At least, not on the front. Most artists do, I know, but in the last few years I’ve pretty much decided not to. It’s not just an eccentric whim, either; I have my reasons and I’ll get to them in a bit.
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But first, here are a few reasons why artists DO sign their work.
1. Artistic tradition
For centuries (millennia, even) artists have signed their art. The artist’s signature has become a key ingredient in the art-making process—it signifies that the artwork is finished, and that the artist is satisfied.
The right signature can even turn non-art into art. (Duchamp’s, for instance.)
So when artists first start painting, most often they sign their work simply because that’s what artists do.
2. To claim their work
Another reason to sign your artwork is to claim ownership of it, and to prove that YOU, not anyone else, created it.
Art forgers not only need to re-create the work of art they’re forging, but to perfectly replicate the signature of the artist.
That’s because (out of the millions of paintings that have been created) signatures are often the most unique elements on the canvas.
3. To increase their artwork’s value
Any art appraiser will tell you that a clear signature on a famous artist’s painting will almost always increase that painting’s monetary worth.
Oddly enough, the same thing holds true with prints, giclées, and even posters created by today’s artists. The signature alone imparts value, so it’s often financially smart to sign everything.
Those are well and good, but here are two reasons why I don’t:
1. A signature can ruin the composition
This used to frustrate me quite a bit—after thoroughly planning a painting from initial sketches to the final brush stroke, I’d always sit there and struggle to find a good place to sign it.
And in most cases the signature just felt tacked-on, like it didn’t really belong.
I suppose one answer would have been to plan every painting right from the start with my signature integrated into the compositions, but that’s always felt odd to me, and in the end, signing a painting on the back was much easier.
2. I believe the image is more important
I’d rather someone enjoys one of my paintings for what it represents—its colors, shapes, or emotional impact—than for my signature in the corner.
And when I’m looking at other artwork, I like to think that the signature is just a point of interest (like the price tag) and that it doesn’t change how I feel about the art itself.
Ultimately, however, I know that’s not always true. When standing in front of a canvas that says “Picasso” or “Rembrandt” for instance, you can’t help but to feel the weight of art history in those names.
But when it comes to my own art, I guess I’m just not concerned about whether my signature appears front and center a hundred years down the road—I’m much more concerned that I like how it looks here and now.
For a little more info on the history of artist signatures (and a few more reasons NOT to sign you art) read Carrie Brummer’s post on signing your art here.