The Reproduction Paper
by Bruce Peeso

First, I'd like to make it quite clear that I am not in favor of reproductions at all shows. My best shows are “originals only” shows, and this is true for many painters. Unfortunately, however, many cities do not have the demographics to support painters like myself in an all-original show.

Painters, unlike those in many other media, have the disadvantage of not being able to create a low-priced item that reflects the same high quality that we have striven to achieve in order to win favor with both the juries and the public.

When Toni Mann asked me to draw up the guidelines under which reproductions should be shown, I began talking to other painters for their feelings. I quickly realized that it was impossible to do that without dealing with the whole issue and how reproductions relate to other media. I apologize for the length of the following paper, but I feel it is necessary for a truly accurate perspective.

I have been making a full-time living by painting for the past 20 years, and have always been concerned with ethics and how the public perceives us. Honesty and adherence to a high set of standards are crucial to the survival of our industry. Long before NAIA, I actively sought to make shows aware of buy/sell and other activities which blemished that image. This is why I volunteered for, and was subsequently named to, the committee of the NAIA advisory panel for painting. But I do sell reproductions in addition to my original work, and can honestly say that I wouldn't be here today, in this business, without them.

The purpose of our business, apart from affording many of us an opportunity to make a living, is to educate the public, expose them to a diversity of quality artwork, and then to let them use that knowledge to buy the artwork of their choice because they like it.

Why then, have reproductions faced such biased, slanderous attacks unparalleled in any other medium? Phrases abound linking reproductions with buy/sell, which they are not.

Show directors come away from conferences believing that, in order to be a top show, they must immediately ban reproductions. Any show can aspire to that museum standard as far as appearance, but will it really be a top show if the public cannot afford its choices?

Rules have been made regarding this issue with no input from artists who solely rely on their painting for their livelihoods and often with a profuse misrepresentation of the facts.

To say 70 percent of 2-D artists choose not to sell reproductions is misleading. It ignores the fact that many of those 2-D artists surveyed are in graphics or photography and have no need for “reproductions” anyway. Of painters who choose not to sell reproductions, many have a second income (working spouse, pension, etc.) so they have less pressure to earn money form their art.

And “choose” is the operative word. A “choice” should not become the “rule.” Also overlooked is the fact that many good painters were not represented in that poll.

A related issue is what actually constitutes an “original.” Painters create original paintings. Each is different. Etchers produce original etchings. Each one, though part of the same edition, is original because each is individually handled and printed by the artist. That makes it unique, an “original.” The same applies to serigraphs, stone lithographs, and other graphics areas.

Then, there is photography, which shares similarities with graphics. Photographers present this same argument, that each photograph is an original print. But is it always? If the photographer prints each photograph, each will have that uniqueness to make it an original.

As Ansel Adams said in The Print (1983): “The print values are not absolutely dictated by the negative. The creativity of the printing process is distinctly similar to the creativity of exposing negatives; in both cases we start with conditions that are “given,” and we strive to appreciate and interpret them. In printing, we accept the negative as a starting point that determines much, but not all, of the character of the final image.”

In Dale Rayburn's presentation at the International Festivals and Events Association conference in 1998, he described the characteristics of each of the many media. The photography clause states, in part, “The image is capable of being reinterpreted to produce multiple images, either similar to or diverse from the previous print.”

If a negative is sent to a commercial lab to be printed, there is no individual interpretation of each image. An impersonal machine produces large quantities of absolutely identical prints. Without the individual interpretation, are these not exact copies of the photographer's “original” his negative? And if they are exact copies of his “original,” how does this differ from a painter who sends his original painting or transparency to maybe even the same lab to obtain exact copies of his original?

Vivien Cord, of the Cord Shows Ltd., who promotes art fairs, is one of the very few show directors I know who recognizes this distinction. Her prospectuses read: “Photographers offering prints other than originals may sell only signed limited editions.” But I don't mean to single out one medium. I hear people say, “ If only I could do that in my medium.” If you look closer, each medium has its counterparts of the reproduction. How many potters have assistants to throw or glaze? How many use their own molds to “reproduce” a shape? Or how many use commercial molds and nobody cares? How many quilters have helpers or family members that help with cutting or simple stitching?

How much buy/sell is out there and nobody cares? Why don't more artists complain about that? It hurts us all. I'm well aware of specific factories in jewelry and wood, some of which have been out there for 20 years. I'm sure artists in those media are aware of more. I know of etchers who pull prints for others, or who use students to pull their prints. And, to be fair, painting is not exempt. Factories exist there, too.

Remember too, that the Artist's Statement only serves to educate, but is not a guarantee that the “artist” at the booth does the work. In the past, the person selling buy/sell work had only to sign the application, which required all artists to do their own work. Now that same person must read a how-to-book on making his product and then display his copied version of those instructions in his booth. Two groups, which have been most vehement in their opposition to reproductions, have been photographers and those in graphics. If this were truly an issue of ethics, as is constantly reaffirmed, why don't photographers who print their own images complain more about those who don't, which is now a common practice? Why, too, don't etchers who pull their own prints complain about etchers who hire others for that job? Why? Because, in reality, it is not so much an issue of ethics and education as it is an issue of economics. Reproductions allow painters to offer images in a comparable price range to photographers or etchers. Etchers argue that sales are down when reproductions are in a show. They blame it on public confusion over print nomenclature, ignoring the fact that most people do not buy for investment. We all offer different images-most people buy because they like the image. The difference is that when reproductions are allowed, customers are able to choose between two $45 images instead of between a $45 print and an original painting of maybe $500. Limiting or banning reproductions, then, is a self-serving attempt to control the market.

Painters represent the oldest art form, the “original” medium, yet we feel unparalleled discrimination. We make no attempt to misrepresent our work-“print” is not an incorrect term, merely not as specific as “reproduction.” Since our goal is education, we are more than willing to use the proper term. Signed, limited edition reproductions have a long history, yet continuing attempts imply this is a dishonest representation. Reproductions give us security, which in the long run, is vital to our existence as painters. They should be dealt with through impartial education, not elimination or vilification. There are a number of shows, which if they instituted a sudden ban on reproductions, would lose many of their quality painters. Art festivals should seek a balance of high-quality work in all media and that often means permitting painters to offer reproductions when the clientele of the festival has not demonstrated a purchasing history that justifies an “originals only” policy.


We don't want “originals only” shows to suddenly allow reproductions. By the same token, long established shows that have permitted reproductions should not suddenly ban or restrict them. This is unfair to the public, as well as the artists, both of whom have come to expect those choices.

1. Reproductions should be clearly labeled as such. To distinguish them from original prints, the artist could post additional information to make it clear that reproductions are copies of original paintings. Creators of original prints should post a similar, objective fact sheet explaining differences with no prejudicial value judgments.

2. There should be no restriction on framed reproduction. If the truth in labeling guideline is adhered to, there is no basis for restricting framed reproductions.

3. Reproductions should be limited to a designated area (i.e. one wall) of the booth. A percentage limitation is excessive since many painters, by virtue of the time required to produce a painting, may only have a few paintings. A low percentage might then permit only one reproduction.

4. There should be no limitations on the size of the editions. Most painters are realistic in their edition sizes, as their images need to be in keeping with the evolution of the work.

5. The NAIA should revise Advocacy statement # 15 to separate the NAIA position on buy/sell from its position on 2-D reproductions.

6. The NAIA should revise or replace Dale Rayburn's generally excellent description of various print and reproductive processes to eliminate any text that unintentionally makes prejudicial comments about reproductions so that it truly is a statement of objective education only.

7. In shows, which do not allow reproductions, show committees should make some effort to ensure that all media adhere to that exact same standard.

Thank you for allowing me to express the view of many of your veteran painters.

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