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December 21,2010
MY SOAPBOX VERSUS YOUR PEDESTAL

In a recent post on the WetCanvas art forum, someone asked about the best type of protective coating to use on giclee prints on canvas. One responder with obvious biases charged into the conversation to ridicule the idea that anyone would want to protect what was nothing more than a reproduction, absurdly suggesting only originals were worthy of the cost and effort of protective coatings. His vitriolic attack on reproductions, and his scorn for giclee reproductions in particular, echoes an all-too-common sentiment amongst certain painters who seem to feel there is something sacred about original paintings and that making reproductions only defiles the artist's work, and by implication, the artist himself.

In the field of art, which includes writers, musicians, illustrators, sculptors, actors, dancers, singers, photographers, film makers, and many other disciplines, only painters stand out as considering themselves so high and mighty that any reproduction of their work is beneath their dignity. They go so far as to sneer at fellow painters of exceptional skill and talent as not being worthy of acceptance into their "fine art" echelon because they sell reproductions of their work. The more they sell, the more they are scorned.

Last week Sotheby's auctioned off the handwritten notes by Bob Dylan of the original lyrics for his song "The Times They Are A-Changin'" for $422,000. In every sense these notes were an original work of art, created in a moment of inspiration by a talented and successful artist. But if Mr. Dylan had only ever sung this song once to a small crowd in a coffeehouse somewhere, without allowing it to be reproduced on millions of records, tapes, CD's, and other forms of reproduction, what then would have been the value of his original notes? And I'm not just talking about monetary value. I'm talking about sharing his creation with the world. Had he chosen not to "defile" his creation by having it reproduced, only that small coffeehouse crowd would have had the privilege of hearing the song, and they would soon have forgotten both the words and the tune, lost forever to millions of others denied the privilege of enjoying it.

What makes a painting any different from a song, or a novel, or a film, or a play? The painter puts days, months, even years into creating a work that may be the culmination of decades of learning, experience, and passion, for what? For the personal pleasure of one individual or family that buys it to hang in the study for a generation, never to be seen or enjoyed by anyone other than occasional visitors to that household? If there are no reproductions of the piece that may well be the fate of all the effort, talent, skill and passion put into the work by the artist. If it is a really good painting, is that not a shameful waste? How can that be satisfying to the artist? Surely sharing the work with others through reproduction of it to make it accessible to as many people as can appreciate it is a noble thing to do.

Some argue that making reproductions available only devalues the original artwork. Of course, Robert Bateman is probably one of the best known painters that sells thousands of prints of his works, and who continues to be ignored by most of the fine art establishment, and yet he has no problem selling his originals for $100,000 straight off the easel. I'd like my originals to be that devalued.

So to those painters that get apoplectic at just the suggestion that giclee prints are a legitimate part of the business of art production and distribution, I say save your energy for painting those one-off originals of yours that are doomed to virtual oblivion once they are sold. Continue working in silence, as I'm sure out of principle you wouldn't listen to any recorded music in your studio, just as I'm sure you wouldn't read anything other than original, handwritten manuscripts. I just hope you don't develop vertigo way up there on your pedestals.

Posted by Peter Kiidumae at 09:48 3 Comments
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