Many people feel conflicted about signing their creations. Be it paper mache or water color, concrete or digital, the idea of identifying it as “mine” is often uncomfortable.
Why is this? It turns out that there’s a lot to think about here… consider these artists’ opinions on the subject.
One aspect is utterly personal. It has to do with ambivalence or insecurity about being a creator, or the idea that only “real” art deserves to be signed, or only “real” artists are entitled to sign their work. Perhaps the maker feels that it’s not ‘good’ art. Some people feel the work itself should identify the maker, or that a signature detracts from the work. These complex thoughts and feelings make the decision of whether or not to sign a project an exercise in self awareness. Why do I make? Why do I feel this is worth my time and effort? Am I willing to claim this, take ownership of it?
In the marketplace, however, signatures are highly desirable. Any artist who wants to build a brand will of course sign their work. Any seller of art will value the piece more highly if it bears a valid signature. And future owners may want to know more about the artist. There’s a genuine need by everyone concerned for authenticity. Knowing the maker and other information such as the time and place of creation, the mediums used, etc. provides provenance.
The multi-talented artist Albrecht Dürer (1471 – 1528) protected his signature (above) in courts in both Venice and Nuremberg. This is not the earliest example of an artist claiming their work, but it was a beginning; helping to establish the tradition in Europe at the start of the Renaissance.
- Sign the work itself, not the matt, frame, stand, etc. which may become separated from the work in future.
- Use archival materials to sign.
- Consider the location of the signature; make sure it won’t be damaged or covered by future framing, mounting, etc.
- Use compatible material – oil on oil, colorfast threads or inks on fabric pieces, etc.
- Sign as soon as the work is finished. Signatures added later (such as over the varnish on a painting or on an already-fired ceramic piece) may appear invalid or forged.
Of course, all us makers are free to sign or not to sign our projects.- there are good reasons either way. One’s choice may change over time. Thinking about it, knowing our reasons is important both for the artist and the work.
Consider the unknowns of the future. There’s no telling where a piece may go, who may own it and wonder about the maker. A signature adds to the identity of the piece, which is separate from the maker, and unique. What fate might befall this thing set loose in the world?