The traditional art market aims to sell original artworks, with each piece having the potential to be sold exactly once (it can subsequently be sold again and again, but artists themselves can only sell it once). This gives the impression that (a) for any given time, an artist’s work will always only have exactly one price tag. It also gives the impression that (b) art can only be sold to “collectors” – people with the economic means to buy original artworks.
To dissect these statements, you need to understand that collectors aren’t “one thing”: they can be millionaires just as much as they can have low-wage jobs; their unifying attribute isn’t their wealth, but rather their willingness to exchange money for original artworks: a collector is someone who wants to own the actual physical artwork. This has various consequences:
- Original work: since collectors care about the original work, they will usually care a lot about its intactness – and will often insure it to safeguard their investment.
- Economic investment: collectors will usually care about their investment, and closely survey the artist’s progression on the art market.
- Emotional attachment: just because a collector loves one work of an artist, doesn’t mean they’ll be interested in any other work of that artist.
Making artworks accessible to non-collectors doesn’t necessarily require any changes to an artwork’s price level: non-collectors aren’t reached by making your work cheaper. Instead, they are reached by understanding their difference to collectors:
- Lack of interest in original works: Non-collectors do not care about original works; this means they won’t usually care about the number of prints that were made (“edition size”), or the physical dimensions of a piece. They also won’t care about insuring artworks, because they will not have original artworks to insure in the first place.
- Lack of interest in economic investment: Non-collectors care about the emotional attachment to the idea of an artwork way more than they care about the actual physical original. They might potentially be happier with an affordable reproduction on paper (or on their coffee mug or t-shirt) than having to worry about the economic intricacies of the art market.
Democratizing access to your world
To make your work accessible to non-collectors, you need to think about reproducing your artworks, which democratizes access to them. While your job is first and foremost about producing artworks (which always are physically unique), it’s important to also see these works as the basis for reproductions – which can then be printed onto coffee mugs, umbrellas, t-shirts, etc. Most often though, artists use reproductions to offer high-quality digital prints of their works.
Understand that art is never only about the physical original, but always about the experience that this original creates. You can understand the original artwork as conduit towards emotions: while some will require its physical presence, others will already have feelings when viewing a digital reproduction on their mobile device. Compare this to the experience of watching a film in the movie theater vs. on your TV vs. on your smartphone: the experience will be similar but different, with everyone having their preferences. There might not ever be a “right” way to view the world, and thus art. Because of their physicality, experiencing original artworks will always be rare – offering reproductions immediately heightens access to your work, whether on your website, social media, in magazines, books – or through digital prints.
Art beyond investment
Independently of your original artwork’s price level, reproductions enable you to offer your work to an entirely different demographic: to people who don’t care to own an original artwork; who might not have enough space for the original artwork, who might not want to own (and have to insure) something of high monetary value. They might love your work, but not want to pay more than $€50-100. They might not even see this transaction as an investment – but simply might want to enjoy your work the same way they enjoy their favorite band’s poster. Where the art market cares about the number of available prints (since it defines the price of each print), non-collectors will not care about this at all, enabling you to offer open editions of your digital reproductions. You’re not selling something for its resale, but for its emotional value.
Reproductions and personal values
Some argue that offering reproduction to one’s art lowers the artist’s market value, risking the original artwork’s price level. Comparing the value of original artworks to the value of their reproductions seems to be illogical though; while both share a visual aesthetic (the reproduced visuality), they are structurally entirely different, catering to different interests and target audiences. A Porsche’s value doesn’t get diminished by the existence of a Porsche calendar or t-shirt. Instead, the latter are used to expand the brand’s visibility; someone who buys a reproduction today, might buy an original tomorrow: reproductions can turn out to be gateway drugs.
Reproductions are ultimately a question of personal values:
- Democratized access to art (and the heightened visibility this brings) vs. being able to only sell to a potential elitist art market.
- Artistic autonomy as a consequence of selling dozens (or maybe hundreds or thousands) of reproductions, vs. requiring the collaboration of a gallery to reach economically stronger target audiences.