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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102 Comments

  1. Well I kind of get around that question as I now sign and date my canvases on the back of each of them. I think dates, i.e. in years only, are somewhat important as they inform the “market” of your progress artistically.

    1. I agree with J. David, as I have matured I have found that inspiration comes in waves and at times can be leaner years than others. Dated only by year and usually in a narrative about the inspiring moment or capture. Leaner years in quantity sometimes produce a desired exclusiveness. I’m not a sales producer yet so perhaps this will change in the future. Thanks for the thought

    2. I agree with David. My mixed media photographic drawings I sign on the front, and sign in pencil on the back with title and year of creation. It is important to date the work, but not necessary to date on the front of the piece.

  2. I absolutely agree. I never date my art anymore. I can see this being valuable 200 years from now if you’re lucky enough to be famous and they’re researching what you did but in the live world it does suggest no one want this piece if it’s old… of course us artists feel differently about such things but not everybody is that confident

  3. Hi, Jason–I always put the date and copyright symbol on my artwork, along with a catalog no. as you suggest, to protect the work in the event of a legal issue (such as the copying and sale of facsimiles of the work by other artists). However, I always do this on the back of the art, as I agree with you that a date on the front may confuse–or “de-focus” a potential buyer from concentrating purely on the quality of the painting itself and why they are attracted to it.

  4. Ditto what Jason said!
    And it’s not just buyers who don’t want ‘old work’ but also galleries! If you can’t get galleries to show the work for you, it gets harder and harder to sell it. If you can’t sell your work or exhibit it then you will never have to worry about what a museum thinks because it won’t ever get there! As long as the artist keeps good records it should not be an issue.

  5. I fully agree with you that including a date is, at least, irrelevant and at most, detrimental. I have pieces that are very good, but are sitting in a closet for one reason or another — maybe I’m not sure about it and want to put fresh eyes on it later (i call it “ripening”), or maybe I don’t have enough similar pieces yet to show it, or maybe it just got lost.
    The important point is that if an artist’s works don’t get purchased, the museums will never care to show them. Getting into a museum is nice, but its more of a final destination, while artists tend to be concerned about the journey.
    AND, anyway, who cares when it was created? All those Academics need *something* to do with their time and earn their degrees.

  6. I agree with Jason and for his reasons stated. I do a numbering code on the back of each painting which has the completion date of the painting and I include location if done en plein air, finish, title, and my crazy nonlegible signature. I print my signature carefully on the front. So, there is full provenance on each of my paintings.

  7. My pieces are titled and numbered on the back together with the size and the medium. That number corresponds to my records which have more definitive information on each piece such as date of creation.
    ~Margaret

  8. As of the beginning of this year, I no longer date my paintings. This was decided after speaking to a few other artists and discussing the same issues you mentioned. I know some artists that don’t date the front but they do include the date on the back of the artwork. I’m guessing that’s also not a great idea for the same reasons. This is a very pertinent question and I am glad you brought it up. I do have a personal catalogue with all the details (including dates) of all my artworks for future reference… so covered on that end. Right now my website still has dates though… so I will remove those too.

    1. Yes I think that is a great idea and if you ever become super famous then museums can go to your inventory when they actually care when you did the artwork. I usually put dates behind but I always think is just going to add value for those clients that think your oldest is your best work and a disappointment for those that want your most recent work. Either way I have never had any client concern about the date. That are concern about everything but when I created the piece.

  9. I date my work. I consider myself a cultural worker. Although sales are important to me, my role as a cultural worker is stronger. I want my clients and supporters to see the evolution of my work…the development of concepts, and the role that the world events have had on my work. As an African-American, as a young person I would look in art books, looking for my presence, and too many times there There was little or no documentation of the visual culture of my people. They were not erased, they were purposely, rarely acknowledged, or documented, though African Americans were creating work before the day they reached the shores of America. This has made the documentation of works absolutely essential to me. I find that it helps the curator to develop stronger narratives, and involves the art appreciating public in better understanding the development of the artist and the works created. Because of the past biases I feel it necessary to have as much information as possible about a work available to the public. I think I like to presuppose a certain sophistication, curiosity in those looking at art and a need to better understand it thorough noting the chronology of its development.

    1. I agree with what you say, Aziza. I find the dates important, and interesting. I can’t imagine thinking of art like the buyers Jason mentions. Of course, I am an artist. Until reading this, I would have found it disappointing if there was not a date on a piece. To me, the date and signature validates the art. I might have been inclined to choose a work with a date over one without. But I’m not the average person. I guess it’s good to have the date and more info on the back. I can live with putting the date on the back and not the front. But I have done some work that clearly speaks to the times we are living in now, and having the date makes sense. It’s not a piece I would have painted 10 or 20 years ago. And this would certainly apply if there was any reference to current politics.

      1. If Michelangelo didn’t put a date on a piece does that mean that work doesn’t have value or has less value than the rest of his work? Of course not! He rarely even put signatures on his sculptures. We think it has more value because it is another way to know that it was made by his hand as at least it shows that the work is from that time. Today is way easier to know what people are producing on daily basis because we have now technology and social media.

        The problem is that during the life time of any artist there is going to be many things that are going to help his/her career and selling consistently is one of them. While some people might think it adds value the other half is going to think there is a reason why it has not sold yet. It is better if people just care who did it and not in what decade you painted it. You can always add the date if someone cares for that, when they purchase the piece. If you buy from an artist that is not alive, in any case we should support the ones that are, because those artists are the ones that need support to pay bills and produce art for tomorrow. Museums can show the work of death artists and have inventories to make info cards.

  10. Before I was an artist, I typically saw older paintings more valuable, and still do not think otherwise. Sometimes, for a popular artist in the present, the older artwork is sought out by clients. I see everyone’s input here and it it all makes sense. I for one would answer the question, “why hasn’t it sold”, by saying the piece of artwork has been in a private collection for a few years and is now being released to the public again, which in my case is true, being in my private home. I have never had anyone ask about the date before. Thank you for writing about this issue, it gives food for thought.

  11. Beautiful artwork accompanying your RedDotBlog question. I’m guessing your father is the creator. He’s a remarkable artist, as you are a remarkable gallerist. It brought back memories of the first time I attended one of your seminars in Tucson, AZ in 2008—From “Starving” to Successful. Your lovely mother also presented some great insights on how to work with galleries. Your advice then and now has been a blessing (and spot on) to art and artists. Most of my creative career has been in communications as an art director, illustrator or designer packaging things to sell (magazines, books, pharmaceuticals, whatever). You are absolutely right about dating artwork. If you’re trying to sell it, you don’t want to put up any roadblocks that might create doubt about the product.

  12. This subject has come up from time to time and I agree with Jason. There seems to be this idea that if the artist has a work of art that is a few years old, the viewer (perhaps subconsciously) thinks it may be substandard because it hasn’t sold. For that reason I quit dating my work several years ago. When I create digital files all pertinent info is included but on the piece itself is my signature; on the back is the title, maybe notes about where it was painted (if on location) and my name and/or website.

  13. Dated my paintings only briefly. Note when you send jpegs to clients be sure to remove the dates as they will appear. Older work is perceived as just “old” no matter how you try to explain why it’s still around and what artist wants to deal with that?

  14. Interesting perspective! I was trained to always sign and date artwork but I think I’ll be changing that practice or at least consigning a date to the back of the work. I’m currently working on a print series that I plan to produce as an open, numbered edition, this solves the question of dating individual prints of the same image which may actually be printed at different times. I will say that, as someone who occasionally buys and sells artwork (when I find good pieces at estate sales or thrift stores) that it’s actually pretty annoying to get an undated work. I don’t really expect anyone to recognize my work in years down the road though, so I don’t suppose it matters greatly for me whether I date my work or not! Thanks for the two opposing opinions – food for thought.

  15. It was pretty easy for me to decide not to date my work, partly because it was always difficult to determine which date to use. There are so many significant times in the formation of the work, and none of them can really come down to an exact date anyway.

    Should it be when I actually formed the piece – or months later (in some cases, years) when I finally got it glazed,fired and out of the kiln. I used to carve the year into the back but if I started the piece in December and finished it the following year, …what would make sense? Now I don’t worry about it. My inventory number points me to the year I started the piece and lots of other information about it as well.

  16. I wholeheartedly agree with Jason. There is misperception in the marketplace that ‘newer is better”. Newer just reflects which path inside me is turned on. There are many many tributaries within my choice of artistic direction. Just like you Jason, it can be a step away from a sale.

    The elements and principles of design do not list ‘date created’ to test the full body of a painting or making a decision that the work is completed.

    Curation of an art show is based on the viewer first engaging with the piece , and that draws them into the art. Design, color, size, shapes, temperature, gradation of color, yada yada.

    There has been a disagreement for years when artists apply to shows that limit entries to last 2,3,4 years. The judges change yearly. What is my best curated work is 10, 20, or 5 years ago. Can you say Degas, Monet, Singer-Sargeant.

    I do respect the Museum Directors opinion, and good to keep in mind for future submissions.

    Thanks for your emails, Jason. They are spot on.

    Suzanne McCourt

  17. Organization is the key. There are horror stories from artist estates that have to do with what came first and sometimes even IF it came from the artist him(er)self. I won’t bore you with a conversation I had with one of the curators at the Lee Krasner-Jackson Pollock Institute-suffice it to say, the barn-studio floor has been an arbitor more than once.
    So, I don’t date my work anymore except in the roster I keep. I have been at this for 3 years, working backward as I have been working forward. I have a spreadsheet with a column for “opus” numbers, with a second column for “date”. The date is fairly arbitrary because I revise my work -another conversation perhaps. What I’m using now, as a rule of thumb is if the piece lands in a show, it has a completion date that is fixed.
    If my estate is important enough to some curator (??) the roster will establish whatever the fact is.
    My work is evolving so looking back just across a few years, I can see the various stages of growth. Any curator should be able to do the same.
    I can understand some of the date issues art historically, but that’s not a common issue and not one that seems to be too important to the marketplace.

  18. Jason, I totally agree with you! Having a personal inventory system is the best way for me to keep up with dates, etc.. Another reason that an older painting may not have sold is that the artist may have wanted to keep it in her own collection for awhile. It takes the right buyer to fall in love with a piece and that may not happen in the first or second gallery where the artwork is placed.
    Thank you for your daily blogs!

  19. Thank you for this. I agree with you one thousand percent. Now, I’d like to see some of the galleries refrain from asking for paintings completed within the same year or two years.

    1. ^This!!! Same with juried shows: “No works older than 2 years” etc. This has prevented me from entering works that I truly think are worthy into shows. Even though I don’t have a date on the work, it is in my records, and I know it’s older than 2 years.

  20. I completely agree. Why should it be dated? The work presented should speak for itself. Also, as an artist evolves, the era of his/her work becomes visible on comparison. And as artists are constantly changing and refining their styles, approaches and mediums, dating the work can be confusing and in the end, unnecessary.

  21. I have an inventory numbering system and write a # on the back of each piece. The inventory # doesn’t mean anything to a customer, but it tells me the year I painted the piece. On my pencil drawings, there are dates, and I regret putting it on the front of the drawings, especially if they are framed under glass. Makes the piece look unsold, old and undesirable, and makes me feel like a public loser, so I’ve stopped showing those pieces.

  22. As a photographer, I have a similar issue as Becca. I may take a picture now that I don’t print until next year and may even try some alternative process with it in the future. I usually sorta figure that the date of creation would be when it was finally fixed in place, though I do not write that on it. What irks me are the juried shows that limit submittals to works created in the past 3 years. That is very typical around where I am. I can see their point in wanting new stuff no one has seen, but I always have images that I printed and then forgot about because of other things.

    1. My impression was that the 3-year rule was to keep artists busy, not resting on their laurels and submitting work that was done long ago even though they are no longer active.

  23. Date or no date. People buy art because they like it. It speaks to them in some way. If a buyer likes a piece and is considering buying it until they see the date, they are missing the point. They like the art. I think dates are important in that it gives a history of the artists progress. I have pieces that I made in 1995. They have the same impact today as they did when I made them. A small note on dating art. Some open art calls state the art has to have been made in the last 3 or 5 years. That limits what art I can submit. Bummer…If the art is worthy of consideration for purchase, who cares when it was created. Would a serious collector, if they really liked the piece, pass on the purchase if the piece was 50 tears old?? BUY ART BECAUSE IT SPEAKS TO YOU.

  24. What are the reasons that D.R. the Museum Director, vehemently insists that art is always dated?
    Why does art without a date have the appearance that the artist is hiding something?
    The discussions covers the reasons that an artist should avoid dating the art.
    But I saw no explanation of why art should be dated,
    other than a certain level of passion from a Museum Director.

    Sincerely,
    D.R.

  25. I don’t include a date as I think it just adds to the bulkiness of the signature. Plus, I don’t see any good reason to date it. If someone wants to know when I painted it, just ask and I’ll tell. I can see the negative ramifications of dating a piece and don’t see any good coming from it.

  26. I applaud Jason. Finally I feel that we have someone that is really looking after the welfare of artists. If not showing the date on a piece can help in the sale then do be it. It is already challenging enough to be an artist wanting to make a living in this so called ‘Art World’. I encourage everyone to keep good records at home of everything you make and when for it may come in handy further along. In the meantime sell, sell, sell!

  27. I’m an art investor and collector. I’ve bought art BECAUSE they were older pieces from an artist, to have something by that artist from different periods of his career. As an artist myself, I date my pieces on the back. Art investors would be smart to make sure the art they buy is dated as well. The more provenance you can get with a piece, the better is how I operate as a collector.

  28. I totally agree with Jason. Also not mentioned is that if you are entering a judged show most juries will not accept artwork over 2 years old. Even if it’s perfect for the show…

  29. I always date my paintings on the back. No one ever has cared about what the date of any painting ever bought from me. As of this year I have sold about 700 paintings.

  30. I did…. until I read THAT part of the book. So haven’t recently. But no one seems to ever care. Probably over 50% of my work is commissioned pieces and they don’t care because the receipt is dated when it becomes theirs. Have feelings both ways though.

  31. I have read this sort of discussion a few times, and always continued to date my work by year, near my signature. But lately, I have looked back on some paintings of a few years ago and think many were very good, some better, than what I have created lately. I have always thought that dating the work was my method of keeping an easily visible record, but now I think I should stop doing it. Ok, you have convinced me to change my ways!

  32. As someone who teaches art history, the date and the artist’s name, in legible form, needs to be permanently attached to the work of art so posterity can know who did it and when. It doesn’t have to be on the front. If I were purchasing a work of art from a gallery I would certainly want the gallery to be able to tell me when it was done. You really don’t know who will value your work, or work you purchase, in the future. Certainly your family will. The critical identification of who did the art and when it was done needs to be there. I have been asked to put a value on pieces of art that are brought into our department. Without those two pieces of information, I’m dead in the water. A professional appraiser would not be able to accurately appraise a work of art without knowing who did it and when it was done. To me, history trumps the art market, whether that is family history or the larger cultural history.

  33. If I date a piece I put it on the back. I can see the argument both ways. I love paintings that are dated at least on the back because it gives me a context as to time, place, history of the times. Would I turn down owning a Monet just because it had a date somewhere? No—and that goes for any piece of art that I buy. Art is ageless. I buy it because I like it. A few years ago I bought a slightly damaged unframed portrait painted late 1800’s from Stockholm, originally from Royal Academy I think. I restored it by doing some in-painting and blending. I very much appreciated the date on the back and actually 3 signatures. It’s still kind of a mystery painting to me, but it has glazing characteristic of that time. Knowing the date not only saved me time in researching, it helped me study what palette was used at that time, etc. Just thoughts to consider.

  34. My own records contain month and year finished; I sign the front; and on the back (which cannot be see when framed), I sign, date by year, and sometimes indicate the paper I used. My signature is my initials (always has been), so I sign with a fuller signature on the back. Last week I was awarded a Best in Show for the second painting I ever did; I consider it one of my best. No one asked when I did it.

    But the bias about age of work is widespread. In the majority of national shows in my medium (soft pastel), there is a requirement that the work have been completed within usually two, sometimes three, years. This has never made sense to me.

  35. Every year how many millions of paintings are produced by how many hundreds of thousands of artists? Most of those artists would like to sell most of those paintings, whether to experienced collectors or to newbies whose lack of confidence might dissuade them from buying a piece that has been hanging around for years without a buyer. Why risk aborting any sale by putting a date on the painting? Meanwhile, how many of those millions of paintings are going to end up in the hands of a museum director who is annoyed that the piece is undated? Do the math. Which odds are the best for the artist?

  36. The dating of one’s art has both pro and con… As a longtime professional artist; I have dated work from many years ago and it’s not because of lack of interested customers. I actually didn’t want to sell certain pieces, because I wanted to enjoy them on my own walls. Not every artist does everything for money.
    Now that I have less sunrises to enjoy; my Daughters, If they wish to part with them; shouldn’t be penalized for selling something that has been around for a while.
    PS: I have stayed out of Galleries and only do direct commission work when asked. I still date everything, but on the backside of each piece and my customers know when I did their art anyway.

  37. I’m in my 30th year as a professional artist. I have always dated next to my signature along with the copyright sign. Although the date has not been mentioned by my buyers, I do believe their seeing the current year, or year before, has helped sell my work. That being said, most of my sales are commissioned works so my inventory is somewhat limited and does not stay on my possession long. As I plan on becoming more prolific this year, I like the idea of not dating the work and keeping a log which will include the date of each piece.

  38. As a collector I want a date and given two paintings of equal appeal, would purchase the one fully documented on the painting including the year of creation. I frequently purchase “old” work of living artists at auction and deep in artists’ oeuvre.

  39. I see that I’m in the minority here, but I’ve always dated my work with both the year and the month. As I get older and more experienced I feel even more inclined to do so. I’ve read that it’s a mild form of synesthesia; feelings and colors apply to times with me as well as numbers, letters, etc. Where I was in my life at that particular moment when I breathed a sigh of relief and signed a piece is important to me. Something that I finished in April has a very different feel, even personality, attached to it than something completed in June or November. That’s something that I feel compelled to pass on to potential collectors. The ones in whom a nerve is struck are obviously a small number, but I will continue to do it anyway. In his afterwords, Stephen King includes the exact dates of beginning and completing his novels, and I always pause and reflect and feel those dates. They matter to me.

  40. By creating and inventory date-code on the reverse of the work you can at least have a record of the circa date on the actual work.
    Not sure I like the idea of have the date of the work in only one place. What if those records are lost in the move, or disaster? I have works from years ago that I had info only in a paper file. We’ve had some studio destroying fires out here. Those dates are lost now.

    Here’s an old museum registrar’s trick I used from my museum days.

    I use an inventory code. A-00.05-012
    (A) -Acrylic
    (00)– Year: 2000
    (05)– Month: May
    (012)– Inventory count: Number of painting completed to date.

    Happy painting.

    Duke

  41. I agree with you Jason , I have a record of the date and info of the painting in a file I keep separately I find putting a date on the actual work does not help to sell it . If a buyer wants to know then I will tell Him/Her , but is of no advantage for my sale.

  42. I welcome this article. Thank you Jason. This gives me a bit more confidence in my own practice. I don’t date my art, but used to. We create unnecessary time parameters, in perceived shelf lives for our work. There can be pressure, however, to date the front as part of exhibition rules. For the past five years, I have been signing and dating the back of the work, as well as a small unobtrusive personal mark on the front. I often enjoy my art on my own wall, prior to putting it up for sale, so offering work that is dated, say, three years hence, gives a subliminal message to the potential buyer that your work is not selling. I prefer to give a, ‘paint still wet’, kinda message!

  43. You see, this is a symptom of an ongoing problem – not just in art, but in all creative arenas – where the presumptions of the audience actually prevent them from receiving the benefit they say they want from art. I’m eternally frustrated because I’d like to believe my work can help people in some way, but they just won’t have it. The so-called personal relationship goes ultimately only in one direction.

    I’m susceptible, too – I see a work I really like; I find out it’s ten years old and my brain goes immediately to: “but what are you doing now?” Maybe the artist isn’t doing anything, and that should be exempt from judg(e)ment. Eventually it is going to matter, and so I may switch to dating the back of the painting (with notes like my mom used to do with my school work!) Right now I include the year in my signature, for *my* reference. Isn’t this all about me?

  44. I think dates are important to chart the progression of an artist’s career and work–maybe more so for painters (which I am). I no longer put a date on the front of a piece.

    One thing I have noticed during the span of my career is that some fellowship/grant/national juried show opportunities require that submitted work be completed within the past three years. I don’t necessarily agree with the practice, but I am honest about submitting work that conforms to the requirements–even if I sometimes feel I would rather submit older paintings. Imagine how I feel when I’m told by other artists in national shows that they simply don’t ever date their work so they can submit whatever they want regardless of application requirements! Not very ethical, in my opinion.

  45. Thank you for addressing this subject. I echo your comments to never date the artwork. Cataloguing work is important and if an inventory number can be added to the piece that includes a cross reference to a date, I have no problem. As a gallery owner and artist advocate, I repeatedly request no dates on the work for all the reasons already mentioned.

  46. In this day and age of social media, any customer who really wants to know when a piece was created can track down the information. There is no need to put it on the piece to give the customer something to worry about. I scramble the date on the back as my inventory # because I keep my records by the date. But the customer isn’t going to read it as the date.

  47. I’ve had the experience of work of mine being accepted in the US Dept. of State Art in Embassies program. They don’t pay you for it; it’s just considered an honor and does look good on the resume. They keep it for a year, or sometimes two, and this has happened to me. Then the work is ineligible for many competitions and juried shows where they specify that all submitted work be done in the previous two years. It’s hard enough being an artist without having some of your best work disqualified because it’s been in a foreign embassy for a period arbitrarily deemed “too long.”

  48. Beautiful panting in the header! Who did it? (I’m probably just missing the credit somewhere.)

    Dating work on the back is one less thing to work into the front. It should be disclosed. That can be on your site, in conversation, and/or in your copyright notice or sales agreement. If a date is off-puttIng, better to lose the sale in the first place than have someone feel deceived.

    If artists cull or repurpose work that just doesn’t have enough going for it, remaining older work is more like a treasure than trash. If I like living with it, it’s a keeper until it sells. A good piece doesn’t expire. I’ve sold older work, and my buyers don’t seem put off by it. I’ve also bought older work of other artists. The date isn’t relevant to everyone.

  49. As a former Gallery Director (30 years ago), we followed museum guidelines and encouraged Artists to date their work. And then we worked like crazy to sell every piece (usually work done within the last 2-3 years) in an exhibit of that Artist; and usually did so within six months to a year.

    I found that that were 2 basic types of buyers: One that wanted the “latest and greatest and dated” and the other who bought work on the basis of their response to the work (dates didn’t matter).

    As a working artist for the past 25 years, I usually date my work when it goes “public”, i.e., framed for a show, which is usually within a year or two of completion. However, if I reworked a painting or piece several years after completion, then I re-date or update them, i.e., “2014–2016”.

    I have also found that if I am exhibiting an older piece that is dated, and someone asks about the date, I respond that it’s been in my personal “Artist’s Collection”. That seems to help make it more desirable to the purchaser.

  50. Hello all.
    I use the Artsala inventory/website program and have for many years now. I too ran into the issue of dating work. In my experience the general public doesn’t care about the date issue, but the galleries do for many of the reasons stated above.

    I do sign my work on front with just my name, on the back I sign with a copyright symbol next to my name, then artwork title and medium. Then off in a corner away from the signature I add an inventory numbering system such as 192034. The first digits are the year it was created– the Artsala inventory system makes this simple as it allows for prefixes in the numbering system. This way it is not obvious what year it is and I can quickly identify my artwork by the number or title as needed. I began this system in approx 2007 or so. –Good luck to all as you figure out your options.

  51. If you are already well established and selling in auctions maybe you should worry about such a thing. I really do not understand what artists could possibly be hiding. It is not like we live more than a hundred years and if I made the piece, what could possibly make any difference for me to say I did it a decade before or after. I really do not get what those museum curators refer to with that comment as they never ever explain.

    I mean that person is giving advise in case you become really well known as an artist and get to ever have exhibitions in museums but how many artist really get to do that? not many, neither artists care for that because what artist want is to be in galleries. Museums are there to show relevant work that has made a mark in history and it has a huge impact in society. Most famous artists do not care to get there because what makes money is to be in a gallery not in a museum. Many artists put their work in museums and make no money at all, not everyone can have both worlds like Damien Hirst. For artists is way more important to make a living and to sell a lot at the beginning of their career otherwise you won’t ever get to a place when anyone cares when you did or painted any of your work. I think dates matter just for a record in an inventory but to sell is irrelevant unless you are famous.

  52. I think it is sad that buyers would let themselves be influenced by the age of a painting or how long it has been on the market. The sole criteria for buying an artwork should be, do YOU like it a lot? However, as the world is full of “shoulds,” I’m going to stop putting the date on my pieces.

  53. ~ Dating my work with signature is a way to see the changes in the creative process through out the years. I have many drawings in my personal collection of work and may have never offered them for sale. I find if offering the work that’s dated it’s not in my control if they choose or do not choose to buy the canvas or drawing. I don’t think fine art work needs to be judged that way! . . .

  54. I don’t think one needs to date their work. On the other hand I sort of date mine on my C.O.A. By that I mean I include the year of the painting and what number the painting was for that year. It works for me.Then again I am new to this business and as everyone else, still learning.

  55. You should date your work! If your work lingers in a gallery for 7 years, take it back and do something to it. Keep it, or recycle it into new work. That simple. No need to treat dating an artwork with fears. Be confident.

    All the lady in the article did was voicing a concern as to why the art is sitting in the gallery for too long. She didn’t say she won’t buy art that is old. She was just wondering if it’s defect somewhere and couldn’t be sold. In this case, the dealer need to tell her the reason to ease her worries.

    The date may not be important to you now, but it’s important to viewers years later. A note card beside a painting is not the same as a name and date on the art. An artist needs to think and care for your collectors. They’re the keepers of your works!

  56. I DO date my work, back AND front. Sure, I’m trying to sell as much as the next artist, but I can’t bring myself to encourage seeing art merely as commodity. I don’t presume that my work will matter so much to curators in the future after I’ve left this world, but I’ve always been on the side of better safe than sorry.

    At any rate, if the date is going to convince someone not to buy, then frankly I’m ok with them not buying. I can’t believe that someone displaying my work in their home is spending all of their time looking at the tiny date subtly added to a corner of the work. When discussing the merits of a piece, when writing up reviews, when judging it against the body of an artist’s work and the progression of their aesthetic, when discussing the life of the artist and their message, etc…is anyone really talking about the date it was created so much more than the image itself?? FOCUS, people.

  57. I think you are bang on! As a professional artist, I have a full inventory list with dates of my paintings if the need ever arises. You are totally correct in stating that sometimes a piece has to be part of many shows or rotate thru different galleries before it finds the perfect buyer. Thank you for your insight.

  58. I actually see the point of both sides, but as a rule I date my work. The exception is if I am working on a painting(s) I know will first be seen in a gallery as opposed to an art show. I take careful photographs of every painting I do and catalog the date with the photos. If a painting comes back, I can always add the date to the back of the painting at that time. I never date the front of a painting.

  59. I agree that it is not necessary to date your work except for your own personal reasons and history. It seems, many people think of an older painting as undesirable. I personally spent five years painting and perfecting my style and subject matter before I chose to start selling my work. I wanted to have a body of work before I created a website or approached galleries, only to discover that most shows and galleries only want work that was created in the last three years. That somehow a painting that was created five years ago was not as good. That doesn’t make sense. I don’t think people realize that it takes time for a painting to be marketable, after it dries, it is then varnished, photographed and finally framed. Sometimes it is year later that a painting is finally ready for shows or a gallery – which date is important, the day I started the painting or day it was ready to sell? My art does not have a sell by date. if it is good one year I hope it is good for all eternity.

  60. I think we can all agree that some art can be influenced by culture, so what may have looked “fresh” in 1995, may now look dated. As classic beauty is ever fresh, we can only strive for our art to be such. However, if we look at some wildly famous artists through history, we can see they were not popular at all in their lifetimes, and didn’t sell, like VanGogh. So I guess the answer is a personal one.

  61. I agree, no date. Maybe on back. I have recently removed dates from my digital samples for exactly the reasons you mentioned: the struggle to make a living, from the artists standpoint. For the museum of course the curator always wants a date on it for cataloging it, to fit their historical perspective, but they to keep the art, not sell it! If you are famous or are rich already from selling your art, it may not matter of course, go ahead and date it on front. Make sure you sign your name on it though in any case, sometimes a client doesn’t want my name on front to confuse a portrait (people actually ask if that is the person in the portrait!) so sign on the back. If the the museum or gallery wants to authenticate your piece the info will be available on the back.

  62. I have read many of the comments and they do all represent valid concerns. I would go back to the explanation of truth regarding what might happen (time) before a piece is even presented as well then the various forms of shows it might travel. To me it is educating the consumer, there is a real story there that represents the facts of how “our times” work.

    Progress by date can’t be assumed. An Artist could be starting with a new technique, etc.

    We seem to have a lot of conceptions and misconceptions related to age….

  63. I have shown several paintings at my open studio over the years and they will not sell. I will wonder whether I should show the painting the third or fourth year on.

    But sometimes I decide to go ahead, and suddenly two or more people will be interested in the same painting, and it will sell.

    So you are correct about the work finding its right owner regardless of its date.

    I keep a work list and a finish list, both dated; I used to date paintings on the back but I don’t bother any more. I date sketches for my own interest.

    Museums, of course, are interested in art history, so they have a different viewpoint.

  64. An artist should only put a date on their work if they are established and constantly producing quality work. If they are not producing quality work they should hide the date and the painting. If anyone is afraid to buy a painting because “It’s been on the market for over five years and no one has bought it?” and they can’t tell “What’s wrong with it?”, then they should’t be buying art. Perhaps that is one of the things that separates a true artist from the rest, the ability to not be ashamed of who they are and where they’ve been, and have that be accepted by others. Art is a beautiful recording of life materialized. If it is art no one will be looking at the date except historians and charlatans. Rant over.

  65. Another problem with dating a painting is,,, This unfairly stops the artist from being able to enter their painting into
    a show that has “Rules” that the art is to be no more than a couple of years old. Luke Buck

  66. I do not date anything anymore. I sometimes have a piece that I enter in competitions but need to NFS the piece in the first exhibit so as to honor the commitment to the second exhibit (if accepted). Translation – dead time and aging. Being accepted to some of these exhibits alone can add to the perception of value (to some) and should it receive an award the value is enhanced more. Why would I want to do something that works against the positives?

  67. I title, sign and date the back of my paintings. Collectors usually don’t see the back until they’ve purchased the work and have gotten it home. I’ve never had a painting returned even though it may have been dated a few years prior to sale.

  68. Thank you Jason and also all of the above commentators. I don’t think a date is relevant because sometimes a piece is alla prima or plein aire but frequently , for me , it is a ” lets consider this again with renewed energy piece”. How about if i intensify this color/ shape, make it larger, change the center of interest.? Times change , points of view change,sometimes over years , one looks at it with new interest and knowledge of what is needed. Then what is the date? conception of the art journey? Completion of the piece?

    I keep my personal file. but don’t record it on the piece. I also wonder about the efficacy of competitions requiring work submitted to be only 2 or 3 years old.

  69. I date the paintings that are my very best and, often, those have plaques on them. These paintings will either stay in the family or go to dear friends. Otherwise, I don’t date my paintings, since, as you say, they may go from show to show or gallery to gallery and I don’t want them to seem old!
    It’s an interesting discussion!

  70. I don’t paint to convenience museum curators, I paint to eat. I sometimes date on the back, and you could argue that the day it sells is the completion date because up to that point it’s still available to the artist for final touches

  71. 😊 love the debate. Had a giggle at “artist need to be organized “ dating each peice for me depends on what hopes and intentions I have for it. Ex. For family and friends yesdate . For making a name and money I would use dates.If you are a subliminal artist most times don’t use dates , just saying🌟🎼

  72. This issue certainly stirred conversation. I frequently date my work…I like to look at it and see what I was doing at that time, how I have changed or not. I sometimes also use the Copyright symbol, and sometimes I don’t date the work.

    So for me it’s personal…I can walk by an old piece and think…so that’s where I was at. I know I could write on the back which I also do, but something about being able to view the work and the date at the same time works for me. I dosen’t seem to affect my sales.

  73. I did not sign my work for decades, thinking along the lines of Jason’s reasoning. However, in time this became a detriment as my work improved greatly. I changed mediums several times, became more interested in lighting etc.. Many people not familiar with my work and seeing only pieces I had done a long time ago were not aware that it was very early work which left a false impression of my art overall and certainly in its maturation. If the date had been on it perhaps they would have been interested in searching out how the artist has developed. But to be honest, I have also observed the issue of a client wanting only recent work. After weighing the pros and cons I began to date my work, placing it just after my name and very small. In 2000 I decided to take it one step further and put the date in Roman numerals. Most people won’t decipher it, but it is there when needed. I just completed my 1,248th painting (since 1974) so identification including the year of completion has become more important as time passes. I assign each painting an identification number that codes the year, month, and sequential number, title, etc. and keep this information in a note book. It is also written on the back of the painting itself.

  74. I think dating a painting is immaterial and cause unnecessary issues as mentioned. I have put paintings on the market that my wife and I loved and had in our own home (hard to let go). We decided to rotate paintings or add the paintings of other artists as collectors. Some people used to question dates as being a negative even though they loved painting, which I feel defies logic. Certainly copyright law does not require it.

    I am not a big fan of museum personnel; some of whom could not be more disconnected from collectors and working artists. Some (not all by any means) take the easy route, relying on friendships on old reliables rather than working to makes shows fresh. All one has to do is look at the way Wyeth and Rockwell (American treasures) were viewed by “Experts” as a prime example. There are many ways to view this evolving fine art market.

  75. I have read all the comments and can see both sides of the issue; however, I agree with Jason. The prejudice of the buyer can be avoided by simply leaving off the date on the front and applying it to the back if desired in whatever form makes the artist comfortable. My question is how does one (females) account for changes in name throughout life? I have had four signatures: my maiden name, first marriage (divorce), remarried then death of the spouse and now my current last name since I have remarried? My work has transitioned through all of these names. How am I supposed to validate previous signatures to my current name? Thanks to anyone who has an answer to this question.

  76. For the reason that you state I don’t put a date on a painting.

    I don’t even keep a catalog of my work, other than a loose collection filed in my computer.

    I’ll let future generations have fun figuring out what and when I did something. That is if anything that I’ve done has value.

    I just paint them. Hopefully sell them and move on

  77. I agree somewhat on the dating debate. I can see where maybe having a date on the front might discourage some from purchasing it, as well as maybe some galleries not wanting it. As an artist just getting back to my work in the last year, I always put the year under my signature, on the front, when it’s a commissioned piece, always! I also keep a journal of my artwork, description, price sold for, to whom, & when, for my own records. If I were creating random art to sell publically or to sell in a gallery, I’d probably just sign the front, maybe put the year on the back? I don’t see a major issue with dating.

  78. I fully agree. A date on a painting can be a killer. People should always buy art that they like, BUT some people are afraid that their lack of knowledge of art can make them look like they don’t know good art.
    A date makes them think NO ONE liked the piece well enough to buy it or at the worst that it is considered NOT good art. We all know that all art will find a home and all creations will eventually be desired by someone. Don’t kill the sale by dating it.

  79. When I was in art school, years ago, we were taught to put the signature , date and the little c in a circle to copyright our work. If you never date anything and someone steals your image, you won’t be able to prove when you did the piece if it isn’t dated.

  80. to date or not to date, that is the question.
    i sold an acrylic painting in 2010 that i painted in 1970. it was joyfully purchased for a husband’s birthday. apparently, the fun i had painting it held up after so many years. dates are important for the catalogue raissone of an accomplished deceased artist(?) and for an appraiser to determine present day market value. that being said, i don’t date on the front, just the back with the title and my signature. copyrite concerns me more.

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