Neither Duck nor Fowl

7 10 2009

I do seem to circle around definitions of words, but then words give us the structure from which we create our social worlds. For this post, I would like to look at how the term ‘edition’ is used in the art world, and inject the idea of ‘version’, especially in the context of my art.

While there are a number of different definitions of ‘edition’, I think the one that applies here is “A set of identical prints, sometimes numbered and signed, pulled by, or under the supervision of the artist.” ( This is actually a fairly common definition with art, and we commonly see many art pieces as being issues xxx of an edition of yyyy. Actually, this would be a ‘limited edition’ in that the artist is guaranteeing a fixed number of prints.

Now there is a build in assumption in the art world, if an artwork is not an edition, it is an original. There are a few definitions of ‘original’ out there, none of them too original, but the key point is that such a work is unique.

What is the dividing line between edition and original?

More to the point, if I take a piece of my art and do a very minor change, is this new piece part of an edition or is it an original?

In the past this question really has not been very pertinent. The process of making editions did not allow for minor changes, nor did the process for originals encourage creation of almost identical pieces.

But technology has a funny way of screwing things up. With the computer, it is not possible to create a piece of art, and then make a similar piece, be it ink on canvas or even a sculpture, are have a new piece of artwork.

This new art is neither fish nor fowl. It is not another piece to an addition, but yet it is not quite an original work either. There is a huge spectrum in-between. Just doing some web research, I’m not sure the art world has come to grasp with this problem yet.

I find this to be the case with my artwork. Each time I finally fix my art into a physical form, I trigger both new ideas and different ways to express the same piece in a different way. What would happen is I accented the lighting like so, or if there was a different item in my characters lines of sight. How about a color shift or a different cropping. My mind percolates with new ideas and approaches to the same source material.

So each time I fix a piece into it’s final form, it’s going to be different. It’s certainly not another copy of an edition, yet depending on the difference, it’s not an original piece either. And how do I describe this to a potential customer, who may want an original, not an edition?

Although I cannot find the term used much in the field of art, I’m settling on using the term ‘version’. At least for me, this describes artwork that are different but have their origins in the same source material.

Will this term work in the art world? I’m uncertain, overall I find it very conservative in a lot of ways. But for me, I need some label to describe this grey space between original and edition.





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