Prints or originals?


Dear Artist,

This morning Pamela Haddock of Sylva, NC, wrote, “Our art association is in a quandary. One of the requirements of our well-attended and successful group shows is that all work has to be original, with no reproductions. We make an exception for photographers. Now some of our painting members want to keep and enjoy their own originals and are busy making giclees. They want to show and sell them. Some club members don’t want this. I can’t see what the fuss is about — it seems they’re reproductions just like photos. What do you think about having prints among our originals?”

Watercolour detail by Pamela Haddock

Watercolour detail
by Pamela Haddock

Thanks, Pamela. With the low cost and easy availability of giclees, this question is rankling a lot of art clubs these days. While preciousness of original art is a factor, there are many reasons for duplication, not the least of which is the potential extension of financial return. Further, some artists are getting the idea that their art is worth more if it is reproduced. I’ve noticed that this concept works for some artists and not for others. I’ve also talked to disappointed potential buyers who were sad to report an overabundance of prints. “Do these artists love painting, or do they just want to capitalize on it?” they ask. Somehow, there’s still something pure about an original.

While some clubs continue to disallow reproductions, some others are in the throes of a print epidemic. There’s a happy middle ground that tests the waters for both: Exhibit prints and originals in two distinct areas of the venue — and have them clearly marked and advertised as such. Print seekers will move to the print section, while the purists will go to the originals. If the show is nicely balanced, with no great shortage of either, club members can observe the current tides.

Watercolour on clayboard by Pamela Haddock

Watercolour on clayboard
by Pamela Haddock

Another solution is for a club to make print access available to all members. An ensuing show can be all reproductions. This can actually stimulate some interest in a community that may be weary of art-club events. Further, it permits artists to access and print from better originals that may already be sold and out in the community. While it’s understood that artists continue to own the copyrights to their work, unless they have sold the rights separately, owners are often, but not always, pleased by the compliment.

Best regards,


PS: “They’re building walls faster than we can make original art to go on it. Reproductions are the answer.” (Kiff Holland)

Esoterica: The ongoing problem with ubiquitous reproductions is what to do with genuine prints. Some folks do engravings, serigraphs, stone-lithos and other handmade, limited-edition works of art. I, for one, don’t like to see traditional print-art being marginalized, and mechanical reproduction has gone a long way in doing just that. This is one of the reasons dedicated printmakers tend to avoid clubs. Putting up a sign that says “Genuine prints — this way” won’t cut it either, unless you feel a donnybrook is needed for club publicity.

Watercolour on calyboard by Pamela Haddock

Watercolour on clayboard
by Pamela Haddock

This letter was originally published as “Prints or originals?” on February 22, 2008.

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“What any true painting touches is an absence – an absence of which without the painting, we might be unaware. And that would be our loss.” (John Berger)




  1. No no no! Reproductions of paintings belong in a gift shop, not a gallery show. They confuse people who appreciate printmaking as an art form, whether that means traditional methods like etching and lithography or digital printmaking (which is NOT reproduction of an “original” painting, but a thing in itself.)

  2. I’ve been a painter in oils for fifty years. I’ve considered prints but have never followed through. When good money is paid for originals I don’t want my clients to see that “original” in every other home they visit. Somehow, to me, it seems to lessen the value of the original painting and not fair to the consumer.
    Just my take on the subject. I don’t care for “art” that is mass produced.

    • Yes, I totally agree. I was a printmaker for many years, working in intaglio and relief printmaking. I taught intaglio and relief printmaking for 26 years at the Univ. of Oregon, Art Dept. The etching/engraving (intaglio) or woodcut/monotype (relief) prints are originals because they are printed from a matrix that that holds the visual information but is not the finished art. A photo reproduction of a drawing or painting is an unfortunate copy and I don’t approve! I am now a landscape oil painter and would never photo reproduce my paintings because it dilutes the original and is often a completely different size. Size is part of the content!!

  3. Artists like to eat, just like everyone else, so when a new technology comes along that improves productivity (and income) they will usually adapt quickly. Rembrandt realised the possibilities in etching in the 17th century and leapt at the chance to improve his income. He happened to be a genius so his creations for reproduction are wonderful works of art. Three centuries on and reproduction technology has improved remarkably. Even so a print is still a print and the original will still retain qualities that the reproduction cannot emulate.
    At the end of the day nothing has changed much in essence: original art is still a unique creation and reproductions, be they etchings, cast bronzes, woodcuts, litho prints or giclees are editions and are valued accordingly.
    It’s not an issue that I get too excited about!

    • If people are told that the work is a reproduction, I find it’s ok. Artists have to make money to Heat and EAT. I have made reproductions all of my art life. FULL DISCLOSURE has worked well for me.
      My rerpos are offset lithographs. I TELL PEOPLE THAT THEY ARE COPIES.

  4. leonard melkus jr. on

    IT’S ALL ABOUT VALUE JUDGMENT! Reproductions??? Ask yourself if you think that having a photograph of a gold coin in your pocket is the same thing as having a gold coin in your pocket. What we appreciate in a work of Fine Art is the genius of the artist. Part of that is the talent and mastery of the medium and skill and ability that produced the actual ART OBJECT. With a reproduction there actually isn’t any art object , just a photo of a gold coin in a pocket.
    Photography really screwed things up because even though there is such a thing as photo art and photo-artists. most photography, even if produced on the highest level of FINE CRAFT…is still craft and not FINE ART. Don’t forget that the mere photographic documentation of something that is being judged as having aesthetic value is not the production of FINE ART.
    Yet today photographs that are actually no more than such documentation are accepted , even by “ART GALLERIES”
    and sold as FINE ART OBJECTS, basically saying that reproductions are the same thing as actual ART OBJECTS. As long as we are living in a society that basically has no idea of what FINE ART is about, we will have this kind of confusion about selling ” STUFF” that isn’t FINE ART or even “ART” or even “FINE CRAFT”…and even selling it in places calling themselves “ART GALLERIES” and even calling this stuff “ART”.

  5. A photograph, giclees or whatever you want to call it of art is not art, it is just a copy of a piece of art, this is a sore spot in so many shows around here.

  6. The artists’ association gallery that I belonged to for many years had middle of the road solution that seems to work. On the walls for either featured artist or all member shows only original work can be exhibited. But they always have several bins in the gallery that can have both original unframed work and prints. But it had to be clearly defined on the back of the print if it was a giclée or a numbered series.

    I always feel that to exhibit prints along with original art makes it to easy for buyers to gravitate to the cheaper prints, especially if a featured artist has his own area in the gallery and then is also selling prints or even cards of the same work. (Many of our artists tried that and the invariably sold more prints than originals) Prints are fine and a good way to extend your art to more buyers, but in a gallery that wants to be taken seriously, I personally think the walls should be reserved to original art. And prints should be preferably part of a numbered series, which gives them more value than a print of which there might be 1,000!!

  7. I notice this letter is over 10 years old and, though I’m not an authority, I think time has been hard on the reproduction market. Over time, most people probably understand how it’s gotten easier and cheaper to duplicate images. Nowadays you can drop ship your images with companies like Printful or ArtofWhere here in Canada into prints, socks, beer steins, whatever.

    It’s interesting how Robert negotiated the issue back in the day. I’m guessing he never made reproductions.

  8. My life has not allowed me to dedicate much time to my painting, unfortunately. Now at 73 I am taking care of my 97 year old mother who requires constant observation and care, and who doesn’t sleep much.
    A few years ago ,in the early 2000s, I was able to do some painting and did a few I truly loved but which were commissioned work. Therefore I could not keep the originals. I did make copies of these paintings and now when I do a painting (2 a year if I’m lucky) I make a copy for myself. For me this is a blessing.
    Also some artists in my local gallery take their giclees and (if oils or acrylic) they add or overpaint particular areas of their paintings which enhances the value to buyers.
    I think giclees are a good idea for some of us. I also donated a lot of them to auctions for groups I am interested in which was helpful to them. Signed and numbered of courses. My website is not current. It’s all my older paintings.

  9. jacqueline snitkin on

    I think we’ve all experienced the awe of seeing an original after being familiar with the image.What the original conveys is the living consciousness of the artist. That can not translate to even a giclee.
    I go to galleries to stand in front of something living.

    • Ahhh, The Original.
      For years, I’d viewed master’s works in art books – like most people. My Dad was in the printing industry and he’d take us all out to exhibitions where huge printing presses were set up and running. We would each leave with a roll up of our favourite print – all with a strip of colour separations down one edge. We grew up to be discerning about the quality of print in books and magazines.

      However, the moment I walked around the corner of a salon at the Musée d’Orsay filled with works of Vincent Van Gogh, I froze. My bottom lip started quivering and waves of emotion filled my eyes to the brim. I didn’t know what was happening. The vibrancy of the colour and the energy of the paint seemed to leap off the canvases filling the very air. I slowly recovered but remained agape. There was SO much difference between the original and a print in a high quality art book.

      PS. The same indescribable vibrations had emitted from the original painting of the Mona Liza. Sad to say, today it is completely void of its coruscating energy – forever encased in protective glass.

  10. One of my biggest recent art disappointments was to attend a gallery exhibition of an artist whose work I really like. All of the pieces were giclees! Every single one! When I expressed my disappointment to him, he defended giclees by saying they were one all one of a kind because of his review and tweaking process blah blah blah. I would have bought an original, but was not going to spend good money on a reproduction! This was in México, by the way.

  11. I can see why a club might have to show prints and artwork from print makers, but I think that when hung together, with paintings, the whole show looses continuity and suffers. It is unmemorable for the viewer. If it is necessary to do this, maybe separate the different processes and note this for viewer.

  12. I have not finished one painting in several years after the removal of my bladder due to Cancer. I have had two procedures to correct the problems…Problems have been corrected. I do many paintings by using copyright free photos and I do credit the photographer. I use the photograph or (print) since I do not have the actual photo I will say print. My painting is similar to the photographers photograph, but is an original by itself. I do not want my paintings made into a print. In honor of the photographer and of the struggle I went through to get back a similarity of myself.

  13. Charles Eisener on

    There are always differing viewpoints, as we each have our own priorities and opines. One seems to be absent from the comments to date. After Robert passed away, some promo photos were posted here for a gallery sale. One painting in particular grabbed my attention, but I certainly have not the ability to pay anywhere near the advertised price. And no, Robert did not do prints or giclees – I asked!

    So I can never see or enjoy even a semblance of the painting that so excited me. I know a repro is not the real thing, but I don’t have gold coins in my pockets either. Just pieces of paper with government engraved values and designs. I have a framed print of Van Gogh paintings on my studio wall. I have seen the real thing and know this is “fake”, but it still is a source of enjoyment. Monetary value? The frame cost more than the print, so that is not a factor.

    Is the purpose of art to merely hang on the walls of galleries, museums, corporate offices, and those individuals rich enough to afford originals?

    • Charles,
      I appreciate your point of view. As long as everyone is clear which is reproduction and which is one of a kind original I do not see an issue. It would be a sad world without the reproductions of the great artists that contribute to feed my soul!

  14. “What do you think about having prints among our originals?

    In the first place, it’s misleading to call those things prints. They’re nothing more than digital reproductions of paintings run off on inkjet printers. Using the pretentious word giclée and exhibiting them in galleries with original paintings does not transform reproductions into prints.

    The word print is a term of art well known to artists. I am a painter and woodcut printmaker, and the distinction between prints and reproductions is important to me. And I suspect that most buyers of these inkjet reproductions labeled as “giclée prints” don’t know the difference and don’t know that what they’re buying may have very little value.

    I wouldn’t exhibit my work with these reproductions.

  15. oh, what fun! can I play?
    1 Pamela – gorgeous work!!
    2 Sara – this issue seems to have hit a touchy spot. kudos to you and your dad for covering it. As always your insight (and his) helps us all down the path to creating beautiful images.
    3 we in the 21st century are so fortunate to be able to acquire images of the past through prints, posters, magazines, books, and calendars…etc. who would deny anyone the pleasure of owning a framed print of a Van Gogh or Matisse or Alphonse Mucha (the list is endless)? does this make the work any less “fine?” and how would we learn from history if not for photos taken/published in books or shown on the “big” screen in art history class or posters?
    4 i had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Laguna Beach Festival of the Arts last July. Right alongside the originals were prints of digital work. Better framed, more expensive. Clearly we have entered into a different age of “the arts!” Why cant it all be considered “fine?” It certainly isn’t plumbing or accounting.
    5 Today in the field of entertainment and gaming art, the digital world of creativity is EXPLODING. (see Art for reference..not is just one of several). And the only way for anyone to enjoy the fantasy/concept/film world of the millions of creative works being done is on a screen, on film, or with a print. But the work is no less fine. In fact, the artists creating this genre have been taught well, use the same basic fundamentals and elements of composition/design. And have a firm grasp of color theory and envisioning environments.
    6 in studying the basics of marketing art, I have read that some hold to an age-old theorem that an artist should produce and distribute no more than 40 original paintings a year. Others say 200 to 400! if there are over 6 million creatives in the U.S. alone, who is going to buy all that original art? Prints provide a way for us to make a living, supplementing our original work. And share in a way that more people can see and own our creations. Perhaps some artists have health issues to the extent they can only produce digitally anymore. But it doesn’t make the work any less valuable or creative.
    7 we should be thankful we have people who studied the fine art of printmaking in whatever form it takes so our creations can be seen and enjoyed by as many other humans as possible. I feel whatever form it ends up in, it all started as an original idea from the soul. and it all has value. it’s all good! it’s all beautiful!

    • Thank you Steve Koch for bringing digital work into the discussion. I do original cyanotype prints (actually, wet-cyan) and then enhance them digitally with layering and other skilled digital wizardry. There is no way to show and sell my work unless it is a giclée print. And I do show, and I do sell. I even got the Viewers Choice award at the local art association members show last month

      I also paint, work in fiberart, teach workshops nationally and internationally and write books. I am a highly skilled artist and feel a bit lost in the middle because my most popular work is “just a print”, albeit beautifully mounted on cradled board. “it all started as an original idea from the soul. and it all has value.”

  16. As a painter and gallery owner, I have made decorative reproductions available for many of my paintings since about 2010. But I don’t market them or bring them into my shows or my gallery. If asked, I recommend that someone buy one of my original painting sketches rather than a larger decorative reproduction. Yet, for all the reasons mentioned in the comments above, such as affordability, love for a specific painting and so on, it is possible to go online and order one of these products. There is one exception – the Christmas studio tour that is a fun event for local islanders. Then I bring in a couple thousand dollars of usable art reproductions and calendars. Why you might ask do I not market and sell them in the gallery all year? The truth is that original work goes to a different customer – usually an art collector. If I am spending my limit time and space catering to buyers of reproductions and products with images of my painting on them, I am taking away from the time I have to present my original work to ideal art collectors. Last year, I completed and released 29 paintings and sold 20 from my inventory. Many of these were large paintings of several thousands of dollars, as original art is want to be. The number of individual sales during the Christmas season of decorative reproductions and products was more than triple the number sales but less than 10% of my revenue, an important 10% but only 10% just the same. At this time in my life, while I can still paint 30-40 works a year, it just doesn’t make good business sense to put energy into selling reproductions and related products and it definitely doesn’t intrigue and excitement me as a painter or gallery owner – which of course, is the most important aspect! ;)

    However, when I am much, much older, or if my health declines, then I might revisit this decision. It is not a matter of either/or but what makes sense for my paintings and my life as an artist right now.

    My only ethical caution is that when we sell decorative reproductions, we are clear that this is what we are selling and that there life expectancy is often or likely much more limited than an original oil painting using high quality materials under a skilled hand. This is why I call them “decorative reproductions”. But they can still bring years of enjoyment and pleasure where an original may have actually been or felt out of reach. For this reason, if an art club or art association chooses to offer reproductions, I like the idea of having them in a separate area. I like the idea of explaining the different between a true “print” and a reproduction. I like the idea of transparently sharing what the quality of the materials are that are using in the making of an object be it an original or a reproduction. If we do these things, then we provide the crucial information for the purchaser to make an informed decision. And our job is done. :)

    • Let’s think about the difference in value between an original and a reproduction in say 25 years. Which will gain or hold its value, and which will not? Which will age well, and which will not? Is this difference reflected in price to the buyer? And what about the difference between an original, by definition one-of-a-kind, and some reproduced digitally? What about the difference between materials in terms of archival quality over a quarter century? I too started in traditional intaglio printmaking, and moved to watercolor and oil painting. The very idea of digital reproduction of my work would feel like a kind of hucksterism. In short, I would never collect a reproduction. It will lose its value over time, in every sense.

  17. Always an interesting debate. There is nothing wrong with having an exhibit that has sections for reproductions as long as the process is well documented. I fail to see why many prints of photos are ok but not of paintings. As long as someone knows clearly what the difference is. A lower price point enables more people to own and appreciate your art and can give an artist a broader exposure to many more people, enabling artists to create some more income to be able to afford being a working artist instead of a part time artist.
    I do not see a clearly labeled with a small number of reproductions as hucksterism, no more than additional prints of photographs. It would be like limiting photographs to one print.

    • Skip, I like to ‘live’ with my painting until I am ready to let it gol Sometimes it is years, other times months. But whatever, I like to perch it within my daily view and love it until it tells me it is ready to leave.



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