Artist Billie Schenck wrote to me with some very nice comments about my book Artful Dodgers: Fraud and Foolishness in the Art Market and confirmed the information I included about a court case in which he testified. He also asked for my help with an issue faced by people in all portions of the art market all of the time.
Billie wrote, “Can you give me a legal description of what a giclee is so I can throw it in the face of the idiots who try to pretend that a giclee is a real print(?)” He creates stunning serigraphs with appealing Western themes and finds that even clients who buy them may refer to them as “giclées” because they just don’t know the difference. Certainly no art dealer who sells giclée prints will go out of his way to educate a consumer. Rather he will use all sorts of wiggle words to avoid saying, Giclée prints are reproductions of artworks.
The word “giclée” is a French term for a spray or spurt of liquid. It is a recognition that these prints are produced on a high quality ink jet printer in 8 or 12 colors. The original images are generated by a computer and in the world of art are almost always digital photographs of original (unique) works of art which are reproduced on paper or canvas by the ink jet printer. Giclées have largely replaced photo offset-lithographs as an artist’s choice to turn a watercolor or oil into a huge number of clones that will net a great deal more money that the original creation alone ever would.
It may be argued that there are original giclée prints also because the image was first created on a computer and the printing is only a mechanical way for the artist to realize his artistic intention. That’s a different discussion. Some artists “enhance” the prints with highlights of actual paint. That does not, in my mind, make them “original prints” or even “original mixed media artworks”. But that is also a different discussion.
It is important to make clear that I am not disparaging giclée prints themselves. They are what they are. The problem arises, obviously, when an artist or dealer sells one with the understanding or even suggestion that it is a work of art. It is not. It is a product based on a work of art and there is no reason why the artist should sign it. Perhaps there is more reason for the printer to sign it. As for “limited editions” ………………………. give me a break. The only thing that limits the size of the edition is the point at which the printer decides to push the “off” button on the press.
Giclée prints make it possible for a lot of people to have “art” at a reasonable price, though I don’t often see them displayed in art galleries at what I consider to be a reasonable price. The figure on the wall tag is obviously based not on what it cost to produce the print, it’s scarcity or the relationship the artist had with it, but rather the artist/publisher/dealer opinions of what people will be willing to pay (just like everything else these days).
So in conclusion, “Yes, Billie there is a giclée print, but it not at all what your serigraphs and other hand-produced prints are. It is not a work of art. It is a decorative reproduction, like a calendar print.”