Giclée Reproductions versus Original Art
by glenn garson
First, what is a “Giclee"? Wikipedia1 says that “The name was originally applied to fine art prints created on Iris printers in a process invented in the early 1990s but has since come to mean any high quality ink-jet print and is often used in galleries and print shops to denote such prints.”
Well there-in lies part of the problem to me. I was looking up information on the subject when I ran across a question in a FAQ page2 where someone inquired “I print my artwork on X paper using a Y-inch-wide Z printer and Q brand archival inks. Can I legitimately call my prints giclees?” I thought to myself “At least that person was concerned, but how many Giclees are out there that are produced by dubious methods?”
Second, even for the reproductions that are made with the best of techniques I wonder about all the claims that are made. I understand that Giclees have only been used for about 35 years, and that their estimated durability is based on stress tests, simulations, and theoretical models of the materials. I think someone put it in perspective when they said 3 “The supporters of this method proudly tout the new and improved lifespan of fifty years. Unless, of course, the image is on canvas or, for that matter, a different paper than that used in the lab, and your conditions are less than museum controlled(!). “ I do have a fair idea that oil on canvas that is properly prepared can last a millennium under realistic conditions, and that encaustics can last two millennium, but I am not as convinced that Giclee, including the substrate and inks, will last nearly as long.
Ok, I know someone is thinking I just want my art to last long enough to pay off my mortgage, not long enough for an archeologist to recover my remains. That brings me to the first real philosophical issue, which is, that we acquire art for different reasons. Some people acquire art because of how it makes them feel, and the desire to hold on to that feeling, others collect art as an investment.
To say it is simply a question of buying art because it pleases you versus buying art as an investment is too simple. I myself collect art for the first reason, but what pleases me is the story about the piece of art, how I found it, where I found it. The fact that it is original and unique is a part of the story that is special to me.
If someone told you they shook John F. Kennedy’s hand would you feel the same as if someone told you they shook the hand of someone who looked just like John F. Kennedy? If someone told you he kissed Marilyn Monroe would you feel the same as if he kissed someone who looked like Marilyn Monroe? Something that looks like the original is simply not the same to me or to many other people, as the original. If you are far more existential than I, and can let go of those details and just live in the moment and enjoy the artwork for what you see and feel at that moment then I can understand why you would collect Giclees.
For people who buy art as an investment I think Giclees should raise a lot of red flags. Someone put it succinctly when they said 4 “if you're thinking of buying a giclee for pleasure, what do you care about longevity? If you're thinking of buying a giclee as an investment, don't.” Of course, I too have read the web posting where someone bought a Giclee for $800 and sold it for $8000. However, like UFO’s and Big-foot, I would like a little more evidence before I am convinced.
Some people muddy the water when discussing the investment value of Giclees by bringing up lithographs and prints. A posting on a web page I read helped me see why that dog doesn’t hunt 5. The author of the posting made two points:
“An engraving or a lithograph was usually designed to be an engraving or a lithograph, even if based on a painting. Every stage in its creation demands the personal skill, work, and involvement of a human being. Even a print of a photograph was intended from the instant of exposure to be the print of a photograph.”
“A giclee starts out as a photograph of another artwork; that photograph is designed to be as mechanical a copy as possible. Some more machines, a computer and a printer, then turn it into a giclee. The machines can be run by the artist or not; what difference does it make? The artist can then sign and number it, but this has nothing to do with art; it's purely a question of marketing.”
I think the author hit the nail on the head. It is the hand of the original artist and the art process itself that is part of the value I find in the artwork.
I think that when I look at oil or an encaustic painting I get a sense of time-tested classical methods that will endure, but as one web author noted 6 “I don't know whether the colors on all uncoated giclees will run, though I suspect that they will. I do know that I got an email telling me that one giclee did run when the owner's granddaughter touched it with wet hands. …. I also got a reliable report of a giclee being stained by a sneeze.”
Ok, so then there are people who will tell you about the coatings they use to protect the pieces, but there can be problems with those as well 7 : “ uneven coatings, incompatibility of aqueous coatings with ink, health concerns about solvent sprays and the tendency for many clear coatings to crack when stretched over stretcher bars.” The point for me is that, the coatings them selves, are another unknown.
Even proponents8 of Giclee are quick to point out that “Theoretically, an unlimited number of giclee reproductions could be made of a single original, but most artists choose to limit the edition in order to increase the value of each one.” The problem for me is when I read statements from artists9 such as “One of the hugest issues is the numbering of the limited edition print. With Giclees being printed on demand, it's labor intensive to keep track of what number you are on.” Which makes me wonder who and how are they keeping track of all these editions.
I myself feel that Giclees actually devalue the original piece of artwork, however others 8 argue “Does the availability of reproductions make the original less valuable? No, because there is still only one original. All the cheap Van Gogh prints we see in frame shops do not devalue the worth of his original paintings.” I think there is a difference between a Van Gogh and most artists. If a local emerging artist floods the market with their Giclees then it is difficult to distinguish originals from reproductions and I feel like they are mass-produced. Others on the web have made similar remarks 10:
“The past few years I've begun to work directly with galleries (instead of art agents) and having prints out there has hurt my credibility. I recently had a canvas returned to a Gallery because the buyer had taken it to her Framer who told her it was a reproduction! I am currently reinventing myself... Be very careful of the print seduction;”
I am not blind to the other point of view expressed by some 10 , i.e. that “This elitist attitude toward originals only is just that: elitist. It means that only one person can have the art and I think that is unfortunate, for the artist and the world.”
As someone on the web explained 11: “Artists often like Giclèe because it leverages their effort in terms of income-per-painting-day. For instance, one source mentions a guideline for pricing a Giclèe of 20 to 50 percent of the price of the original painting. (Based on one artist I'm familiar with, 15-20 percent might be more like it.) This can really help finance their kids' college educations if the Giclèe printer run is 75 or 100 copies. Better yet, if the Giclèe is "enhanced" (the term of art in the art biz) with a few extra dabs of paint by the artist, its price can be raised by 20-30 percent over a basic Giclèe”
Perhaps the best balance on that topic was made by someone12 on the web who said “Someone once said that when you buy an art print, all you are really buying is the frame... the print is not worth much, and will not usually appreciate in value, as could a painting. But then I remembered when I first began to collect art for my walls. I certainly could not afford originals, and art prints were my only option.”
So in summary I would say that if you are buying Giclees because you love a piece of art work, but can not afford it then a reproduction is the way to go, but you should keep in mind what one person 8 on the web said: “A reproduction is a reproduction. To clothe it in language that makes it sound like anything else (e.g. fine art giclée print) is misleading art buyers into thinking they are purchasing something of a higher quality and value than what the item actually is.”