Ignorance is bliss.

Jay H

PFG, Picture Framing God
Dec 8, 2003
I almost always feel comfortable talking to the public. I have been accused of being too honest/blunt. I find this that is more appreciated than it is insulting or bothersome to people. However I have been thrown way off my game twice sense I opened.

I feel very awkward when customers bring in items that aren’t what they think they are. Recently I got two “prints” from a European trip. Before I examined the art the customer tells me how she loves original work. She goes on and on telling about the square, in Paris, where the artist paint and sell their stuff and she loves it. When the items in question were unveiled to me I knew immediately that one wasn’t original and was questionable. One was an oil that happened to be smooth as silk. Obviously a print. The other was a watercolor. However this was made to look original. It had pencil marks outlining the art. It even had some writing on the bottom and several “smudges” around the edges. The problem is that NONE of this was original. Not even the handwriting or the “smudges”.

This always makes me uncomfortable because I would love for them to know what they really have. In certain circumstances I feel like I would embarrass the customer and I don’t want them, even subliminally, to have a negative experience here. So I just shake my head like a spineless worm and say “Ohhh I like that” while thinking “I would give you $4 for it right now!”

I would like to hear some creative ways that you have told people that infact that is more likely a "Pablo Gurerro" that it is "Pablo Piscasso"!
I wouldn't tell them unless they asked for an opinion. Why would you want to burst their bubble? It isn't like you sold them the fake art. It is all in the eye of the beholder, they have something that brings them joy, so let them enjoy it..........you don't have to lie or be a worm to do that. I compliment people on their taste all day long and don't care for most of it, as i'm sure they wouldn't care for mine, it is all in the eye of the beholder......
Jay, I've had the opposite thing happen a couple of times recently.

The other day, a good customer - who has been retired for several years - brought in a framed picture. He remembered seeing it over his grandparents' couch. When they passed away, it went to an aunt. Since then, it had been passed from one relative to another. The poor old frame had suffered from one-too-many moves, I guess.

He was considering having it re-framed to give to his son and daughter-in-law and he wondered what kind of print it might be.

I looked at it with a magnifier through the glass and told him I didn't think it was a print at all. We opened it up and discovered a very nice pastel. I didn't recognize the artist's initials, but it is beautiful and in very good shape.

Without making any assumptions about it's possible monetary value, we are re-framing it in a manor appropriate to its sentimental and aesthetic value.

And that's what I always recommend to my customers: If you like it and it has some meaning to you, it's worth framing - regardless of whether it's a print or an original.

BTW, that pastel had been smacked up against the glass for at least 60 years and shipped all over the country and looks nearly new. Go figure.
I just read Kathy's response and I don't know if I agree.

What if they have it framed with the assumption that it's an original and discover later that it's not? Wouldn't they think the framer is an idiot?

Personally, if they can't tell whether it's live or Memorex, it really shouldn't make any difference, but I think maybe they should know.
So, Ron, you would rather tell them their cherished piece of art that they thought was an original is a fake? No sirreee, not me. I don't think it is my place. Whether the piece has monetary or sentimental value I would frame it the same way regardless. So, I won't feel like an idiot for framing it to the nth degree.....

If they came to me and asked me if it was really an original of course I would offer my opinion. Otherwise it would be a bit like telling them there was no Santa Claus......

I take in so many of these starving artist paintings that "art students" are peddling around town. These people think they are buying original art from somebody trying to make a living as an artist. Should I pull out my copy of Decor magazine(if I had one) and show them the latest ad featuring that exact picture from some starving artist warehouse where you can buy hundreds of the same image for very little money. Heck, when I worked at Aaron Brothers I even had the same exact image from two separate customers who told similar stories about being approached by a student trying to pay for his education by selling his art. Ironically the same picture was featured in an ad in Decor. Should I have brought that to both of their attention? Nope as far as I am concerned they can live their lives out enjoying their work of art, beautifully framed by me by the way, and they can continue to think whatever they want about it.

I am not the framing police.
I have to agree with Senora Katrina, why burst their bubble? What difference does it make to us, as picture framers, what kind of picture our customer has brought us? We are not buying the picture, or sending it on to the local fine arts museum, we are just framing it, so that our customer can enjoy it for years to come. Why on earth would we want to cast a dark cloud over that enjoyment right off the Bat?

If the customer asks me to confirm what it is, then I would be honest and tell them what I thought it was. I would also tell them that I am a picture framer, not an art appraiser.

My main goal is to try and keep my customers happy by framing the pictures and such that they bring me.

What about when a customer brings you an original, that they paid many thousands for, they think it is beautiful, you think it is uglier than afterbirth, do you tell them your honest opinion?

I think you would continue to try and make the sale and keep them just as proud as punch of their new acquisition.

What the heck do I know, maybe you would tell them they have horrible, if not stupid, taste in art.

Hey, I don't want to be the one to tell them, either. I think Jay should do it.

Really, I'd have to know a customer pretty well before I'd answer a question they didn't ask, so my real answer to the dilemma is, "It depends."

But I DO think we are the framing police. And whether the art is good is a matter of opinion. Whether it is an original is not.
The only time I would even suggest that the customer was duped would be if there is possible recourse. Cheap art picked up on a trip to Europe is not one of those instances. Spoiling the moment and having no solution doesn't get anybody anywhere. Bite your tongue, make a note and slip it under the dust cover just to CYA and let it go.
The language of art sales has for years been slippery at best and it is little wonder that people hear what they want to when purchasing items such as these. Save that knowledge for when it might be used effectively.
I have told people that purchased "original Chagall" prints from a local antique dealer that the pieces were offset lithography and by no measure real, because they were able to return the art and get their money back. I also wanted to send a message to the dealer that someone was aware that they were misrepresenting what they were selling.
"What if they have it framed with the assumption that it's an original and discover later that it's not? Wouldn't they think the framer is an idiot?"

That is my only support for telling (which I have already decided not to do). I think that Wally has the best angle. What possible benifit would she have by having the ugly world exposed to her in one awesome punch? She told me that she likes giving this stuff to her kids in hopes that this rare gem will increase in value. At least I don't have to worry about her selling this item as original.
If the customer brings in the repro and says, "I want a low/moderate-priced frame for this original vacation art", then I would proceed without commenting about the fact that it's not what she thinks it is. The framing design would be appropriate for the art. No consequences anywhere in sight.

But if she brings in the same copy and says, "I bought this original masterpiece from a highly respected Parisian artist. It will be treasured by my family for generations to come, so I want to have the very best framing. I can't wait to show it to all my artsy friends.", then I have a problem.

If/when she learns that she's been misled, she might wonder how competent I am, for not recognizing that it is not original.

I can't in good conscience leave a customer in the dark, especially if she might suffer for that fiction. I imagine she would proudly display her 'Parisian acquisition' to impress some art-savvy friend, and be embarrassed to learn the truth the hard way.

Better she should hear the truth from her trusted framer, where it will be delivered with a dose of sympathy. I might suggest that she misunderstood the art's description from the European street vendor, who doesn't speak the same language. Or maybe "...what your European artist called original art, we call a reproduction. Of course you bought it from the original artist, but this image probably isn't one-of-a-kind."

I might also point out that it doesn't matter whether it's an original or a copy; it will still evoke the same pleasant memories of that trip. Savor the experience, yada, yada, yada.

John said, "What about when a customer brings you an original, that they paid many thousands for, they think it is beautiful, you think it is uglier than afterbirth, do you tell them your honest opinion?"

Jay's dilemma isn't about preferences or opinions -- it's about truth and fiction. I wouldn'y criticize a customer's taste in art -- if she likes it, then that's all I need to know. She is the world's foremost expert on her own opinion, and there is no reason to question it. If she asks for my opinion she'll get it, but I'll point out that it's no more valid than hers.

But when a customer has misunderstood, or been misled, or lied to -- and if that fiction affects her decisions about framing -- then I simply have to be honest with her.

It's an Ohio thing, I guess.
It's a Wisconsin thing, too.

Jim said what I was trying to say, but he are more articulate than I are.

And what if it's a test?? The customer wants to see if you can recognize a reproduction before she brings in the good stuff?
I guess it is a Colorado thing, but I feel a bit stung by your comment that you just had to be honest with people Jim. I wasn't suggesting to be dishonest. I don't see the point in destroying their joy of their tourist art from some foreign country. What would the purpose be? I've never encountered anybody who has walked in with a "Picasso" or a "Chagall" claiming it to be an original. Honestly, if I did I do not have the knowledge or skill required to appraise their art, so , unless they specifically asked me if it were real I do not feel required to bring it up. If I were to question the validity of every piece of "original" art that came through my door, that would be an awesome task.

I guess I'm showing my ignorance in front of the whole framing world by admitting I can't identify all fakes. Somebody should revoke my framing license.
grrrr..........you guys are just ******* me off. I can't even believe for a minute you are suggesting it is dishonest to keep it to yourself if you think it is a fake. I am beyond confused. It is not my place to destroy somebody elses dreams. I need a nap............

Kathy the dishonest framer
(a Colorado thang)
You just got your Decor. This is suppose to be a happy day for you. Just keep in mind that in this case it's ME being dishonest. Honestly I'm ok with that. The framing was more "low" than "moderate" priced. I didn't buy it, sell it, or was I asked about my opinion of its value. I took the "oil" in my hands and said "This one is a print." With that she said, "ohh no I hate prints. I like to buy orginals because.......". I have no reason to argue with her. I just wish I was quick enough on my feet to be more direct with her.
I wonder if when I took my truck to the garage and asked the mechanic to scratch out "1990 Ford Ranger" and instead put "2002 Dodge Ram" on the work order if he would engage me with a correcting conversation? I bet he would just sigh with the sound of "wacko" under his breath while writing in bold black letters "2002 Dodge Ram".
Originally posted by Jim Miller:
But when a customer has misunderstood, or been misled, or lied to -- and if that fiction affects her decisions about framing -- then I simply have to be honest with her.
OK, so what do you do when they have a Kinkade?

I had a customer tell me that when he bought of these on a cruise they had an art appraiser there (how convenient!) to tell him that it was worth thousands of dollars. My customer was very happy with himself for getting a bargain price. I guess Jim would’ve set him straight?
Originally posted by Jay H:
You just got your Decor. This is suppose to be a happy day for you.
Well, it was happy Jay, but remember it is very thin, so it only held my attention for a very short time......

I guess I am just annoyed at the suggestion that somehow the people in Wisconsin or Ohio have higher standards or ethics. As we all know I am the sensitive Grumbler so I am probably taking this all wrong but, my ethics and honesty level are just as intact as anybody elses. I would never deliberately deceive a customer. I just don't think it is my job to give the customer bad news.

Plus, I guess if I reread this thread we may be talking about different things. I am discussing the tourist art dime a dozen, I saw them on a street corner painting this picture, art. I thought that is what we were discussing. Considering how cheaply these works of "art" are sold I don't recall ever having a customer wanting to spend a kings ransom framing them anyway......

Maybe I'm just arguing with myself......
This reminds me of something that happened last year in my shop. My former employee, Josh, was thrilled when a new customer he waited on spent a couple thousand dollars. One of the items was an original Picasso, or so he was told. The woman did not want to leave the art. She insisted measure the item through the glass, and she took it home. When the frame came in, we called her and she brought the piece back. He did not open the piece and check it when she returned it, which he should have done. Why do these things happen when I'm not around? Anyway, when he opened the frame, what he discovered was an inexpensive reproduction. Well, when he told me about this, I told him to call her immediately and tell her what she had. I didn't want her to think we switched the art. She came in, saw what she had, and ended up spending $1,200 framing a $20.00 reproduction.

Maybe you should tell her what she has. I wouldn't want to be accused of copying the original and framing a reproduction. These days, anything is possible. Or don't put your sticker on back. Years from now, nobody will remember who the framer was.

Something that drives me nuts is when a customer asks me if their item is worth framing. What am I going to tell them? No?
This has only happened to me twice. The first instance was a watercolor that the customer had purchased from a street artist in Paris. I opened it in front of her to make sure that the mat that she wanted to replace would be removable. We were both surprised and embarrassed to discover the month of Septembre printed on the back.

The other time was dicier since I wasn't the one who took the order to frame an 18th Century etching. When I got the piece out to work on it, I thought it looked 'iffy'. Under magnification the dots from a dot matrix printer were clearly visable.

To call the customer or not to call?

I finally decided I had to let him know that he was framing a fake. If our positions had been reversed, I would have wanted to know.

There are so many gray areas here. When someone tells me that they expect their signed and numbered print (15735/19000) to appreciate in value, I keep my mouth shut. Theoretically there could be some cataclysmic event in which the other 18,999 copies are destroyed. A world-wide epidemic of good taste is remotely possible.

But blatant fakery is different.

We are always explaining to customers about rag mat and UV glass so that they can make informed decisions. Shouldn't we also give them the option to make an informed decision when their art is obviously not what they thought it was?

Customers appreciate tips on how to know what they are buying. I would tell her. It happened in my shop with a of Russian "watercolor". I didn't matter to the customer, she still loved the picture and had warm fuzzy feelings about giving money to a starving Russian artist, in fact, it adds humor to her story...."zhose Americans!. Zhey will by anyzhing!"
I had a regular customer about a month ago, ready to pick a special frame job on a tiny 6" x 8" original watercolor that she inherited. We took it apart so that it would be easier to pick colors for the matting. I realized that it was a reproduction, informed the customer, and she decided it was not worth re-framing. I merrily put it back together for her, and like most of you, had mixed feelings about it. (especially since she has always picked amazing and expensive framing jobs on her art) I felt bad for her, as she was very disappointed, but I do think she respected the fact that I had some knowledge about art, and maybe made her more confident that she was using a professional for her framing projects.
There are no solutions to this question which will satisfy everyone.

If you tell him/her that you believe the art to be fake, they may “shoot the messenger” and you may lose a sale (which we can afford) or, worse, you may lose the customer (which we cannot).

If you don’t tell them, you are doing them a disservice.

In these situations, I simply ask, “Have you had it appraised?” To tell them or not will depend on their answer.
Originally posted by Bill Henry:

If you don’t tell them, you are doing them a disservice.
I disagree. Bursting thier bubble can be more of a dissevice. They may never feel the same about their art again.
I don't think this question requires a poll or a line drawn in the sand.

Nobody wants to burst bubbles and nobody's being accused of dishonest practices. Anyone who's worked with framing customers for more than a week or two has learned something about reading people and can make an educated guess about whether a particular customer is going to be grateful or traumatized by the revelation that "that original watercolor is a reproduction" or "that acid-free mat is unpurified wood pulp" or "your museum-grade Acrylic is really Lexan from the Home Depot." Sometimes we might guess wrong.

Kathy, people in Wisconsin and Ohio aren't any more honest than those in other parts of the country, but we do tend to be better-looking.

Well, I sure am glad to say that I am from Wisconsin originally even if I do live in Michigan now. hehehehehe

The biggest problem I have in dealing with the ethics question are the 11x17 photo copies on card stock that are signed and numbered. Those are nearly as bad as the TK prints. Also, the cruise art situation. I have come to the conclusion that in most cases, it was the experience that these people have when buying the art that really makes it special. Just listen to their stories.
Originally posted by Ron Eggers:
Kathy, people in Wisconsin and Ohio aren't any more honest than those in other parts of the country, but we do tend to be better-looking.
You just keep digging a bigger hole Ron. Not only are you suggesting the rest of us have dubious standards but now we arent't too terribly attractive either. Yup the hole just keeps getting deeper.....
If the piece really looks odd, one way to cover your bases is just to try and identify the method of manufacture - something like

"What a lovely image, I can see why you love it. [pause while you look closely at it, appreciating its beauty]...but I'm not sure if it's really a watercolor - it might be made by a photomechanical process - let's see what it looks like under magnification."


"Lithography is such an interesting printing process. [Brief history, including tidbits like Napoleon's use of mass produced lithographs for propaganda, how off-set lithography came into being, artist vs commercial lithography] Yours looks like an off-set lithograph, which ties in with how the process was used in the early 19th cen..."


"There are so many printing processes around these days, some of them totally confuse me. I'm not sure what I'm looking at, you might want to take it to an appraiser just to make sure..."

This kind of response doesn't offend, and clears the air if there is any question/worry that they are spending money based on a misperception on what they have.

Rebecca (we like to think we're good looking here in BC, but it could be a case of mass delusion)
i think that people who would actually care about the value of a work of art like that would know the value and you wouldn't be bursting their bubble. for people that don't know it's worth they probably don't care. for that type of person a "how was it over ther i have never been to {insert country name here}" followed by "oh it sounds so nice" talk would suffice. they probably just want to gab about their trip to impress you and make themselves feel good in a wierd sort of way.
if people ask me i will tell them as much as i know(which isn't a whole lot on the subject of art)or point them in the right direction, but it's a frame shop not the antique roadshow.
I don't think that all framers should be thought of as art experts also. In our case we have been in business for 20 years so our knowledge of art is pretty good. We do have employees that have been designing for only a year or two so they don't have the expertise in art appraisal. It does seem in most cases that when we tell a customer that their work isn't what they think it is (if they ask) they want a second opinion anyways so we send them to an appraiser. I guess what I'm saying is, try to help your customers be educated about their artwork if you want them coming back, because unfortunatly we can tell most customers whatever they want to hear if we wanted. JayRay
I've been burned a couple of times by mis-identifying a medium. What I thought was a standard offset lithograph melted in my press. Another item that looked and felt like an RC lab photo transferred to the release paper of my Perfect Mount. I still don't know for sure what either of those prints actually were.

But it doesn't take an appraiser or an art expert to look at a watercolor and see if there's a dot pattern.

When a customer insists that their offset litho is a rare and valuable offset litho, we treat it according, regardless of our own skepticism, but they should at least know it's a reproduction.

In these discussions with customers, I'm sure we all avoid using terms like "fake" or "rip-off."
Originally posted by Ron Eggers:

In these discussions with customers, I'm sure we all avoid using terms like "fake" or "rip-off."
yeah i usually wait for a later date to tell them they got ripped off, like after they have picked up and paid...j/k
Originally posted by framanista:
</font><blockquote>quote:</font><hr />Originally posted by Jim Miller:
But when a customer has misunderstood, or been misled, or lied to -- and if that fiction affects her decisions about framing -- then I simply have to be honest with her.
OK, so what do you do when they have a Kinkade?...had an art appraiser there (how convenient!) to tell him that it was worth thousands of dollars. My customer was very happy with himself for getting a bargain price. I guess Jim would’ve set him straight? </font>[/QUOTE]Emibub, "honest" was the wrong word for me to use there. It's not a matter of honesty. If you remain silent in that situation, it doesn't mean you're dishonest. I think it only means you wouldn't go as far as I would to serve the customer.

Instead, I should have said I'd tell her the whole truth. If another person's lie affects my customer's framing decisions, then I want to correct that lie, so she can make properly informed decisions. Again, this has nothing to do with one person's opinion being better or worse than another's -- it's about helping the customer know the truth.

On the Kinkade scenario, I probably would have said something like, "Appraisals are good for insurance values, but the real monetary value on any given day is whatever another person is willing to pay for it. Jewelry is like that, too."

There's no reason to offend anyone. But when I'm absolutely certain that a customer has been misled about their art, yes, I will try to set them straight. My concern is what happens later, when the truth comes out...it always does, you know.

Ron's speculation that it might be a test is interesting. Something like that actually happened to me some years ago. The customer brought in a serigraph and repeatedly called it a lithograph. I corrected him, and explained the difference. He smiled brightly and said (paraphrasing) "You're he first one to point out the difference. The order is yours." I remember that because it was a really odd experience.

And Pamela makes a good point. What if the customer finds out later that it's a fake, and thinks you switched it for her original? That's an unhappy customer at best, and a lawsuit at worst.

I am my customer's keeper. Her ignorance is not bliss.
Originally posted by Jim Miller:
Emibub, "honest" was the wrong word for me to use there.
Yeah, I'm already over that Jim. I was having a bad day and really after rereading it decided we were talking about two completely different kettle 'o fish. Obviously, if I think a customer had truly been deceived I would advise them too. I just ain't going to tell them that their cruise art or European street art is worthless.

Besides that, now that Ron has said the rest of us are unattractive, he opened up a much bigger kettle 'o fish.......
Just for fun go to ripoffreport.com and go to the subject/catagories and look at "art", "galleries" and anything to do with this business. When someone asks me what kind of art to buy/invest in, I say originals! Providing the affordability!) The rest of isn't worth "my" money but I would never burst a customers bubble or emotional attachment to a piece of art. A jewelers loop comes in handy and I've discovered many an original to be a repro. I "sell" my skills and abilities in framing, art apraisal is best done by the pros!
I lost 5 potential framing orders today because the customer had purchased badly-aged mass-produced prints at an estate sale hoping they might be worth something... the remaining items consisted of an aged (but in decent condition) hand tinted etching and a color photo which the customer "just liked".

My advice to her when she asked if they were worth framing was to base that decision on how much she liked the items to be framed... which I feel is always good advice.

Running arround deciding what you like in life because of how much it might or might not be worth is a fools game.

In the many years I've been in this business, (and I know dirt that's older than me) I have seen art speculation come and go.
During the Bev Dolittle frenzy when she pumped out more in an edition then a respectable poster printer, I was asked by many customers 'what is a great investment in art'. I always told them the same story.
While my father was in college during the '30s, he bought 2 pictures. One was a small print of the "Old Urn Seller in the Grand Bazaar of Bagdad" and the second was a picture of the sea just before a storm. Between the two, he paid just over $4.50 for both framed and with glass.
In the early 70s, I notice the sea picture had no glass and the frame was a little rickety. I suggested that I take it back to the shop with me and put new glass in a fix the frame.
Dad replied "You touch it and I'll break you hands." I stayed quiet.
A few years later I found a new copy of the Urn seller. It had beautiful vivid colors. Deep greens, wild blues, lusty reds; nothing like the faded picture in my fathers bedroom. So I called.
"What did I tell you about the other picture?" I told him. "If you touch this one, I guess I'd have to break your arms."
This time I was older and ready for an explaination.
"When I was young and good looking my glass was new, my frame was strong and my color was fresh and alive." He explained. "As I have aged, so have they. And, I love them more now then I did when I bought them."
The moral to this story, I tell my clients, is for a truly great investment..... find your Urn Seller or Sea scape. When you are willing to threaten your child with bodily harm, that is great art.
I also tell them about my original Picasso, Miro and Chagal; all of which are "on loan" at my best friends house. The Salvador Arelliano, and the photo of my mother . . . those, I'm willing to cause some real pain about. All others can be gone tomorrow and I would never shed a tear.
Originally posted by Emibub:
...I just ain't going to tell them that their cruise art or European street art is worthless.
Why would anyone want to do that? It would be an unwelcome, meaningless, destructive infliction of opinion -- like telling someone their spouse is ugly.

There's your segue, Ron.
Yes, alls well that ends well. I always try to learn something from these threads so as not to be wasting my time. As an example, in this thread I have learned that I am more comfortable with being called dishonest than being called unattractive....go figure...
Oh, yeh, "worthless" is another one of those words we avoid.

I sometimes say, "That is a REALLY nice reproduction. Almost looks like an original."

Then I'll say, "And what a beautiful baby you have there in the stroller. Or is that a mastiff?"
Here is what I think:
If the customer claims it has a high value, recomend appropriate framing; if the customer claims it is has a very high monetary value, recomend an appraisal and let them know you are a specialist at framing but not an appraisor. You should identify the media/medium on the work order but I would not go into the issue of whether or not it is an original. That way you appear professional and knowledgeable at your trade, the customer is given advice for what to do IF they think it is imperitive to know the monetary value, and you have been honest while keeping customer and (probably) the job.
My heart breaks when people bring in Audubon's that they are so excited about. I open the framing package for them right on my sales counter to show them what they are and their condition.

A lady brought in an oversize Bruce McGaw poster this past week. She was so proud of it. She said the store that sold it to her said it was a limited edition and charged her $100. Retail was $50 or $60. In this instance, I learned about it after the fact but I'm happy that the salesperson decided to keep quiet about it. Though she was proud of it, all she would put into it for framing was drymount on foam core, lol, so it's going to be ruined soon anyway. And in this instance the artwork is much like a cigar, the value is completely in the enjoyment - why ruin that for her? If she was putting $$ into conservation framing I'd have spilled the beans. I just wish my salesperson would have asked her which store she purchased it at!