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Paulius Mekionis: why should artists make reproductions?

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Copying is one of the main expressions of mankind’s development and improvement. By copying people often improve features of a previous expression, learn and create innovations. Without copying or imitation there would be no different styles of music or art. But that’s not what I’m talking about. Being one of the first gallerists in Lithuania, who works with artists’ reproductions, I feel obliged to share the benefits of the process of copying. So, in short, about art reproduction firsthand.

What is an artist’s reproduction?

An artist’s reproduction is a copy of an original work of art (painting, drawing or graphic art) obtained by the process of photographing or scanning the image of the original work of art into a digital format and printing it in one or other form. The word ‘artist’s’ means that the copy is made with the consent and supervision of the artist, which is guaranteed by the artist’s signature and initials on the reproduction. Professional galleries selling reproductions by famous artists also issue a certificate of authorship indicating the artist’s name, surname, the year the work was made, the size of the reproduction and its edition number (if the reproduction is a limited edition).

Popular forms of reproductions

Two most common forms of reproduction in the art world (same as in its creation) are paper and canvas. Only in this case, both paper and canvas have to be of a suitable quality for printing. Museum (durable) quality materials are used for professional reprodcutions, which ensure the quality of the reproduced image as well as its longevity. Of course, amongst amateurs a reproduction can be considered to be a perfectly painted copy of the Mona Lisa painting, but this is plagiarism.

Original or reproduction?

In the art world it is sometimes difficult to tell which is a true original, especially when there is no evident technological difference between the original and its reproduction. A good example is an art photography print. Let’s face it, there can be more than one original of a photograph. In such case, the term “Original Print” is used that is valid for photography, lithography and graphic art. Therefore, artists selling this style of art should decide the number of editions, their format and form as well as ensuring the client that the artwork will not be reproduced more than is identified. In America notary contracts are used to regulate such matters.

Long-term value = limited edition

Anyone, who is familiar with the art world, will know how many millions an original by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse or Andy Warhol can cost. However, not many know how much reproductions by these artists might cost. The answer is simple – a lot. The question is, what gives long-term value to reproductions? Without mentioning that the success of the reproduction depends on the recognition and popularity of an artist, there are other factors to consider that can and should be used by each artist. First thing that creates value is a unique number of copies for each of the artworks as well as numbering each print along with the total number of copies that are expected to be printed. In the future, those reproductions, the authorship of which will be clear and undisputed will have a lasting value and, therefore, the signature on the front or the back of an artwork is mandatory for each reproduction. From the client’s point-of-view, a sophisticated art collector wants to know if the reproduction they are buying is actually a limited edition, so the artist or the gallery that represents them should issue each copy with a document verifying its authenticity (certificate). Often smaller limited editions of reproductions have a greater long-term value.

Pricing Reproductions:

There are no set rules for determining the cost of reproductions. However, there are a few factors that define the existing cost of reproductions. Limited edition reproductions will be considerably more expensive than unnumbered ones, just because there will be significantly less of them. The quality of the reproduction, its form and size also results in lower or higher prices. Suppose, an artist’s reproduction printed on a museum quality natural canvas printed using durable paint with the artist’s signature will cost significantly more than a print made on paper. Of course, the most important factor in determining the cost is the demand of the artist’s works. If the artist is (or is about to become) popular and their original works are valued and collected then it is natural that the prints will be more expensive. Many artists have set rules that their prints have to cost 10 times less than the original, although this type of pricing is highly subjective.

For an artist, wishing to reproduce their works the logical thing to do would be to look at existing market prices for prints and then consider in what form they would like to present their prints (material, limited or unlimited edition, number of prints) and accordingly try to set their price range. Remember that nobody knows how much your print might cost in the future.

Buyer benefits, artist advertisement:

Today’s reproductions of paintings hardly differ from the original, but they also have some advantages. One of the advantages of prints is the ease with which their format can be changed. If it is impossible to change the size of the original painting, then by reproducing it you can easily increase or decrease the size without losing its quality and adjusting it to fit the size of interior walls.

Another big advantage is their price. Buying an original artwork is an investment and hardly accessible to all. However, to acquire a reproduction of a recognized artist’s work (which is also an investment) with their signature costs less. Therefore, buying art in other forms becomes accessible to a wider circle of art lovers.

One of the key benefits of having an artist’s reproduction is a greater dissemination of their works. If an acquired original can only be seen by few, from the artist’s perspective the artwork is “bottled up”. Especially if there are no surviving photographs or a catalogue of the artist’s works. In such case, the artist’s reproduction has a much wider audience and can be seen by a larger number of art enthusiasts. And the larger the group of enthusiasts, the bigger opportunities for the artist.

And let’s not forget the creative freedom, which is often guaranteed by additional income. This additional income can be generated from sales of reproductions. And today there is a growing number of independent artists.

Paulius Mekionis.

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