Smithsonian Associates

Art Collectors Program

Help keyboard_arrow_right Buying Good Art

It doesn’'t have to cost you several years’ salary to buy good art. Fine Art Prints are an affordable way of owning original works of art by well-known artists. Generally prints are less expensive than paintings because they are created in multiples, i.e., limited editions.

However, don’'t confuse fine art prints with posters. Unlike a poster, which is a photographic reproduction of an existing work of art, limited-edition prints are original works of art in their own right. Printed in tightly controlled limited editions, the artists work with fine art printers creating unique lithographs and screen prints that are numbered, signed, and many come with a letter certifying their authenticity.

Within the Art Collectors Program we have a number of unique fine art prints:
  • Fragile Crossing, with Luis Cruz Azaceta having personally approved each print.
  • Bright Surround, to which Jacob Kainen added free-hand elements, so each work stands alone.
  • Some of the prints in the Art Collectors Program have as many as many as 40 separate colors, such as Aura by Wolf Kahn.
  • Mindy Weisel’'s Flowers for a Country is a serigraph, with 41 colors printed through hand-cut stencils.
  • Inscapes: Words and Images by Philip Guston is the only serigraph that the artist ever created.
When it comes to contemporary art, it’s hard to beat the value of the Art Collectors Program commissions. Major American artists have donated their talents to the Smithsonian, allowing the limited-edition prints to be sold at a fraction of gallery prices. In most cases, the prints cost $1,000 or less.

Remember that if the art speaks to you in some way, makes you happy thinking about it, you know you have a homerun. How do you find that kind of art? Look for artwork that reflects the artist’s life experiences; they are often themes that affect the viewer emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. Financial gain should never be the primary goal of collecting art.

Tips for Buying Prints

  • Be certain the print is signed and numbered (in pencil) by the artist. As in the example of Hansen's "Poppy," the number of the print is usually found in the lower left corner and looks like a fraction. The first number is the number of the print you are looking at and the second number is the number of prints in the edition. In the detail below, this is the 6th print in an edition of 150.
  • The artist's signature is most often in the lower right corner. However, some artists sign their prints along vertical margins, while others inscribe their signatures near the edge of the paper or centered under the image.
  • Avoid large editions - those editions over 500 will rarely retain their value and will not be unique.
  • Be aware of a print called a giclee. It may be high quality, even a signed and numbered giclee print. But giclee is the French name for a print generated by digitally photographing/scanning the original artwork and then printing it on an 8 to 12 color printer, not on a printing press.
  • Know about the artist and be acquainted with the gallery or organization selling the prints.
  • Know the difference between a reproduction and an original fine art print.
  • Ask about the terms and conditions. Is there a money-back guarantee?
  • Calculate delivery costs into your final price.
  • Make sure the seller will insure the art when it is shipped to you.