Our Art Glossary

The purpose of our Glossary is to explain to the art buyers the real meaning of the terms commonly used by shady art dealers. We did our best to single out and explain every trick they'd try to pull to get to your money. We hope that it will help you to stay out of trouble while buying art.​

Shady Term

The terms that the shady art dealers use

Shady Description

The descriptions of those terms the shady art dealers provide.

True Meaning

“The dirty lowdown”, i.e. the truthful explanation of all myths, gimmicks, and lies that the unscrupulous art dealers use to overprice their merchandise and rip you off.

Unique

One of a kind piece, created by the artist.

In our times when any two-dimensional image can be ideally reproduced by the state-of-the art technologies, the word “unique” only means that the image created by the artist had never existed before and is not a reproduction of someone else’s artwork. However, it does not imply by no means that this item will always exist as one instance. The original artwork might be priced higher than a digital copy if someone finds a sentimental value in it. However, this difference in valuation has nothing to do with art per se.

Limited edition

Original works created in multiple with direct involvement of the artist. Generally, less than 150 pieces total.

Let’s clarify “direct involvement of the artist” first. Very few artists these days use lithography and other old school printing techniques where the artist does the printing while creating an artwork. What you can see in real life is abominations like “signed prints” or “embellished prints”, where artist’s “involvement” into the printing process is far fetched. Such things are being practiced by unscrupulous galleries only as a pretext for unhealthy hype and price gouging. Now let’s talk about the artificial limitation of the number of available copies. How about burning wheat supplies in order to bump up the price of bread and make a higher profit on people’s hunger?

Made-to-order

Reproduction of an original work authorized by artist’s studio or estate. The artist was not directly involved in production.

In the old days, a nobility person could hire an artist and order a painting. Nowadays, big time art investors buy paintings on auctions because of the provenance, while small time collectors order fine art prints because they are limited to a budget and prints are more protected from price gouging so usual to the art market. Therefore, practically “made-to-order” means nothing else than “print on demand”.

Reproduction

A piece that is made-to-order, taking into account the collector’s preferences.

Let’s clarify things. The artist’s job is to paint pictures, etc. The printing company’s job is to print the exact digital reproductions of the original artist’s work. The art dealer’s and a gallery curator’s job is to find artworks that worth printing, sell the prints to the customers and pay royalties to the artist.

Editioned multiple

Pieces created in larger limited editions, authorized by the artist’s studio or estate. Not produced with direct involvement of the artist.

The word “edition” effectively means a stock of merchandise. Book printing companies transitioned from printing “editions” to on-demand printing. The fine art printing companies did the same thing. Nobody wants to tie their money to a large stock of expensive merchandise. For that reason the term “editioned multiple” has no more practical sense in the fine art business.

Non-editioned multiple



Works made in unlimited or unknown numbers of copies, authorized by the artist’s studio or estate. Not produced with direct involvement of the artist.

As we already know, the “direct involvement of the artist” is a lure for fools. Companies that manufacture expensive fine art prints are using on demand printing and a dropship delivery. Only cheap mass-market prints and posters are still printed in massive quantities but those have nothing to do with fine art.

Original prints

A series of prints approved by the artist for production or for reproduction.

Think logically! If the artist did not approve reproduction of his artwork, it has been stolen from him! If the reproduction is legit, it means that the artist either sold his rights for the image to the printing company or the printing company is paying the artist his royalties from each sold print. The conclusion is that unless the image has been stolen, its reproduction has been approved by the artist. Therefore, the artist’s approval fairy tale is the same bullshit as the artist direct involvement.

We provide our list of art terms to help you to understand the art market

Real Term

Description

Original artwork

A work of art created by a person with the purpose to produce a desired image and with the aid of any tools and machinery (including computer based digital technologies) that the creator deemed useful for that purpose. The creator of the artwork holds the copyright on that image, which gives him the full control over the distribution of its copies.

Reproduction

A physical or digital copy of the original artwork that does not bear any intentional alterations. It may be implemented on a different medium than the original artwork  and its dimensions may be changed according to a certain scale. However, the copy should remain free from an intentional change of any part of the original image.

Fine art print

A digital reproduction of the original artwork of high-end quality. It is so close to the original that only a trained specialist can find a difference. With the proper handling it can last longer than the original piece of art. For that reason its price may appreciate over time.

Embellished print

A print of unknown quality, most frequently a giclee on canvas but might be a serigraph, with some layers of paint smeared on top of the printed surface, presumably by hand, to create some texture but most of all to multiply the price of that Frankenstein, which is not a print anymore but definitely not a painting either. A high-end fine art print only loses its pristine quality after that cheap trick. Therefore, good artists with integrity never create such abominations. On the other hand, shameless money-oriented daubers bake them like hot dogs and sell them as real paintings to their victims.

Mass-market prints and posters

Copyright violating bastardized subproducts fabricated in China by spraying the crappiest ink on toilet paper. Even brand new ones look worse than a pile of crap. Their usage can suit only one purpose – to mock at the original artwork. Praise the Almighty, this crap does not last long and pretty soon gets thrown into a dumpster, where it indigenously belongs. If you buy one of those abominations you are either a clinical idiot or you are expecting the devil to come after your soul and you need some serious stuff to scare him off.

Art auction

A public event organized by professional hype makers for people with uppity attitudes and fat wallets. Their navigation beacons in art are – money, fashion, snobbery and vanity. The pricing of the auction inventory has nothing to do with its real artistic value. It is priced according to the previous sales records of that item.  The main goal of the organizers is to sell each item for a higher price that it was sold in a previous auction. 

Art collector

A motivated art buyer with a lot of discretionary money who buys art, that meets some special criteria, on a more or less regular basis. Their most common motivations are intellectual research, visual pleasure, conspicuous consumption, adorning their premises, improving their social status, etc. No matter what is their exact motivation, they always want to buy and solely possess a unique item that nobody else can have. In their understanding uniqueness of an artwork is  far more important than its artistic value, because it’s a mandatory prerequisite of prestige, while prestige is always the central point of their presence in the art world.

Art event

A sort of a reception for art collectors in a venue where art is exhibited, most often, an art gallery. The main goal of the event is to hype up the guests to a point when they are ready to part with their money and buy art completely on a spur of the moment. The hosts use all kinds of tricks to shake money out of the attendees, especially pep talks, entertainment and alcohol. As you can see, this kind of event is commercial to the bone and not cultural at all. You’d be better off buying art online when you’re not hyped up and have sober judgement.

Provenance

Formally, it is the chronology of the ownership, custody or location of a historical object. It helps art historians to authenticate artworks. To art collectors provenance is, again, a matter of prestige. To art investors, whose main goal in dealing art is making money, provenance is the main factor that constitutes the market value of the artwork. If you’re not in that league, provenance means to you like knowing that Caravan was written not by Duke Ellington but Juan Tizol, his trombonist, and was covered by Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman, Gordon Jenkins, and dozens of other great jazz musicians. Do you really need to know all that to just enjoy a wonderful song?