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Signing and dating by Robert Genn

Signing and dating
by Robert Genn

Yesterday, Marjorie Moeser of Toronto, ON, Canada, wrote, "I sometimes place my signature to the left at the bottom because it suits the composition better than having it on the right. I try to make the signature inconspicuous. Mostly I sign in black, but sometimes white or a neutral tone. But I've done paintings that seem to say "no" to a signature up front. So, I omit it, opting for signing on the back. What is your advice? Also, what about dating?"

Thanks, Marjorie. I'm a member of a party who thinks signatures should be clear, consistent and pretty well always in the same place--lower right. There are times when lower left is okay too. Further, if the style of signature is consistent, the colour of the signature can often be harmonized or integrated into the painting, as you suggest. My advice to most artists is "unobtrusive but clear."

While the unique style and painterly quality of your painting is more important than your signature, a good reason for putting a signature on the front is in the interest of the observer. People love to be right. If someone sees a "Joe Bloggs" from across the room and says, "That looks like a Joe Bloggs," and moving closer, sees the signature "Joe Bloggs," then this observer confirms his brilliant connoisseurship by merely recognizing the Bloggsian style.

Leaving the signature off the front of a painting may be okay for internationally-famous iconic artists whose style is so recognizable that anyone who didn't know who was responsible for the work might be considered a knuckle-dragging Philistine.

Dating is another matter. For artists who regularly exhibit in commercial galleries and switch their work around from time to time, the date needs to be left off both the front and the back. That way the art remains "new." I've had ten-year-old paintings with more exposure than Mitt Romney's dog arrive at a new gallery and quickly find a discriminating collector. If the work had borne a stale date people might think it substandard for being so long an orphan.

The exceptions to the no-dating advice are commissioned portraits and work executed at events needing to be memorialized. Similarly, do not sign "dogs." Put them on the roof of the car and take them to the dump.

Best regards,


PS: "In those days he was wiser than he is now--he used frequently to take my advice." (Winston Churchill)

Esoterica: Signing and dating is not often covered by the "how to" art books. Perhaps that's why these questions come up so frequently. It's valuable to make a note of the date, however. I have this and other info put on a file card and filed alphabetically by title. That way it's always available when people inquire. Since the advent of the Internet, collectors seem to want more provenance. As well, you need to think of the future. What, when, where, why and how may be of interest to latter-day students and researchers. Speaking of books, we're constantly refreshing our oft-visited "Books on Artist's Shelves." Please feel free to add your own current favourites.


Robert Genn has given ARTAZINE permission to post from his twice-weekly newsletter. For more of his artistic insights, visit his blog at www.painterspost.com.

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