Wednesday, November 17, 2010

To date or not to date

 Here is a small update of the Italian soda bottle.  It has a long way to go yet, but the layers of pigment are starting to give form to the bottle and the contents.

There are two schools of thought on adding a date to your artwork.

One says that it should never be on the front with a signature, but added as a piece of provenance beneath the paper backing or with a certificate of authenticity.

The other says that dates for work should be prominent and have as much importance as the artist's signature.

Art that is sent to exhibition or competition is often time sensitive with juries demanding work between one to three years old.  I never quite understand that as the antiques side of me longs for date confirmation of items and paintings and the knowledge that sometimes one's best work could be 20 years old - or 100 years old. Otherwise why would experts be carbon dating, x-raying and inspecting old masters paintings for clues to when they were painted?  There is obviously two sides to this debate.

Where did this need for current work come from?  Is there a 'sell by' date on art?  Do the buying public believe that only recent art is worthy of money being spent?  What about the need for documenting the history of an artist's work and style over time? There is a thought that perhaps dated paintings, if older, are a sign that they have not been able to be sold.  Galleries only want newer paintings and often artists do not date work purposely to ensure pieces are considered new.

To keep the sellers and buyers happy, I sign my pieces on the front then provide a month/year on the back along with title, medium and artist name on a label on the back for reference.  How stable that little rectangle of information is over time I may never know.  I recommend to buyers to write down the information and keep it catalogued, along with other works of art they may own for future records.

What is your thought on dating pieces of art?


Carolyn A. Pappas said...

I don't usually date pieces that are intended to be "finished works," although I do keep records of them in my own notes. I do think that including this info on the back is a good idea.

In my sketchbooks though, I write the date and time that I finished them, and sometimes a start time as well (for timed sketches). Sometimes I make these notes a part of the sketch and other times I just write it on the edge where it is not so visible.

I also keep a diary where I write about what I did artwise day to day. In that I also make a point to write in the day of the week as well as the month and date. I find that this helps to jog my memory when I reread old entries.

Lisa Le Quelenec said...

I don't date any of my work any more as near the start of my career a gallery who had shown interest in my work from a brochure did a complete about turn when they saw some of the work 'in the flesh' dated on the front from two years before. I had explained that the themes I worked on were developed over long periods of time and the older work was still as relevent but this held no sway.

Like Carolyn I keep detailed notes in my sketchbooks with dates included. One thing that would date some of my work if someone took the time to look are the pieces that I blog about or sketchbook pages I put onto flickr. I look forward to what other artists have to say, maybe I should rethink this.

Personally a date on a piece of artwork wouldn't put me off buying as the purchase would be because of a connection to the work. Maybe it's a reflection of how society seems to always want the latest thing - kudos for being of the moment? It's a interesting topic for thought/discussion.

Anonymous said...

What an interesting post - as a 'paint for fun' person, I guess I had never thought about this. I always date my sketches simply for my own information.
I am surprised (perhaps I should not be...) that date matters to someone buying art. I would just buy what I loved, regardless of date.
I can see that the 'to date or not to date' is important for those who are selling their work. I fear Lisa is right and the obsession with 'the latest thing' is being reflected in current attitudes towards art works too!

Carolyn A. Pappas said...

An older date would not be a deterrent to me if I wanted to purchase a piece of art. I would not buy a work of art as an investment but because I really liked it and wanted it. But, one time I went to an art fair at this local cultural festival a few years in a row. Some of the artists were bringing in the same painting over and over and I picked up on this right away. I immediately got the impression that they were very stagnant in their careers having painted no new works. I would avoid the possibility of giving others this impression of me.

Personally, I keep track of dates because I studied history in college and I want to keep good "primary source" material for other people in the future. It is my family who will most likely end up with a large amount of work on their hands someday and I would like to help them out if I can. Dates are an easy thing to keep track of at the time, but they can be very hard to reconstruct after the fact.

Jean Spitzer said...

I don't date my work any more, but I document it separately, informally on my blog and soon--formally--on paper, for my own records.

Jeanette said...

Thanks for the input, its always good to hear what other artists are thinking on this subject.

I believe we're all on the same page more or less in terms of not dating work on the piece itself, but keeping a record in the background for ourselves.

I'm not quite sure where this fear of older works comes from with galleries and exhibitions.

Perhaps as you say Carolyn, the same painting reappearing over and over would smack of an artistic stagnation, wouldn't it?

Anonymous said...

I agree.
I've only started again putting the year on the back w/ pertinent info.
If I see a piece I love, it's the art that connects with me and the age would not deter me. That said, I'd be interested to see more current work to see how the artist has developed.

Kay Smith said...

I used to date the front but then ran into the same issues you all have. Occasionally a client will ask me to put the year on the front. Now I write the title, media, copyright symbol, signature and date on its back. As a custom framer,too many have called or come by with pieces they love or have inherited and nothing but an illegible scrawl on the front...not a clue who the artist was, etc. So you can't even Google their name.