The text of the presentation given at the IFEA Convention in Denver, September 1998
Revised by the author Sept, 2001
At a recent meeting of the NAIA, Banister Pope introduced me as "an artist that had been doing outdoor shows since God was a boy". It hasn't been quite that long, however I did exhibit in my first outdoor show over thirty years ago.
When we look back in retrospect, shows that were held 30 years ago were pretty simple. Artists brought out their oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, pottery etc. and the public seemed to grasp whatever the artists were showing and were glad to see us. Art festivals have grown from a few dozen shows back then to hundreds now and have developed into a major industry.
I've tried to keep abreast of the innovations as they have arrived. Artists have more tools and more technology available to them now than anyone could imagine just a few years ago. New types of painting material, computers, digital cameras, all of the high tech printers, the list goes on. Artists are experimenting more and more and the lines between the traditional media categories have become more and more fuzzy. As each day goes by, it becomes harder and harder to determine what belongs in an art festival and what does not. It is no wonder that show organizers throw up their hands in frustration at times trying to figure out what is what.
That is why we are here today, to try and deal with one of these fuzzy issues, reproductions. What are reproductions? Are they art? or not? Do they belong in outdoor art festivals? If so, in what capacity? If painters are allowed to exhibit reproductions, does that mean that other media categories like jewelry and pottery, for example, will expect the same privilege? If they are not art and do not belong in art festivals, how does one identify them or police them? These are all tough questions and there are no easy answers. The one thing that is clear is that the issue is not going away, so maybe today we can begin a dialog that might point us in the right direction.
There is one thing that I need to make clear up front. The NAIA has not made a stand for or against reproductions. One reason is that we do not deal with marketing issues, and another is that we have members that are on both sides of the issue. So, we are not here to try to tell you if you should or should not allow reproductions in your show. What we hope to accomplish today is to provide enough information so that you can make intelligent decisions about what is best for your own show.
We have basically three things to show you today. Number one is a list of print definitions along with characteristics that will help you to identify them. The differences are pretty academic and I'll try to explain them as we go along. Second, we have actual examples of the more popular forms of printmaking and reproductions that are being shown in outdoors show currently. Third, we have the results of a recent poll that was conducted by the NAIA concerning the idea of a "reproduction tent".
As noted in our newsletter, this survey did not include a question on the acceptability of reproductions, but the returned comments revealed strong objections to their inclusion at the high level shows. Also noted was the need for a clear explanation of what they are - separating the terminology of "original print" and "reproduction" to clarify the "print" issue that is often confused in the minds of the general public. These comments are unedited and include responses from both sides of the reproduction issue.
We really can't talk about just reproductions without dealing with this "umbrella" term Prints. So what I have done is to list all the major disciplines that fall under the term Prints and have separated them as to which are original graphics and those that are reproductions. You will notice as we go along that some of the terminology is very similar on both lists and herein lies the heart of our problem with trying to understand the difference in original prints and reproductions.
As far as the public is concerned, the most confusing single word is Print. When this term is used at an art festival, the public is not sure if they are looking at an etching, a photograph, a reproduction or what. I wish that we could just drop the word Print from our vocabulary and call everything by it's correct name. I realize this is just a dream and will never happen in my lifetime, so what we have to do is try to cut down on the confusion by educating ourselves as well as the public.
The single most misunderstood phrase is Signed and Numbered Limited Edition Print. What does that mean?? Over the years, it has become customary for makers of original prints to sign and number their prints with pencil and as a result, the public associates this practice with original artwork. When artists sign their reproductions in the same manner and refer to them as signed and numbered prints rather than signed and numbered reproductions, this really confuses everyone. So you can see that when shows require people to sign and number their reproductions, this just makes it harder for the public to separate the original prints from the reproductions. Nothing is more potentially damaging to a shows reputation than a patron that buys something only to discover that it is less wonderful than they originally thought.
Some art festivals have rules that limit edition sizes intending this as a means of quality control. Maybe they feel that by limiting an edition, that somehow the art will be better. Keep in mind that Rembrandt, perhaps the greatest etcher of all time, did not edition his etchings. Ansel Adams, Americas premiere photographer, did not edition his photographs. Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating that artist should not edition their work. I'm just saying that the decision of editioning should be left totally up to the artist. Every artist has different marketing strategies. Some prefer small, more exclusive editions that would allow them to place a higher value on each piece. Other artists might prefer an open, or unlimited edition in order to keep their prices more affordable. Instead of using edition limits as a means of quality control, art festivals would be much better served by seeking out jurors that can recognize the Rembrandts and Ansel Adams of today. First, lets look at the definitions and I will show you some examples. We will have time for you to examine these examples before we finish.
What is an Original Print?
(From the Print Council of America) The artist alone has made the image in or upon the plate, stone, wood block or other material for the primary purpose of creating a work of graphic art. The print is made directly from that original material by the artist or pursuant to his directions. (The image doesn't exist unless it is printed.)
What is a Reproduction?
(From the American Print Alliance) If a work of art already exists (as a painting, watercolor, drawing, photograph, or whatever) and a photocopy or digital impression is made, that copy is a second generation or reproductive image; A reproduction.
Off-Set (lithograph) A painting or other type of original art is photographed and the image is separated onto four aluminum plates. The image is picked up from these plates by a rubber roller which then reprints (off sets) it onto paper. This is the most common method of commercial printing. Most reproductions show characteristics of original art processes. They, look like oil paintings, watercolors, drawings etc. (Original prints such as etchings, woodcuts, etc. have distinctive characteristics of their own) If the image is perfectly printed and has mechanical edges, it's probably a reproduction When looked at through a 20X magnifying glass, a distinctive dot pattern will appear. Inks will appear flat and with no texture. If the print is hand signed and the edition is over 300, it's probably a reproduction.
Serigraph: This is same process as described under original prints, however a painting or other original artwork is photographed and the image is separated onto separate screens. Even though the printed image looks very much like an original serigraph, the result is still a reproduction.
Electrostatic Printing: The process of attracting printing inks or dyes to the surface of a material by an electrostatic (electric charge) pulse. Xerox is an example of this type of copier. When viewed with a magnifying glass, there is no dot pattern as in an off-set, however, the reds and blues have a slight halo. Dark colors have a raised appearance much like a silkscreen. Size of the printed image is usually limited to 11" by 17. The quality of this process ranges from cheap appearing Kinko copies to images almost as good as the expensive inkjet printers
Ink jet Printing: The process of scanning an original artwork into a computer and printing the image onto paper or canvas with an inkjet printer creating a continuous tone reproduction. These printers spray millions of dots of dye per second producing almost photographic results. Texture is often a distinguishing factor Dot pattern can sometimes be seen with a 20X magnifying glass in light or pale colors. This pattern is not visible if the image is printed on a soft paper. Prices of these reproductions are usually much higher than offsets because of production cost. This is changing very fast because the cost of ink jet printers is dropping. Prints can be printed in sizes up to 4 by 8 feet. Can be printed on all kinds of expensive art papers as well as canvas. Sometimes signed by artist in small editions.
Giclee (Zhee-CLAY): A French tern that means 'to spurt'. The term giclee was created by Iris Graphic of Bedford, Mass. Giclee has become the popular term for ink jet printing.
*Special note: When trying to distinguish between an original print and a reproduction, try to think of the artist's intention. When the artwork is conceived by the artist to be printed as multiples and not conceived to be a painting, drawing, etc., that print would be an original. When an original piece of art (such as a painting, drawing, photograph etc.) is copied by photographic means and printed on an offset press, a serigraph press, or through a computer by means of an ink jet or electrostatic printer, this would be a reproduction.
NAIA Artists Survey
Have most of you received the latest NAIA newsletter? If not, I believe we have some extras. Even though you might have already received one, we have included a copy of the report concerning the "reproduction tent" question. We won't try to go over all this because you can read it later. Please take notice to the artist responses when you do read it.
So.....do you allow reproductions to be included in your show? If the answer is no, then you are hopefully a little better informed as to what to look for. When in doubt, refer back to the definitions that we have given you.
If you decide that reproductions should be a part of your show, please let us give you some suggestions on how this might be done so as to educate the public.
Conclusion: Soon after the IFEA requested that we address the reproduction issue, we opened a dialog with artists and the public to try to get as much feedback as possible. It became apparent that it really was a 'Hot Potato' issue. Almost everyone had very strong opinions and those opinions varied greatly. It is obvious that there is no way to please everyone. That is impossible! The thing that became more clear than ever was that the NAIA and all the Art Festivals must work together and try to keep the standard of our industry as high as possible. At the same time we have a responsibility to our public, not only to enlighten, but also to educate. All of us are in a position of leadership and should not take it lightly. I really hope that 30 more years down the road, the art historians and the academic community will look back at our 'street shows' and recognize the point at which we sorted out these issues.
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