Is Giclée Passé?

The art market is not immune to using gimmickry to sell product. If ever there was any artist who fully understood this concept, it had to be Andy Warhol. A great part of his appeal was his ability to…

The art market is not immune to using gimmickry to sell product. If ever there was any artist who fully understood this concept, it had to be Andy Warhol. A great part of his appeal was his ability to assess art and popular culture and make art that simultaneously illuminated and poked fun at it.

Warhol died in 1987 on the cusp on the digital revolution. it's sometimes hard to believe it's been two decades because he still represents contemporary art proving Hippocrates truncated aphorism, "Ars longa, vita brevis." (The full text is worth knowing: Life is short, [the] art long, opportunity fleeting, experiment treacherous, judgment difficult.)

It's a shame Andy didn't stick around long enough to see the rise of technology in the last decade of the millennium. One can only imagine what he would have made of and done with the Internet and digital photography, painting and printing developments, not mention You Tube and other social network media. It's easy to believe he would have utilized the new tools to put his personal mark  and make a lasting impression with them. Perhaps in ways we are not seeing today, or which aren't getting the awareness and notoriety he so effectively courted and deployed.

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The term giclée, about which I have previously blogged, is a perfect example of successfully using gimmickry to solve a marketing problem. The problem was that in 1990 using digital print to describe the emerging IRIS fine art printing techniques was certain to stultify sales of prints made with this new medium and hamper its impending impact on the art business and specifically, the art print market. The marketing solution was to come up with a French term and voila "Giclee" was coined for new usage.

You can find links in the above mentioned post that provide the most accurate genesis of the giclee's usage to describe digital print. I encourage any who use giclée in their marketing parlance and haven't read and studied those links to go there and get the education. It will be a service to your collectors and the art industry to be able to offer accurate details about the origin of the usage of giclée and the process it describes.

Today, we (okay I) earnestly ask, "Is Giclée Passe?" The answer, of course, is complicated and a simple yes or no won't apply. Still, as we rapidly cruise toward the 2010s enveloped by and embracing digital technology, the question of whether the art print market must continue to using a gimmicky, funny sounding, hard to pronounce, frenchified word to avoid using straightforward terminology is a valid one.

Transparency is a techie marketing buzz word that is at once accurate and overused. Nevertheless, it succinctly describes a trend whereby companies seek to make full disclosure of their business practices. Consumers are more interested than ever in dealing with companies they can fully trust. One of the best ways for companies to earn such trust is to be as transparent in all their dealings. In the spirit of transparency, I question if continuing to use the term giclée to describe fine art digital reproduction makes sense in 2007? Frankly, I don't think so and I bet most consumers don't either. Don't b.s. or confuse me, just tell me what it is and let me decide if I like it and want it.

I'm one of the mass of consumers that applauds the efforts of any company to be transparent in its dealings. Likewise, I am repelled by the tactics of companies that use obfuscation as part of their marketing and branding. Those found out for such behavior are quickly dropped from my list of preferred vendors. Eventually as it becomes clear there is heavy price to pay for hiding details consumers feel they have a right to know, transparency will become the norm. Today, it's more concept than reality for most companies steeped in aging marketing practices.

To my ear, fine art digital reproduction may not be as pithy as giclée, but it is far more straightforward and transparent. I'm guessing there will be as much resistance to this idea as there is to my suggestion that limited edition digital prints are a result of an outdated way of marketing and ought to be done away with. Old habits die hard.

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A side note here is that digital artists who are creating via bits and bytes versus paint and paper or canvas have yet to come to terms with what is an original? That is, is the digital file on a hard drive an original and then are the digital prints made from it reproductions? There is no clear answer here, but I believe continuing the use of giclée to describe digital art reproductions ultimately hinders the advancement of the medium.

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Barney Davey

I help artists and photographers find buyers, sell more art and operate profitably.

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