Debate: Should You Include a Date on Your Artwork?

Many of you who have been following me will know that I discourage artists from including dates on their artwork. Recently, I received the following email from the curator of a museum:

 

Dear Jason,
As a Museum Director, I vehemently disagree with not putting the date created on pieces of work in a portfolio. Why do you suggest that? It appears that the artist is hiding something.

Sincerely,
D.R.

 

I responded:

Dear D,

Thank you for the email and the question. I come at the question from a marketing and sales standpoint, and from my perspective on the front lines of helping artists sell their work, I have only seen the dating of work as a negative.

In a nutshell, here is the problem: It is often the case that a particular work of art will enter the art market and not sell immediately. Sometimes the work is shown in the wrong venue, sometimes the market itself is slow (as over the last several years) and sometimes it’s just poor luck. There are a lot of variables that have to align in order to sell a piece of art. Because of the complexity of the market, an artist will frequently have to move a work of art through several galleries before it finds a home. This process can sometimes take months, or even years. It’s not that there is anything wrong with the artwork, it simply takes time to align the art with the right individual who will be willing and able to make the purchase.

If the work of art includes the creation date we risk prejudicing the potential buyer against the work unnecessarily. The potential buyer may find the artwork to be desirable in every way artistically and aesthetically, and I would argue that the age of the artwork shouldn’t make any difference to this buyer. Unfortunately, I have found age can have an impact on some (not all, but some) buyers.

“I like this piece,” they will say, “but it’s dated 2012. It’s been on the market for over five years and no one has bought it? What’s wrong with it?” This seed of doubt can be enough to dissuade some buyers. I am not speaking hypothetically – I have seen this happen on numerous occasions over my 19 years in the art business and my experience has lead me to discourage artists from including the date on their work or in their portfolios for this reason. I simply don’t see a compelling reason on the other side of the argument that outweighs this potential risk for an artist who is trying to sell their work in the current art market.

I would argue that it’s not that we’re trying to hide something from potential buyers, but rather that we simply don’t emphasize the age of the work by including the date. If there is no date on the work, in the vast majority of cases, the issue never arises.

I am an impassioned advocate of artists being organized and carefully cataloging all of their work. I encourage artists to make sure that each work of art includes an inventory number which could then be cross-referenced to the artist’s inventory if and when the question of creation date arises in the future.

I understand that from a curatorial standpoint it would be helpful to have easy access to creation date, but the vast majority of artists working today are more concerned with making a living and selling their work. From that perspective, I would argue that, on balance, it is better to avoid overtly dating the work.

I would welcome your perspective and any counter arguments. My position certainly isn’t intractable, I simply want to help artists make informed decisions as they approach the market.

 

What do you think? Do you include a date on your work? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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