- by Barney Davey
It can be a humorous adventure to go on Web sites where digital reproduction are sold under the Giclée moniker and read the vain attempts to explain: what the word means; its genesis; how to pronounce it; or to accurately describe the process of creating digital reproductions.
The reality for the art industry is it really isn’t a laughing matter. There literally must be thousands of poorly informed and worse written descriptions floating around cyberspace these days. Many with futile attempts to inform collectors and surfers what the heck is a giclée. The term has become as nondescript and amorphous as the word “print.” The more the word and its description gets mucked up, the more confusing the term becomes to the public and the less ability it has to be a powerful valuable descriptor.
There isn’t enough space here to go into the history and meaning of the word. However, I do commend to you the following information and strongly suggest any who are truly interested in understanding what a digital print or giclée is to spend time with these links. They provide the best most accurate detailed history I’ve seen. It is from Harald Johnson, author of Mastering Digital Printing (Digital Process and Print). Johnson generously offers these excerpts on his Web site pulled from the above-mentioned book: What’s in a Name: The True Story of “Giclée” and Digital, Fine Art Printing Comes of Age. (Editor’s note: the website is no longer live.)
If there is a soapbox here, it comes from the frustration some artists and printers have with the loose use of giclée to represent digital fine art reproductions. When a term can be used to describe a homemade print coming off an Epson desktop printer based a low resolution digital photograph or worse, an image scanned from a garden variety photograph and also a meticulously produced digital print that might have taken hours just to setup the image capture and more hours to thoroughly manipulate the RIP software and printer calibrations to produce a masterful faithful reproduction on fine art paper or canvas, then the industry has a problem.
In a nutshell, the term “giclée” has become nearly as generic as Kleenex. Did you know that the words aspirin, thermos and fridge all started as a trademarked name and look at them now. Giclée itself has never been trademarked. But there are many companies now trying to incorporate it into a trademark, Tru Giclée, UltraGiclée and a handful of others are being bandied about as companies such as Epson attempt to get their brand into the process. News flash, these marketing maneuvers are not going to help the industry as a whole; collectors are never going to clamor for an UltraGiclee or any other trademarked process. They will continue to trust dealers and gallerists to guide them to purchases based on their interest in the artist and the art.
Another debate regarding digital printing is there are those who think it is bad for business for companies such as Epson and H-P to be exhibiting at shows such as ArtExpo. They believe it confounds the pubic, confuses artists and does nothing to elevate the process. Remember, the whole reason giclée got into the vernacular was an attempt to move away from techie terms like computer generated digital print. That sounds like something you can make at home whereas giclée has that hoity-toity je ne sais quoi quality to it.
I don’t blame anyone for using the term giclée, but I also don’t blame those artists and printers who are moving away from it either now that it has come full circle and no longer has the cachet of something special. To be honest, seeing pixellated digital prints from well known highly publicized artists at ArtExpo adds yet more negativity and cynicism around the giclée moniker. That’s another post, but anyone looking at this can see it is problematic for the business.
Back in the day long before the first digital print hit the market when Bill Humberg was editor and publisher of Decor magazine, there was terminology used to delineate a fine art print such as an etching, mezzotint, etc., from a reproduction. Graphics were used to describe high-end pieces designed as originals in the print medium of choice, i.e., serigraphs, linocuts and so forth. Prints was used to describe those pieces that were reproductions. At that time they were primarily offset lithography on paper. Even then you saw poster publishers using graphics in their company names, but at least there was an effort to bring order to the confusing array of terminology.
The problems with getting everyone in the industry to use standards for descriptions will never cease. There is no governing body, no real authority to monitor usage and make positive changes where necessary. Where we go from here is anybody’s guess. As individuals you can help by becoming and staying informed about correct terminology, printing processes and the business of the art print market. If you can clearly articulate what is a giclée to a lay person, you will help yourself and the industry in the process. If you can suggest changes to someone using the term inappropriately, you will help. With the ease of access to voluminous information available to all consumers these days, it’s more important than ever for all involved to be forthright and clear on what we are selling to the public. It’s harder to fool them, although my recent posts on convicted felons Kristine Eubanks and husband Gerald Sullivan and cruise ship art auctions belies that notion.
If you have followed my musings, you know I champion having open editions on giclées unless the editions are truly limited to very small sizes such as 95. Consumers realize it’s easy to run off more copies once an image is digitized. With open editions, there is never the worry that more than the stated edition size was sold…it is a non-issue. To me, the issue ought to be selling the intrinsic value of the art on the paper or canvas without having to resort to a limited edition marketing gimmick. There will always be a place for limited editions, I just believe the giclée market is not the right place for them. Some limited edition prints might sell well for years if they were open. Imagine how much money is left on the table when something like that happens. Sure an artist can continue to paint more like before, but there is magic with some pieces that can’t be recaptured. Often neither artist or publisher can say with authority that a certain piece will get legs and sell through the roof. But experienced ones know it happens and they can count on it, but can’t tell you why. Limited edition giclées shut the door on such possibilities