Thursday, January 27, 2011

Distinguishing Value/Original vs. Reproductions

NOTE: I'm posting this piece again because it doesn't appear in my stats.  Anyone reading it?

Following up on a comment left on my last post by Liana, let's continue the conversation about price and value of an art work.  Liana injects the subject of original work versus reproduction, so let's start with a couple of artists, Griselda, who sells only original (one-of-a-kind) work, and her sister, Prunella, who sells reproductions of her originals.  For argument's sake, let's give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they are regarded equally in the art world, both sought after and collected.  Let's also paint them as on equal financial footing in regards to their work.

So, what is the difference in actual value of the work, in perceived value, and in the mystical "Vision" value, which I suggested in the last post.

Is the "actual value" the price set or the price paid?  Does "perceived value" affect "actual value" (of either type)?  How does the "vision value" affect actual and/or perceived value?  Hmmmm.  I sense a snake pit.

I see Griselda coming from her studio now.  Gris, I know  you've considered these questions over the years.  Could you give us some insight based on your personal experience?

Sure, Whitney.  I've been painting for a couple of decades.  Painting is both my job and my love.  It excites me to think and work in new and fresh ways, and, for me, painting versions of the same piece is not satisfying, and ultimately is not stimulating for my clients.  So, I sell only my original work.

Yes, I can understand that feeling of excitement about new work, but, Gris, you do a lot of work.  Do you mean to say that each and every painting is a new idea?  How can you keep up your output if every piece has to be an absolutely new idea?  And what about the stress of selling those expensive pieces, when reproductions can be sold for much less and with little effort on your part?

Perhaps we need to talk about what "original" means.  If I paint a particularly exciting piece - a piece that, in the process of painting, generates several more ideas, I go with it, and it becomes a series, perhaps following a theme or a color palette or form, but each one furthering the original thought.  This series may be, for example, about movement.  To the viewer, it may appear to be the "same" painting done over and over with very small changes.  To the artist, it may be movement itself.  You paint, Whitney.  How many paintings could you do about "red"?  Would the viewer say, good grief, does she ever paint anything else?

OK, I get it.  But, what about the issue of money and the increased income you would, or could, have if you sold reproductions of your work?

Mmmm.  Another bird altogether.  First, I am fortunate that I don't have to make any more money than I already do.  My financial needs aren't great.  If they were, perhaps I would consider selling prints.  Until then, I believe that reproducing my work lessens the value of all original work, not just my own.  Philosophically, I believe it is better to buy bad original work than to buy a reproduction of the best painting ever done.  Art, in its purest form, is a communication between artist and viewer.  A reproduction, no matter how skillfully marketed, is nothing more than a facsimile, an impersonation of that.  In effect, it is a counterfeit, an ersatz conversation with the artist.  The subtleties of experience, which Liana mentioned, cannot exist other than in the original piece.  Here comes Prunella.  She thinks quite differently than I.  Pru!  Come give us your insights as an artist.

Prunella, what's your view on selling reproductions of your work?

I sell a lot of reproductions.  Some are good.  Some less good.  But I have a huge audience because of the affordability of prints.  I believe my work is good.  It has been validated in the appropriate circles.  I have collectors who buy my originals.  And, because I sell reproductions well, I can actually have time to do something other than paint.  I like to swim and hike, play a little golf.  Unlike Gris, I think it's important to get good art out to as big an audience as possible.  That way, there is good contemporary work available to look at, right beside the ubiquitous Monets and Picassos.  And, if  the artist is in the very early stages of a career, reproductions can gain an audience much quicker then if he sells only his originals.

It seems, then, that we are facing a wide philosophical gap.  How is the audience of potential buyers to make an informed decision?  Obviously, there are as many answers as snakes in that pit, and some of them are just as slimy.  

Many have experienced the fallacious marketing of print editions of 10-20 years ago.  People were duped into buying prints from "limited" editions of 5000, and sometimes that meant 5000 in each size offered of the same print!  Then the naive buyer would try to sell his "limited edition" print only to find it had no value at all.  Very sad.  Very bad!  For the buyer, and for all artists doing reproductions, be they honorable or not.  Next came the early giclees, many of which had terrible integrity of material, fading almost immediately.  After that, prints were touted with the "artist enhanced" moniker.

Time passed. Giclee printing improved.  Texturing became possible.  The quality of reproductions has gone sky high.  Marketing them is an art in itself.  But, in the end, the buyer must remember that it is still only a reproduction of the original painting.  The value to the buyer must be that he is able to own something done by his favorite artist that he would otherwise not have been able to afford.  The current reproductions are not hand pulled lithographs, or monographs, or true limited editions (usually not more than 25).  They are facsimiles - likenesses of the original.

I have absolutely no objection, either philosophically or commercially, to selling reproductions.  I do categorically object to implying to a potential buyer that this reproduction is, in any way, an original.  Hedging words is misleading, and in a world of false and misleading advertising, we owe it to our clients, whether they spend $100 or $100,000, to be crystal clear about what they are buying.  A client may indeed be thrilled with the fact that you have reproduced his $20,000 painting so that he can say, "I have the original!"  But would that client be so thrilled to hear that his secretary bought "an original hand embellished limited edition" version of the same painting for $100?  Perhaps not.

In the end, it is an issue of personal ethics and communication.  These are large concepts coloring every part of our lives as artists, parents, teachers, employers and employees, mates and partners, medical professionals and politicians.  We have only limited opportunities to consciously  confront them in an academic way - a way in which we might better understand what ethics are and how to communicate.  It is up to us, individually, to continually ask ourselves the important questions - to not simply fall in line with the current market fashions of white lies and partial truths.  It is up to us, individually, to embark on civil discourse about matters which affect us all.  Through the discourse, we achieve clarity - even if we only become clear about that which is unclear!

And, by the way, thanks to my fictitious friends, Griselda and Prunella, for joining us.

No comments:

Post a Comment