giclee that you only print 100 of, and sign and number 100 of, is limited. i don't print giclees so i am probably misinformed on this.