Over the many years that I have been an art dealer, I continued to be amazed on a regular basis by the framing monstrosities that artists and art buyers seem to produce.
Regardless of what your framer or your interior decorator, or your mom tells you, the prime purpose of a frame is to protect the artwork and ready it for presentation and exhibition.
The dizzying array and varieties of mouldings do offer a challenge to the uninitiated, but as long as you keep in mind a simple rule, you will not screw up: Keep It Simple!
While gold rococo frames once worked well in the 19th century, and still hold their presence in presenting the Impressionist paintings that they have been guarding for over a century, they should never make a 21st century appearance in, let’s say, framing a simple black and white photograph.
Not to imply that a good gilded frame is framata non grata for all contemporary artwork; in fact they still manage to complement and make - as an example - traditional landscape paintings look good.
Colors, designs and textures that do not compete with the artwork should be the goal. I am even more severe in my own personal artwork about framing. I prefer simple matte black metal mouldings for my drawings and the thinnest and barest of light wood frames for my paintings.
A good professional framer should already know all of this. A hack who wants to sell you an expensive, thick, elaborate moulding for your simple artwork must be avoided at all costs or your visual and monetary cost will be enemies of your art and finances.
For do it yourself framers: learn how to frame properly and learn about conservation materials. You would not believe the number of times that I have seen badly hand-cut mats (the result of using an Exacto knife to cut the mat instead of a good mat cutter), a colored acidic mat, a gaudy, cheap frame and brown cardboard backing from your last move used as backing. They will ruin a perfectly decent work of art.
Some basics: for photography only use white acid free mats (or any light, neutral color mat) and acid free backing. Thin, let me say that again: thin, metal (black or silver) metal moulding frames (matte not shiny) or thin light wood frames. Avoid color mats at all costs and thick frames at all costs. If you can afford it, avoid frames period, and use those gorgeous frameless presentations where the photo is sandwiched between two sheets of museum quality plexiglass re-inforced with strengthened aluminum to prevent warping (for large photos).
For paintings, I have always subscribed to the less the better and prefer the floating mouldings that allows the canvas to free float in the frame while still protecting its edges. I am also OK with gallery stretched canvasses, where the canvas hangs frameless and the staples are hidden behind the work.
Next: My pet peeves on huge artists’ signatures.