What’s the Deal with Signing Artwork?

What’s the Deal with Signing Artwork?

The signing of artwork has been around for centuries. Who wouldn’t want to put their mark on work which they labored over for days, months, or even years? It not only adds monetary value to the work by validating it, but signing also leaves the artist’s trace. This is beneficial in art history to help identify proof of authenticity, and is important to contemporary art because it gives recognition and can spark interest in the artist’s other work. All artists should look to the example of the famous artists of the world by signing their artwork with pride, to claim it as their work and complete the piece.

Signing artwork began to really take hold during the Renaissance. As art began its movement into the realm of expression and began to break free of merely documenting people, scenery, and religious scenes, artists began to explore more techniques and to use art as more of a platform for expression through avant-garde styles and subject matter. As these Renaissance artists started to take more pride in their work, they felt the need to sign their work to mark it as their own.

As we know, this practice has continued to this day and because of its benefits shows no sign of ever becoming irrelevant. To illustrate the importance of signatures then, and signatures now, we will cover a contemporary, hypothetical example, as well as an example from art history.

We will call the hypothetical contemporary artist, Maggie. Maggie is a sculptor who primarily works with marble. She loves chipping away at the stone to reveal what she feels lies within the block, this is what drew her to working with marble rather than clay, bronze, or any other sculpting medium. In the beginning of her career, her lack of self-confidence prevented her from signing her work. However, over time she became better in her craft, and eventually started etching her initials into her work as it began to sell more and more. She also found that adding her signature to each sculpture upon finishing it helped it feel complete, almost like a bookend, the first bookend of the piece being the initial drive with a hammer and chisel. As a perfectionist, this helped with her sanity in knowing that after she etched in her initials, the work was done no matter what, and she found it relieved her of the anxiety that could come from wanting to continue to work on the piece.
Later in her career, as she grew in popularity, she found that some of her original pieces were raising questions of validity in the market, due to lack of signature. Because of this, her earlier work was being appraised and sold for less than it otherwise would be.

From the pages of art history, we can take a look at the trials of Albrecht Dürer. Dürer was one of the first artists to be religiously prolific about adding his signature to his work by means of his “AD” monogram. In the early 1500s, upon being notified of some counterfeit copies of prints of his own, Dürer debunked the copies by pointing out the forger’s additional monogram in the prints, and the forger was punished for the use of Dürer’s signature. More on this story can be read about here: http://blog.lofty.com/featured/forged-fridays-durer/.

With these examples we can see the benefits of signing your artwork, and what can happen when you don’t.  It’s important for artists to sign their work to claim it as their own, and add validity and history to the piece, not to mention the sense of completion the artist feels upon signing. After putting in so much time to something, you as an artist owe it to yourself to sign the piece. Be proud, sign your work!