Terms You Should Know before Buying Art

A couple of years ago I made the decision that I was going to start buying original artwork. I’m going to fill my life with paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures… whatever pleases my eye. While I may not be able to purchase huge, historically significant pieces, I certainly can afford to purchase from other artists I admire. It may be as small as 4×6, but if I love it, and it brings joy to my life, I’ll buy it.

Art is more affordable than in the past. With the internet, art fairs, farmers markets, etc. artists are everywhere. Purchasing and owning art is no longer the province of the wealthy. Not every artists’ work is going to become an investment that will eventually be worth millions, so spend your money wisely. And part of spending it wisely is knowing exactly what you are buying.

There are many terms thrown around in the art world… original, reproduction, print, giclée, etc. Knowing the definition of these terms is important.

  • Original: Any work produced by the artists hands. It can, but does not always mean one-of-a-kind. The term “original” does not (should not) include works created in a factory or on a production line. Original is often thought about as paintings, pastels, drawings, etc., but the term also refers to multiple originals as in the case of etchings and lithographs in which the artist drew or painted on the plates. Original refers to the artists involvement in the production of the art.
  • Original Print: This term is applied to both photography, lithographs, serigraphs, and intaglio. Original print should not be confused with the photo-mechanical process of printing. These prints are often hand pulled from a matrix (wood block, stone, metal plate). Original prints are often produced in limited editions, but can be produced in open editions. Once again the artist involvement in the creation of the art.
  • Reproduction: Refers to a copy of an original. Reproductions are usually produced by the photo-mechanical printing process. The artist might have little to no involvement in the process.
  • Giclée (pronounced zhee-klay): Refers to prints made from a digital image with an ink jet printer. At one time the word giclée only referred to prints made with an Iris Printer, but now refers to all ink jet printers. Some sellers claim that the print is guaranteed to last 30+ years, but since the technology hasn’t been around for 30+ years, this is a questionable claim. Ink jet printing is an economical alternative to producing large runs of four color offset prints. It has an added advantage of allowing the artist to control every aspect of the image.
  • Limited Edition: Has a known number of impressions, usually fewer then 200, that are numbered and signed. You will often see limited editions represented as: 1/200 (the first impression out of 200).
  • Open Edition: The artist has chosen to have an unlimited number of impressions.
  • Certificate of Authenticity: COAs are often used to establish provenance (history) of artwork. Unfortunately it is too often abused. I suggest reading this article to find out more information about COAs.

The most important question to keep in mind when buying art is, does it appeals to you? Art is a subjective and personal thing. Don’t let anyone dictate to you what is or isn’t art. One of the best things the internet has done for art is expose more people to a wider variety then ever before.

Online Art Galleries and Stores

Below is a list of online galleries and stores where you can buy original artwork.

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One Response to “Terms You Should Know before Buying Art”

  1. Very interesting~

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