Are limited editions dishonest?
Are limited editions about making money? Milking the value of whatever you have produced? My view on limited editions for anything other than fine art printmaking has just changed. Why? A result of a conversation with a photographer yesterday. And this image of a sheep produced using Brushes on my iPhone a couple of years ago is also implicated in my change of mind.
Background first. Limited edition prints are standard in printmaking and have been from the 19th century. The reason for this is that there is a real reason for a limited edition: depending on the material used to create the print, the edition is limited by how much printing the material will take before the image begins to degrade. So, with a lino cut, woodcut, collograph, dry point etc, the base material degrades and the line used to create the image can become fuzzy and the print quality poor, so it is normal to limit the edition quite drastically. For etching onto metal plates the print run can be higher, especially if copper is the base plate. (New editions runs have even been produced from Rembrandt plates, producing fine prints today, for example.) However, this is expensive so often zinc (very soft) is used. Steel is mid range in terms of its price and durability.
These days we find limited editions of a whole range of things, even clothes. To my mind this is meaningless, its simply about monetizing the object artificially, creating a special value where there may or may not have been one simply by making the object limited, difficult to get hold of, or even rare. One aspect of limited editions in particular that riles me is the pretentious practice of ‘giclée’ fine art prints. This is a fancy French term for a high quality ink jet print onto archival paper. Artists then (in theory anyway) limit the edition of prints produced and bump up the price, giving the print some status beyond that of simply being a reproduction or the original work of art. The other things that bugs me about this is that I think it really does pull the wool over the eyes of the public at large. Many people buying giclée prints think they are buying something with special value (OK, it may have been signed and dated by the artist), and it undermines the real purpose and value of a genuinely produced printmaking series, where each print pulled is unique, because its hand produced, and the edition has to be limited because of the process involved.
However, photographers do limited editions of their photographs, and so do digital artists. The take on this I got yesterday when I explained that I refused to limit editions of my digital prints convinced me that there may after all be a good reason for limiting an edition of digital images including photographs. The photographer I was talking to said that by producing limited editions of his work he is able to move on, to leave behind the editions of last year, not display them any more, and get on with new work, unimpeded by potential interest and sales of previous work. Back to my sheep, which was on show at Open Studios in Sheffield this weekend. I knew it should not be there since it had been in last year’s show, but I knew too that it was popular, but it irritated me that I had succumbed to putting it in the exhibition, since it demonstrated to me that I hadn’t moved on and committed to my new work fully. Now, IF I had limited the edition of this image, it wouldn’t have been there …….