Monday, February 5, 2018

To Edition or Not to Edition?

When I started making digital prints I hesitated for some time about whether the prints should be in limited editions. I found that galleries are only interested in limited editions, so from a practical standpoint that answered the question, full stop.
 
From one point of view the idea of a limited edition digital print is silly. With a traditional technique such as engraving on copper, the plate is relatively soft and prints gradually decrease in quality as the plate becomes worn. Thus in the traditional practice different prints from the same plate vary in quality, and there is a natural limit to the number of prints produced. If prints beyond this number are wanted, it is necessary for someone (likely not the original artist) to rework the plate, going over it with an engraving tool to sharpen up the lines. This may be seen as lessening the contribution of the original artist, so prints from the reworked plate probably don't have the same authority or value as those from its original state.

With digital prints there is no plate to wear out, the source being a computer file in a format like TIFF. Prints from the same file can still vary, according to the choice of paper and inks, the quality of the printing equipment and the ability of the person doing the printing to get the best out of the machinery. But this has nothing to do with edition numbers.

So, why limit edition numbers? The artist Marius Watz, well-known for working with computer code, has said in part:

"The simple answer is because there is no market for unlimited copies … the argument that limited copies imbue the object with perceived value might be uncomfortable to accept, but it's hard to refute. To sell to collectors … it is necessary to build a personal connection between the collector, artist and artwork. Scarcity is simply a shortcut to achieving this goal, however illusory."

(From https://www.quora.com/Why-should-an-artist-make-limited-edition-prints-of-a-painting-as-opposed-to-selling-an-unlimited-amount-of-prints)

So, that gives two reasons for making limited editions: they use scarcity to impart perceived value, and they give the chance of a personal connection, especially with smaller edition numbers. I accept these reasons, but there is something else as well. For me, having a limited edition gives a sense of boundary or closure to a project, and I want that. I'm not sure what I'm feeling here. It has something to do with the physical presence of the print once it has been made, an artefact that can be quite imposing and requires respectful handling. No doubt this is linked to the "aura" of the unique work of art, but that is a topic for another time.