Signing artwork or not signing your art

Signing of Prints: (Or not signing your art)

I have recently visited numerous indoor group photography exhibits, not art shows, that do not have the artist signature showing on the front of the prints or mats so that it is visible. At these photography exhibits, the artist name is displayed on the accompanying art title card. This is now becoming very common with the reasons I have been given by photographers is that the signature distracts from the viewing of the art.

This reason does not make sense to me but I have heard it multiple times. For me, adding an original signature of the artist to the artist art work is traditional and also serves a purpose that is not distracting. I originally said a few years ago in this article “What’s next, are the painters no longer going to paint their signature on their art”, but since then I have seen this with different painters.

On my recent trip to California, I saw some paintings without a signature on them at a few different small galleries. These are mostly young artists and the artist tell me that their teachers are telling them not to sign their paintings since it distracts from the art. I do not understand this trend since when I see paintings in higher end galleries or museums, they seem to be all signed. I have never heard a customer complain that the signature distracts from the viewing of the art. I hope these artist are placing there names on the back of the artwork.

I personally do not understand this trend, since if I ask a customer if they would like one of my photographs with an artist signature on the mat or not I would think close to 100% of customers would want the artist signature. I feel that the artist signature should display in some manner from the front either on the print or mat. I now additionally sign the back of the photographic print, in the white border area, with an archival thin line pen even though this artist signature does not show when displayed. The reason for this is in case the photograph has its mat replaced in the future, the artist signature is still associated with the print with the idea that the artist personally approved this print and this is not a later reprint.

Now that I said my viewpoint, I sometimes do not sign some of my photographs under certain conditions. When a quantity of larger sized prints are ordered for a commercial client and they are doing the framing themselves, I will ask them if they want the photographs to be signed. If they do, I will pick a place in the lower right image area that the entire signature will show up on, such as in a lighter area. I also do not put the signature at the very bottom of the image, so the framer does not cover part of the signature up with the matting.

I also drop ship my larger canvas prints directly from the printer to the customer since postage twice of a 32″ x 48″ canvas can be expensive and I do not want to pass these costs to the customer. In both these situations, if the customer does not get a signature on the front of the art piece, I send along a separate printed Certificate of Authenticity of each piece of art that has the artist signature on it. The customer can then attach the certificate to the back of the wrapped canvas print or for prints, to the back of the frame. While I do not currently add a digital signature to my art, this would be one way to handle these situations.

Art show display booth







For painters, in additional to the artist signature, I see some of them paint a copyright symbol and date on the front of there paintings. I personally think having a copyright symbol on a painting is unnecessary and I see no purpose for this. You already own the copyright by painting the art piece. Most buyers of artwork understand that they are only purchasing the artwork to display as art and the purchase does not include any other rights to copy the artwork for any reason.

On the subject of painting a date, of the painting creation year, on the painting front, why would painters do this.  If a buyer sees a painting with a date 5 years old, they may not buy it even if they liked it because they may feel that the artist could not sell it before over numerous years and wonder what is wrong with it. Never give a buyer a reason to not purchase your painting. If you must supply this information, put the date on the back of the artwork as informational for those that value this information such as museums. The wood bars or paper backing makes a great surface to add this information.


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