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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112 Comments

  1. Clearly, if one *only* cares about the sales and marketing, your way is right. Personally, I think there is a trajectory and legacy to think about as well, and I prefer the museum director’s way.

    1. I have been a professional artist for 40 years. All my artwork has been dated since the beginning. When I have a major exhibit several of the early pieces from clients are used within the framework of the show. Collectors love to see the pieces and development of my art. I totally agree with the museum director.

    2. I agree with you Diana. I will also make my own comment however I read your response and it is so in line with my inkling to write a comment (see what I did there- with the words ‘write’ and ‘inkling’ ?) Now I have to work on phrasing my comment so it doesn’t look like I ‘stole’ your comment. Heehee

    3. I am surprised at this thread recommending NOT dating art. No mention of copyright protection. What about @?
      I definitely do date each of my paintings… on the back. (Signature on front.)
      Not the full day/date/year. I keep a journal/notebook for that purpose where I also track hours, tasks, total hours, date finished and a code# for each piece.
      On the back, I sign as follows… © David Friedman 2017
      It is important to me personally (and, I believe, to most buyers) to know the year of creation, how relatively “current” is this?, where does it fit in to an artists creative path and evolution, etc).
      I am not concerned about potential collectors/buyers feeling that a work is “less than” if it was not painted yesterday. For me, if the art is good and appealing, it is, more or less, timeless (whether it is dated or not).

  2. I include a code on the back of each piece that indicates month, year, and order in the month–
    “J/17/3” would be January, 2017, 3rd painting that month.
    Nothing on the front at all.

  3. I like the inventory number idea, and have started doing that myself. One issue that arises with dating is when the artist “revisits” a painting to improve it, if it has not sold. We are always learning and perhaps seeing something that can be fixed. If a painting is significantly improved, then does one update the date on the back to make it current? How awkward would that be? An inventory number solves that dilemma. It’s also true that internet sales are less affected by dating the work. I have yet to have anyone ask me when a painting was created when they chose to purchase it off my site.

    1. I totally agree with Karen’s logic. I record the date and any other info, i.e. date varnished or other media notes in my inventory records so that data is readily available if requested.

  4. Jason,
    Nope. No date.
    I have experienced the same negative issues that you relate. Also, my work evolves (improves, I hope) and older pieces are not the same vision and expertise that I now enjoy. Potential buyers do not need to know or deal with any of that. If they like a piece, I tell them all about it–leaving out what I just explained.

  5. I agree. However I date my work on the back along with other pertinent information like location painted, medium, and finish. My date is simple – for example today’s date is 5217. If I finish more than one painting on a given date I add a, b, c, etc.

  6. Thank you Jason for being the voice of reason. I agree with your position on not dating artwork for the very reasons you described in your response. I keep accurate records of my work, including the creation date, so there is nothing to hide. But as you stated, it is often difficult to find the right buyer for a particular piece…which sometimes takes longer than anticipated.

  7. I do not include a date on my work any more due to this advice from you years ago. I am in a new show with older pieces and I fully agree with ‘they haven’t had the right venue’ yet. They are some of my best creations and whether they are 1-4 years old, I still feel they are strong pieces, and still very relatable to me and my fans.

  8. I used to put a date on my work when I painted Indians back in Montana in the late 70’s and 80’s. I had kept several when I moved to Arizona. Now I’m almost embarrassed when I show the work from back then because it’s dated so long ago that people wonder why it hadn’t sold. Do they believe me when I tell them I chose to keep these paintings? I don’t know.

  9. Jason, I know your point. From marketing is really relevant. This makes me wonder if I should not have dares on the galleries on my website and organize the work in a different manner Thanks

  10. I have a good friend that uses a different screen print of his children on the back of his work to “date” the work. That way, he and those closest to him know the date of the work without causing any issues as to the age of the work itself. Genius in my opinion.

  11. I also use a code that includes the year, number of piece made during the year, and image format. 17-13-L indicates it was the 13th piece made in 2017; L reminds me the piece is a landscape. Buyers see this inventory code on my pieces — no one has ever asked me what it means beyond my telling them I use it for inventory purposes. However, the year each piece is made is included image lists I submit for gallery or exhibit applications, along with title, dimensions, description, and price.

  12. I dated my paintings for 30 years (but never slept with them on the first date…)
    I no longer overtly date the art
    a) because I read this advice from you and others
    b) because as I approach my 60th birthday I don’t need any further indications of the passage of time other than I already get from looking in the mirror…

    Love your work, Jason!

  13. I have been putting a date (just the year) on the back of my paintings. I was assuming that it wasn’t a problem because by the time people saw the back they’d have already liked it enough to either have bought it or be about to buy. Would they really want a refund if it turned out to be not quite as new as they thought? When my paintings haven’t sold in several years, I’ll probably either recycle them or put them in a discount bin in my studio anyway.
    But the person who mentioned reworking the painting has a good point, and writing the date just as a code number could work too.

  14. John Alcantara
    As a past instructor I would often ask students to date their work for reference on progress. But your number systems makes SENCE past the point of being a student.
    The information in a separate piece of paper along with location and date can also help the selling market, I have found potential buyers love the story behind the image. Thanks.

  15. I’d like to not bother with dating (especially when I leave a painting unsigned because I intend to “tweak” it and then later decide not to), but the unfortunate fact is that the only way I can get my art out where people know I even exist is through competitions, the vast majority of which insist on indelible proof that a work is “current.”

    1. Oh- that leads me to another question I’ve had. Do you date a piece ( for your records or on it, whichever) according to when you finished working on it or when you have lived with it and decide it is indeed finished? I have done the former but wonder.

  16. I do not include the date on the front of the work, but always declare it on the back of the painting underneath the title and my signature. How many shows have I entered that asks for a piece done “within the last two years?” Almost all of them. If my painting is still relevant to me, and in my present skill level, I enter it anyway.

  17. I understand the museum director’s desire to have access to accurate data about a painting, but D. R. appears to be fooling himself, if he thinks a painted date is reliable. Everything that the artist paints on the canvas can fall anywhere on the continuum from fantasy to reality. There are plenty of historical masterworks which show a different date and/or artist’s name, from what we currently believe to be true. For many reasons, including caprice, artists throughout history have put false names and dates on their paintings. Painting a date does little to help the hypothetical future museum director, and can be significant in hurting the artist’s current sales. I agree with Jason, that using an inventory number is wise. I encode a little more data in my numbers, which has a side benefit of making the date a little less obvious than some of the systems mentioned by others in this thread.

  18. The last time I went to a museum was in Banff to view some prints of Canadian Artist WJ Phillips. I can understand why a museum director would be very much interested in the date of all works in a museum. But correct me if I am wrong, but are most works in museums from Artists that are no long living?
    I also prefer the cataloguing method as well, no date on the front of the Art is best.

  19. If I am doing a commission or portrait I always put a date on the piece, on other genre I find it unnecessary. I would always be willing to add a date if someone wanted one. I stopped priming my own canvas years ago so it is easy to tell my older work, also my signature is now in script. If I got into a gallery where the owner wanted me to sign and date my work, if they sold my work I would have no problem adding dates.

  20. Definitely no date. Living artists need to sell. Any impediment to the sale is to be addressed and so it is for me to leave out the date. Besides this will keep the historians occupied to figure it out when we depart this earth in our time. I read the historian part someplace many years ago.

  21. No date. Keep it documented on the side in your record keeping. van Gogh didn’t date his work and how many years did it take before he sold his first painting?

  22. I vehemently disagree with the vehemently disagreeing museum director! I would suppose that he/she must object as well to very famous artists from art history’s past not having dates adorning their canvases in order to satisfy curious individuals. If a painting is a good painting, it should not matter one twit as to the date when it was painted.
    To think that a prospective buyer would even question that a piece showing an old date might have been, or is, hard to sell, or suggest that, “… the artist must be trying to hide something” seems to me absurd…it is not, after all, a used car!

  23. In photography, there are different viewpoints as well. Many prints (darkroom or other) are worth more if they were made close to the time of original exposure. BUT, many photographers get to be better printers (or post-processors) as they learn. Even Ansel Adams (aka St. Ansel in many quarters) made different versions of some images later in his career. The later ones are more dramatic, yet some of the earlier ones are supposedly worth more because they were made soon after he took the photo.
    Personally, I don’t date mine. I mostly shoot film so there’s no EXIF data to date the photo, either. I don’t always know until the print has dried and I’ve looked at it a bit that it’s the way I want it. I also sometimes go back and do other processes like hand coloring or Mordançage on a print that was made years before. So how would I pick the date? Many exhibitions require entries to have been done within the last three years, which I can’t stand – I’d prefer that they simply ask for works which have not been entered in that exhibition before.
    I love the idea of using a hidden image with meaning to the artist alone – thank you Amelia!

  24. I am a photographer, and love the idea of no date. Sometimes, I it takes a while to do special art to them. Sometimes years as I have thousands of images to work from.
    The only dated information would be the time period look of the image itself.
    Many of my works were not taken due to the dates.

  25. I will date commissions (that is, work that is sold before I create it) on the front, but otherwise, no date on the front. A year is listed on my little info label on the back of the piece.

    Unlike milk, artwork doesn’t expire and so does not need a date, for all of the excellent reasons Jason listed…and I’ve seen gallery owners become irate when they receive work they perceive as ‘old’ because of the date, even though the work is beautiful and might be a perfect fit for a client of theirs.

  26. Jason’s points are exactly what I’ve experienced on numerous occasions – dates are more a hindrance to sales than not (“if it’s older, maybe it’s not good/not desirable”). Also, I sometimes start on a series that is unique, I get momentarily bored with it, get back to it maybe 6 – 18 months later. Having dates spread out over several years for similar works doesn’t make sense when you are met with “well why didn’t THIS one sell?” I do photograph my work, keep it in files by date, and I put the year on the back in pencil. I get fewer negative questions/reactions without dates and I am always open about when/where/what inspired a particular piece when asked.

  27. I used to sign and date my paintings on the back in paint. When I repurposed a large canvas and had to paint over the back part where I dated it, I decided I should find a better system. Now I date the work in pencil on the back. It’s very easy to erase should I feel the need to do so in the future.

  28. I date my work. I actually love seeing the passage of time…now 50+ years of painting. I have had many series and “periods” and enjoy referencing them by date and discussion. Many people overtly request work from specific periods. I am always ready to educate my collectors that work with early dates is often preferred work that has remained in my own collection and that finding the right home for a specific piece has nothing to do with excellence or lack there of. Frankly, I never thought of inventorying as some of your readers have described, which is also a good idea. However, that being said, I also have no problem with my dates and name being up front. I am proud of my longevity….and its not like a jar of olive oil that goes bad on the shelf when “outdated!”

  29. I agree with the “in your face” dating procedure for all the reasons Jason brought forth in his email reply.
    I do a secret inventory code on the back of each of my paintings. Altho, anyone could figure it out easily! I always joke that in the future when a painting of mine is on the Antiques Roadshow (after I’m long gone, I hope!!). That the folks will be able to know right away it was done by me in a long ago century!!😉

  30. I agree with you, Jason. I have dated works in the past, but it isn’t my current practice. Would the museum director have us put a “use by” date on our work? I’m not doing political or pop culture work that might become dated. I’m not responding to the whims of the market place nor the latest critics’ theories bout what art “should” be, nor the academics’ concerns about how to pigeonhole my work. The creation date is pretty much irrelevant unless some copy write issue arises.

  31. I also do not date the front of the pain’t in but on the back I write the title and inventory number for instance “shoreline study 02317” means it is the 23rd painting I have created in 2017. Then sign my name, add the copyright c sign and the year.

  32. Hello, As a member of the Copyright Alliance I want to point out that theft of an image or important aspects of an image creation, without documentation of original creation date can become a problem. I’m simply explaining that there are reasons to register a date of record which will protect your rights. You would need to contact an attorney (and there are many who specialize in intellectual property) to see about whether you perhaps could attempt to protect your work with a copyright date of filing which demonstrates your ownership of the creation, then listing on the painting or other piece of original artwork, the actual date of making it public, ie no one sees it prior except the filing office, it is not made public by you until up for sale or publication. While I have registered copyright registration, I don’t know if it’s published in a federal publication by the Library of Congress with photo, nor do I know if you can list the date of first showing the art creation after copyright as I’m not an attorney. However, Jason, you might seek an answer from an expert to enlighten all of us. A photo of a family is a nice idea, however, it doesn’t help in proving original creation dates. Also, if a gallery offers opportunities to photograph artwork it opens up the possibility of having the work used as a basis for another artist’s creation. Technically, galleries need to protect exhibiting artists by methods such as not allowing any photos as do most museum shows. In this day and age it is simple to take a high res (my raw Canon 5D will make billboard size reproductions) photo ostensibly to take it home to see how it works, and in fact might just print it and hang it at home. On all of my work, painting, sculpture, photography etc. there is a notice on the work that it is owned by artist, and without the artist’s written permission the artwork cannot be reproduced, cannot be used as the basis of another work by another artist etc. If original paintings are being sold by me (or a gallery) then the buyer signs an agreement at the time of purchase protecting all or specific artist’s rights. For example,stating something like: “You understand you are purchasing the original work of art to own it and exhibit it. You are not purchasing rights to reproduce” etc. as I noted earlier in this post.
    On the subject of dates, it’s foolish to worry and explain that most artists are working, hard and fast at creation, and don’t always put them out for sale immediately as they may want to exhibit in a show prior to sale, create a limited edition or open edition of a print of an original, and not sell the original, or simply aren’t ready to give it up. We need to help buyers to understand some of the most important work in the world was created in caves, and often centuries ago. Help buyers to understand and be an educated collector. Thanks!

    1. In art school, we were taught galleries want to show art done in the last 2 years. Generally, all galleries break almost every “rule” I was taught about them, but I keep it in mind when sending off my submissions.
      We were also taught that writing on the back, “@Rebecca Woodhouse 2017” would protect us in copyright disputes. Pretend that is a c and not an a in the circle. Later, I was told we don’t need the copyright sign, and name and date is enough. Still I’ve wondered if any of it is enough.
      And so I ask you….

  33. If I date something it is usually sketches of my jewelry designs and I date them for copyright purposes and for my records in my sketchbook. I see no problem with dating any kind of artwork and I would consider anyone concerned about the creation date to be rather shallow and focused on irrelevant minutiae unless they were inquiring about the piece or the artists’ history. All to do about nothing!

  34. Unfortunately Jason is right. Was at an opening with a friend who commented negatively on a painting that was dated several years earlier. He is a collector of my paintings, yet I began to wonder…. Now I either include the date on the back of the canvas or pretty much obscured on the front. Food for thought: the Impressionists dated their paintings on the front of the canvas. When I look at photos of these works I am very glad that the artists made this information apparent.

  35. Jason (and all the folks who chimed in) ~ this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this discussion and I’ll guess it won’t be the last. I find both sides of the argument fascinating. While I’m not yet showing in galleries, I am continuing my quest of having enough pieces to approach those that I think may suit my style. As I continue my process, I still find myself vascillating: do I or don’t I date the piece? What I’ve been doing (lately) is putting a date, along with my working title on the back of the piece. For now, those notations are in pencil. The stubborn imp in me thinks it should NOT matter how “old” a piece is. If the client likes the piece, who cares? On the flip side, since YOU (Jason) are the person who does the “selling”, I have to believe that your reasons for dissuading artists from dating their work are valid. I suppose code is the way to go. I also like the idea of writing a “note” on a separate piece of paper, to stick on the back of the piece, containing not only the date but also the story behind the work. Still, though, this is a fascinating discussion and I do so enjoy the commentary from other artists. Such a wonderful community here. Thanks, again, to ALL of you for sharing your own opinions/experiences. They are most helpful to someone like me. Cheers!

  36. I never date my work, though certainly see the value of an inventory system that can protect originality of art. I maintain one myself, as well as, using copyright protection . Art has lasting value , yet some galleries and curators penalize the artist by placing a time frame on the age of work they will consider exhibiting saying they only want
    ” new work”. So it seems marketing influences all areas of the art world.

  37. Hi Jason;

    I fully agree with you and never put a date on the front of a piece. That being said, all of my work is catalogued and the month and year painted are within my catalog number if someone really wants to know. That catalog number is on the back of the painting with the name of the piece, the inspiration that led me to paint it and then a few paragraphs about me as an artist. Each paper is signed. I have never had an issue with this method.
    Paul

  38. Of course everyone noted the impassioned (vehemently ) attitude of the Museum director. And a lot of the comments here have pointed it out. WORK DONE IN THE LAST 2-3 YEARS! It’s insane. What does a date have to do with anything? Two works that I’ve had interest in in the last few years were ones I did in the seventy’s – in collage! I will not date anything. When I submit to a competition I’ll tell them on the application what they want to here – and submit what I think is best. OK, so they made a liar out of me. Power to the artist (a little vehemence here)!

  39. I do fine art nature photography. I generally agree with your logic and do not place a date on my prints. However I provide a certificate of authenticity to buyers that includes the date on which the photo was taken, not when the print was made.

    Given the ever changing natural world, I feel providing the date the pic was taken provides important context. Especially true several years from now.

  40. In the beginning I would date my paintings on the front, after a few years I dated them on the back. Now I don’t date them at all – I just keep accurate detailed records on a spreadsheet. This way when a piece sells, I have all the information I need to fill out the Certificate of Authenticity…and yes, I include the date on that document. I made this decision as per your advice, Jason and it really makes sense to me. When I look at those older paintings with the date plastered on the front, I am regretful.

  41. I date all my paintings on the back of each piece. As I am also a lecturer and somewhat of an expert on the works of the Art Deco artist, Erte, it is extrememly frustrating to catalogue his work as he rarely dated his paintings. He started to number his works about 1915 until he died in 1990. So he went from #1 up to over #20,000. One almost has to be a cross between a detective and an investigative journalist to know when he did anything. Sop I say, “YES!!!” to dating your work. It will help future generations with the understanding and knowledge of your life as well as your work.

  42. No date…ever…on any art. Yes, marketing is important to anyone for whom it is necessary to make a living as an artist. Here’s a little message I recently got when I prayed to the Goddess to give me a lesson in career success. I said,
    “Goddess, I am working so hard, wanting to help myself and other artists succeed, hoping to make a mark on the art world itself with my cutting-edge, innovative work. Give me some insight, please. I need to know how to proceed from here (after doing 5,000 works of art in the past five years, now ready to leave my ivory tower of online “acclaim” and get into the “real” world of showing my art to “real” people). Here was Her advice, and believe me, it was as much a shock to me as it probably will be to you: “All that other stuff is about ego,” She said. “Just go for the money, CutZy. That will keep you centered and, yes, “real.” Hah! You have no idea how that advice from on high has helped me. And leaving out the dates of my past work is one of those “musts” that says: “My work is always relevant.” If you can say that about your work, objectively, then that is the only art you should be showing anyway. I keep evolving, getting better, more technically savvy, but I also have the confidence to know which of my works is viable, which is “dated” and which is universally, always going to be timeless. Confidence is key for any career person. It’s not about “honesty.” It’s about putting your best foot forward, always. And I don’t want people knowing how old I am. That’s my prerogative. (Ain’t I a woman?) CutZy McCall

  43. I agree Jason No Dates ! Art should never have an expiration date. It also doesn’t need a “Use By” date or a “Sell By” date. I never could understand why juried competitions accept work completed in the last two years. It should be up to the artist what they deem to be the best work to possibly win in a competition the date should be irrelevant

  44. I must say that I am shocked that a painting didn’t sell only because the potential purchaser perceived it as “old.” Note that I didn’t say collector, but purchaser! So I will continue to ask artists to notate the back of their painting with their name, painting title, date completed, location (if relevant). An inventory number is fine, as long as the artist replies to my inquiry to translate the number to a date.

  45. Thanks for speaking up, Jason! Many, many artist deal with life getting in the way of steady output. Although there are art centers that may have an annual “members’ show” with one piece a year, some artists may work for years before getting a solo or even a group show. Yet the expectation is that all of the work in these shows should be recent. Just not possible sometimes.

  46. I put the year on the front, and on the back. If I rework a piece, I redo the date on the front, and amend the date on the back. I also include dates with a provenance. If I have an event from my studio, I often have an older pieces sell. Working as a docent at our state museum, it is important to understand and appreciate when works were done. As an art buyer, I am suspicious of an artist who does not put the date on their work, and that may prejudice me against purchasing the work.

    1. There are 50 artists in the gallery our non-profit runs. I had to look – not one piece is dated.

  47. I totally agree with your statement about not dating an artwork. I have found the same negative reaction to an older date on a painting and I have stopped doing it. Some buyers react in a negative way as if an old art work is something bad . . . I have found that without a date people love an art work and buy it without worrying that there must be something wrong with it because it never sold. Often it didn’t sell just because it wasn’t shown enough or exposed to the right audience . . .not because there is something wrong with it. Only a few of us are fortunate to become important enough that a curator cares about the date. the rest of us just want to make a living with our art.

  48. I agree with most, no dates. Especially with the part about circumstances under which the piece was shown it could have been a case of bad timing or not the right collector looking. Can’t tell you how many times a piece that I didn’t like and didn’t sell suddenly out of the blue sells just when I am thinking about painting over it or taking it apart and redoing it…..crazy.

  49. As a collector, one who always insures works above a specific size or price point, a date, typically just the year, is an insurance requirement. But I too have thought twice about purchasing a work I have thought of as “early” work by an artist whose style may have evolved and changed. So I no longer ask upfront but I expect to be provided the information with my receipt.

  50. I really never gave it a thought. I have just recently decided to start selling my pieces and have quite an inventoty with dated pieces going back more than five years. I can see where this may become a problem and thank you for your insight.

  51. I inventory my work on the back (including date) for copyright protection, but more so to catalog my work over the length of a career. There are more reasons besides sales to have a well documented body of work.
    Curators often dispute the authenticity of some pieces credited to students when in fact, the master painted the piece, and visa versa. Accurate record keeping is a blessing to an estate.
    I have just one piece dated on the front; a Pueblo Indian I will never sell …
    If a patron objects to a date your only argument is the effort to prevent copyright infringement … remind them some of the greats dated their works. Monet didn’t date all his 250 Water Lilies but I’m sure art historians would have appreciated it if he had. I can see where dates would benefit series paintings.
    *shrug* As long as you keep accurate records it shouldn’t matter except to a buyer, and that is Jason’s point.

  52. I have some thoughts in no particular order.
    To date a work: Date it as an inventory or raison de etre and sign it as the artist in question. The curators, the art public, the scholars will argue over it all within 100 years. Why? because once a primary source is no longer available, all one has is a secondary or tertiary source and those are suspect. Some would argue that the artists themselves are suspect. (I just recently talked with a curator about a very famous and controversial artist about just this point. The battle was raging over just which painting came first. It boiled down to a specific kind of paint and when that paint was used. The argue STILL was unresolved even when the use of the paint at which time was known and documented. So- how important really is the presence or absence of a date.

    If there is a masterpiece, it tends to stand by itself and stand as a milestone. Dating adds not a whit to its stature unless to support a claim to genius. What does this have to do with the immediacy of sales.

    Having seen a fair shared of “curated” exhibitions, not all of them comprehensible nor careful, I wonder at how some works actually gain the stature they do.

    Having curated a couple of invitational shows, while dating was a requirement, it seemed not to matter as the theme and the juxtaposition of images was paramount. Even when the date was included, viewers tended not to care too much. They were after a responsive presence in the image.

    As astudent of and an instructor in art history, the dates of masterpieces seemed only to fix an image in a time. That did not always serve the work or the discussion of it, advantageously. There are at least 5 other contexts for any given art work and the easiest to test is date. It turns out that date is the least enlightening. And this is also true of less than historical work. The breakthroughs artists have occur under cicumstances that by and large are external to time frames.

    An inventory with a numbering system and description is more than sufficient for tye artist and the artist record especially with the ability of a digital image to be affixed to the record. As to an acceptable veracity, there is practically no sure guarantee, the current climate of image appropriation being what it is.

    I railed at first, to Jason’s assertions that the date could act as a negative deterrent in the art market. His stories and examples as well as a conversation were enough to prove the marketing point. From the curatorial side- dating is but one of many ways to sort and order an artist’s work. Mondrian should serve as as a good example- his whole work when arranged chronologically serves only to weaken his image making. It is only late that he arrived at his distillations and there is not much evidence chronologically to show the evolution. It may be that there is not much evolution involved.

    My goal as an artist is to produce images that others want. If, by some strange turn of events, my work needs to be curated, My notebooks should help a great deal in the places where I have kept them up.

  53. I started to sign and date my work after it has been sold. As I’m working abstract with building materials sometimes a customer likes a piece the other way round. Then the signature would bev in the top left hand corner which looks rather silly. I find this suits also the buyer as he is sure to choose which way to hang it.

  54. I date most all my work with the year and I can’t really recall anyone basing their purchase on the date of production. The “message” that a painting sends out is independent of its age. I often compare buying art to finding a partner, since the artwork has to make a special and lasting impression on someone. Most of us don’t buy paintings at a whim; buying art is a large investment which is not thrown away, recycled or put in storage after a season. Sometimes it simply takes a while until the right person meets the right piece of art. I have used this analogy on occasion with potential buyers, who then feel honored to be that specific “right” person at the right time.

  55. I always date my work, on the front and alongside my signature. I recently sold a piece from 2012, that the buyer had liked when they first saw it exhibited (in 2012) and had since seen in a number of other exhibition venues (it’s always been a popular piece). The buyer was only to well aware of the paintings age, it did not dissuade them. They were just happy that they had finally reached a point where they could afford the work, and that it was still available.
    There’s nothing wrong with a piece that has not sold after some years (lets face it, Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime), and none of my works have a sell by date on them. If a piece hasn’t gone yet, It’s simply that the right person hasn’t seen it yet, or if they have, they weren’t at a point where they could justify buying it. When that person comes along they may need reassurance about their taste, but surely that will be the case regardless of the age of the piece.
    It is also worth pointing out that many early stage and emerging artists will have a good number of early works in their stock. Inevitable really, as production outstrips sales (even after 5 years I’m only selling 40-50% of my annual output), entirely due to the sale being the means to continue creating, not the end goal.
    Of course, if someone is buying as an investment, age may come into it, offering uncertainty about the investment potential of the piece, but hiding the date isn’t necessarily going to work in such a case anyway. I exhibit quite often, and generally each show will be new work, but I place older works in group shows and small shows in cafes and pubs. I represent myself, and so I also publicise my work on social media, and through my weblog site. Anybody who is interested in my work can easily find out how old something is, so there’s no point in me hiding the creation date.

  56. I agree with both sides of this argument, and I think that it depends entirely upon the artist’s preference and of course the nature of the work. For example, do you see date stamps on video installations? I haven’t looked closely enough but my guess is not typically. Good office practices will ensure that each artwork is properly inventoried and the date recorded, regardless of medium.

    I am a painter and I like to date my work to remind me of when I created something, but in the last couple of years I switched to putting that on the back, only because I prefer not to have that worked into my composition. The signature is enough for me. Although I do know many artists who don’t sign the front of their paintings. It’s a personal preference at the end of the day, and part of the artist’s story.

  57. I agree with you totally Jason. No dates, front or back.
    Artwork is timeless. A true collector would not be concerned about how old the work is.
    I only date my commissions on the back.
    But then…not all people are knowledgable about what a piece of art should mean, they buy art to match the colors in the trendy magazines.
    I learned not to put dates a long time ago when a client visited my studio and saw a very large portrait of a raven. She fell in love immediately and wanted to buy it…but then she saw it was five years old and said “Do you have a more recent one?”…
    So, since you never know who is going to look at your art, is better to avoid this kind of situation.
    Anyway, I was keeping it for myself and still have it. One of those pieces that you call “a keeper”.
    Fortunately my website keeps records of the year a painting was created and I also keep an inventory record, in case a collector asks. On the plus side 99% of my artwork sells within a year.

  58. I sign and date my work on the front of the canvas but then I paint on commission. The buyer wants the signature and date on the front. The paintings I paint for myself I sign and date on the front so I can see how I have either progressed or digressed at a glance. If someone is concerned with the date then they are not looking at the artwork.

  59. I date my work…. work that does not sell right off is generally either (1) tossed (2) revised and re-dated (3) sanded back and a new painting goes on top or (4) flipped over and a new piece goes on the back. ……
    I like looking at the date and thinking about where I was professional that year. It is important to ME. And … I have had people come to my home and see an old piece that I love and will not discard because I know it is that good… and buy it on the spot. So, I believe I have nothing to hide & the date stays. But… that is just me.
    One more thing on the plus side…. each year my work sells better than the last so…. I am not going to sweat over a long held personal & professional practice.

  60. Dating and signing an art work is still understood as a good common practice in the art world and is often encouraged these days of young artists in art programs and schools throughout the world. But maybe it is mostly an economic issue as it is commonly understood that unsigned and undated works will be less valuable in the future.

    For contemporary artists trying to make a living off the sales of their art maybe Jason is right, dating may not be relevant and also have a somewhat negative impact on marketing. But if we consider the long term after an artist has died then being able to attach a date to a work as well as identify the artist who created it is more than likely to add to future value.

    So in the end maybe the issue for the artist is to consider whether they want to think about the future of their works after they are gone as well as be concerned about the more immediate present and sales to support their current life style.

  61. Hello Jason. Good to see this argument again. After art school my first professional job was as curator at small city museum. I was taught to make extremely accurate accession records for all collections. Date was a crucial element. When I first heard your thoughts on the subject during one of your workshops in Buffalo, I brought the concept home and began to eliminate dates. My studio-mate at the time disagreed with you and we had lively conversations. After a couple of years I returned to my original belief and I date my paintings front and back. My signature on the face my paintings is sometimes very hard to read, so I don’t find it to be a big deal. Dating keeps me honest when entering juried exhibitions that are limited to newer work. I have patrons who tell me they prefer my earlier work and vice versa. This summer I will install a mini-retrospective I have entitled “Decade.” It will show my progression from just the last ten years. Each artist will have to decide this conundrum for themselves. As for me, I am not afraid to defend the quality of my work from any year.

  62. Not having read through all the previous posts, I don’t know which side this debate falls on, but for my part, I didn’t try to market any work I did long ago (before becoming a novelist), and I did date it. NOW, however, when I am marketing the things I’ve been doing the last few years, I tend not to date them, for reasons Jason gave. Thumbs up, Jason. I’m with you on this issue. No date on the works, but good records for my eyes only.

  63. When my work starts getting into museums then I’ll start putting dates on my work. I think it’s important to document your work, because I’ve had galleries ask for dates the work was created and just in case you become famous. Otherwise there’s no reason to put a date on it for the reasons you mentioned.

  64. Very true! My own sister in law keft me speechless and hurt when telling me about buying art from one of her friends. She said, I just bought art from so and so. I said great! She told me a price, and I said, That’s not very much for that size. The canvas can cost at keast half that much on sale! She said, yeah, but I was helping her out. But I found out she painted it a couple of years ago. If I’d known that, I’d not have paid for it because she already took the loss.

    Seriously, I didn’t know what to say. I think I muttered something about at keast you helped her out. Proof positive that people don’t want to pay for “older” paintings.

  65. I do not date my work for the same reasons you discussed. Having had a retail shop that included works of art I also found that pieces that were dated received an unwelcome response from buyers. They would like the art but thought that because the date was not current, the work was not as desirable as it appeared to be “old” merchandise. That said, I do date pieces re my inventory numbering system but only on the back of the work.

  66. When I make my various copper sculptures, I may make 4 per year in between 2 separate styles of painting all created over the course of 30 years. I show the similar works together, but the date range can be huge. I also rework older things. In the unlikely event that I become famous, unraveling the sequence could keep a future curator employed for years. You’re welcome!
    I agree with Brian. When museums start buying my work, I’ll date it.

  67. I have been dating and serial-numbering my photographs since 1955. When I began painting a few years ago, I began to date and serial-number them, also.
    Anything I would say pro or con, someone already has written. However, I can add a tip about HOW to date and serial number your work.
    Use this format: YYYY-MMDD-####.
    Example: The 115th picture made on today’s date (May 3) is 2017-0503-0115. (I use 4 digits because on occasion I make more than 1,000 pictures on a single date. Also, many digital cameras assign numbers with 4 digits.)
    Why? Because computers sort best in ascending or descending order. If you use the more commonly used format ( MM/DD/YY ), two bad things happen:
    1) A slash / isn’t acceptable in a computer filename.
    2) 05-03-17 will sort _before_ 12/05/12 … because you’re sorting on the month rather than the year (in the example, 2017 vs. 2012).
    Before I had my first computer (1978) I was using that system with one difference: It was in the film age. In those days, I numbered like this: 1977-0503-B34. Why? 35mm film was pre-numbered from 00 to 37 (usually). I used A, B, C, etc., to indicate which roll I used, numbering images 00 through 37, depending on the number in the film margin.
    For paintings, a similar system: 2017-0503-03 is the third painting I created on this date. One _could_ use a modified system: 2017-0503-OHP03 for Oil onHardboard Panel, 2017-0503-ALC03 for Acrylic on Linen Canvas, etc.
    Because I started using a date-serial number system early in life, I have tens of thousands of images — photographic and otherwise … no two have the same serial number, and when indexed in a computer database, the numbers sort correctly.

  68. I also agree with Jason. I know when I painted every piece and have it documented. It takes the right person at the right time to make the connection with your art. Good things come all in good time.

  69. As an artist, whose art practice now entering its 30th year, I strongly believe in dating the works. To simply track the development of my works during this timeline. In addition to this 30 year journey, and counting, my “day job” for the past 20 years as been in the museum world. And having first-hand knowledge of dealing with art historian, scholars and the like it makes their job that much easier if the work has a signature and date that it was created. If not they are left to attribute the work to a certain artist and the year that it was made. Sometimes getting it right.

  70. I have dated all my work since I started to paint professionally 35 years ago. Sometimes paintings come back to me, and I like to take them out of my frame and “update” them to my current style. My longtime girlfriend says that a painting that hasn’t sold “just hasn’t seen by the right customer.” I like that point of view, and worry little about the date on the work. Paintings have sold a decade after execution. Dating also helps me to identify the work quickly if I am discussing it with a customer or estate owner over the phone. I see your point, though.

  71. For many years I’ve just used an inventory number on the back which has the date and materials coded into it and the size as well. Makes it easy for me to see when I made it, but as you said, the “front” is always fresh.

  72. I would like to thank each one of you for your replies.. You ve been a great help.. I used to date my works in the front mentioning the month and the year, until a year ago another artist -with many years of art on her back -advised me not to! The reason was that might hold back a buyer thinking why it wasn’t sold yet or this is an older work etc.. So stopped dating my work. I don’t have many years of experience, so any advice is really helpful. Recently I have started a new series of work which is the result of my deep thinking of evolution and the plan I am having and I started wondering if should date them somehow on the back.. And there you go, I come across with all these, Jason ‘s experience as well as each one of yours. Thank you, you ve put me out of my dillema!! Keeping something like a calendar in the case of the need is a good idea that actually suits me.

  73. I agree for several reasons. One being the point you just made, the other from the view of being excluded from some art competitions for being older than 2 years. Why should it matter as long as it still represents the artists work accurately?

  74. I agree wholeheartedly that there should be a date “on the back” of the work of art. Its like dating wine…the longer the better. Not only does it have a personal” sensibility to it but also it gives “atmosphere” and “longevity” to the work of art. Additionally, dating a work of art is a stat ment to commitment to quality (meaning that, materially, a work of art will stand up to the test of time. I think it if an artist does a particular style and then revisits this style years later, having no date will close this gap of chronology and confuse the work as being created in an earlier period. It would be confusing and frustrating to the”rrelevance” and “provenance” of a work. As a Creative Spirit working diligently to my career and relevance and wanting to be included in the annals of Art History, dates are of high importance to me. In this way, I pay homepage to the past while working n the present looking toward the future.

    Thank you Jason for sparking a great conversation. And thank you to the Museum Director for being an advocate of securing a place forworkd of art by including dates of creation/completion.

    Imagine how “non-entity”a person would be without a date of birth? Now, imagine that same non-concern for a work of art. I couldnt/wouldn’t do that to my creations. To me, it would be the same as throwing it in the trash.

    “Dates for the Appreciation, and the Appreciation, of Art!”- SayN Syllo [D.P.]©

  75. I have been dating my art for as many years as I can remember up to about 10 years ago and do not know why i stopped but, I did. If you have older works around with dates, some think that they are not as sellable as the new art and perhaps are not worth as much. I have been an artist for over fifty years now and health issues have held me back lately… hopefully i will try again. Will Hart

  76. I belonged to a group which had a show. One painting was dated 10 years ago and I could only think, “Haven’t done much recently. Not a good sign.” I put the date and my signature on the back and on the front a neat, not ostentatious, name that does not detract from the image. Here’s another issue I always am peeved by: “How long did that take you to do?” Sometimes I say , “Well, I’m 63, so about that long.” Dumb questions deserve dumb answers.

  77. I always enjoy your perspective. I don’t date my work for that reason. I also catalog my work with number and in that year’s creation inventory, all because of a email you sent a few years ago.

    Thank you for your continued help to me, an artist who is learning to value being organized.

    Sharon Geels

  78. I agree with Judith (above). Many shows that I have entered ask for a piece done “within the last two years. If my painting is still relevant to me, and in my present skill level, I should be allowed enter it. The date has very little to do with the quality of a painting.

  79. I appreciate both sides of the argument – however as someone who signs and dates most of my paintings I understand I am taking a risk. My loose study paintings may not all be dated. Still if some one liked a painting, but chose not to buy it due to the date and felt something was wrong with it- then they are not the client for me. If I love a work of art – I don’t care when it was created. A date should not be a deterrent – if it is then I question what kind of art buyer is this. Some of my older pieces are some of my better works – the right time and place puts the art and buyer together. Someone commented earlier that buying art is not buying a used car- I think that sums it up.

  80. I don’t know when dating artworks began. I don’t recall ever seeing a date on the front of an old masters painting nor those from the 1800 and early 1900s.
    Jason – do you know?

    1. Also I am a lecturer on historic photographers and never saw a date on an Adams, Frances Benjamin Johnston, Curtis etc.
      Again, I wonder when the dating concept started.

  81. I agree with Jason concerning putting an actual date on the actual artwork, but also with others who include a number or code that relates the piece to a personal catalogue or register. Putting an actual date on an artwork can have a negative effect on potential clients, having a number or code, like a classical composer’s “opus number” allows for the date plus other information about the piece to be recorded. I have my own system where I use a first number that registers my sense of where the art work stands in my own development followed by a hyphen and the number of the artwork within a developmental category, e.g., “6-102”. And I have a detailed personal register that indicates other data and often includes “artist’s statements” concerning works that I have exhibited.

  82. I own an art gallery in Auckland, New Zealand. Dates on the backs (or front) of artwork often make a buyer hesitate. Especially if it’s over 2 years old. It does tend to make people stop and think “why hasn’t anyone bought it”, “what’s wrong with it”. If it’s not dated (and it’s an old artwork) the issue never comes up. Artists DO need to be aware of this.

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