A Question of Framing by J. Perrault

The author Paul Bloom in his latest book (How Pleasure Works) opens a chapter thus,

“In the morning of January 12, 2007, a young man in jeans, a longsleeved T-shirt, and baseball cap walked into a Washington subway station and pulled out a violin. He laid out his violin case in front of him, seeded it with a few dollars and some change, and then played six classical pieces for the next 43 minutes, as over a thousand people walked by.

This was no ordinary street performer. He was Joshua Bell, one of the world’s great violinists, and he was playing his $3.5 million dollar violin, handcrafted in 1713 by Antonio Stradivari. A few nights before, Bell performed at Boston’s Symphony Hall. Now he stood in front of commuters, playing for coins. This was an experiment by Gene Weingarten, a reporter for the Washington Post. It was intended as an ‘unblinking assessment of public taste’: how would people respond to great art in a mundane context, when nobody was telling them how great it was?

The people failed. Over a thousand commuters passed, and Bell netted a bit over $32. Not bad, but nothing special. The commuters were indifferent to what they were hearing…As Weingarten puts it, Joshua Bell in the subway was art without a frame.”

Framing is something I’ve been giving serious consideration: Does a painting look better with expensive custom framing, as opposed to a cheap bargain-bin special? Undoubtedly –  and that’s a problem for the artist. Custom framing pushes the overall price of the piece higher, while the artist’s profit remains the same. It’s a delicate balance between the piece being presented in the best possible manner, versus a higher price unlikely to attract a buyer. Basic economics perhaps, but finding that balance can mean the difference between a painting ending up it’s days in the artist’s dusty basement versus being enjoyed on a collector’s wall.

Lately I’ve tried a few experiments of my own. Last spring I took a nice painting and gave it a custom frame. The painting was good, but the framing made it extra special. The framing also doubled the normal price for a painting of that size. Would it sell? It did.

I tried again, taking a matched set of paintings with matching frames. I was curious to see if they would sell not only at a higher price, but also as a set. They did.

This brings me to the “Rituals” show at West End Gallery. My framer had suggested ‘floating’ a series of paintings together. When I asked him how much this would cost he raised his eyebrows. Of course it’s his job to sell me framing, but I also know he wants me to be pleased with the presentation of my work. With the results of my recent experiments in mind I decided to give it a try, knowing full well the expensive framing would raise the overall cost of the pieces. I was pleased with the result.

There is a bit more to the Joshua Bell story. “At the very end of the performance, Stacy Furukawa passed by. She had been at one of Bell’s concerts a few weeks before, and stopped 10 feet away from the musician, grinning and confused. When he was finished, she introduced herself and handed over $20. Weingarten did not count this as part of the total – ‘it was tainted by recognition.’ Furukawa’s gift was because of the man, not (or not entirely) because of the music.

This experiment provides a dramatic illustration of how context matters when people appreciate a performance. Music is one thing in a concert hall with Joshua Bell, quite another in a subway from some scruffy dude in a baseball cap.”

In a perfect world framing shouldn’t matter. Perhaps in the end an art lover should just follow the immortal words of Tom Gardner, “If you love the painting, buy the painting.”

– Posted by Jeff Perrault-

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4 Responses to A Question of Framing by J. Perrault

  1. anonymous says:

    “The frame is the artist’s reward.” Degas
    “The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame.” Degas

  2. Norma J Lines says:

    I very much agree..the frame is the magic touch..as a professional framer for years I have seen hundreds of dollars of framing put on very inexpensive prints and even on sentimental value only pieces that them made into great pieces of art for the homes of many. Framing is an art. We were taught at frame school…’marketing’ that if someone cares enough to bring it into your shop..it is a special piece and should be framed as such. It is expensive..but worth the effort. What a great story.

  3. redtreetimes says:

    Great post, Jeff. Framing one’s work well is so often overlooked by artists and is such a vital part of presenting their work to the public. If an artist’s work is like a precious gem, it deserves a proper setting. Proper presentation should be part of every art school’s curriculum.

    Again, really great post.

  4. J Perrault says:

    Thanks Gary, Good point. I think it’s also overlooked by customers, who tend to fixate on the image and the price.

    Norma, Great input! I have a friend who’s mantra has always been “you get what u pay for”.

    D, I mean Anonymous, thanks for the Degas quotes!

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