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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92 Comments

  1. I like this idea as well, but how do you then show proof when entering a piece of work into a show and they say the work must be less than 2 years old?

    1. Renee, yes! There’s a debate in my medium (art quilts) about wanting only “new” pieces for exhibits. As far as verification goes, we rely on the artist to be honest and fellow artists who know each other’s work to self-police.

      1. I agree: educate buyers. When I was a fibre artist, I usually dated my quilts on their labels on the back, for the sake of people who want to know about it years later. That was the protocol in the 1970s.

    2. Some works take several years to complete. Since you “complete” it when you date it, a date would make it “finished” that year–even if it had been otherwise untouched for ten yeas.

      1. If I rework a painting, I either add the current date with a hyphen between, or if major reworking, paint out original date and put on new one.

      2. I think the “conflict” is between buyers who do not understand that paintings are not groceries with Best Before dates, and subsequent viewers, especially in shows where several questions arise: if show is a one-person retrospective I find I m curious to know if the artist roams between several styles or approaches, or if there is a sequence showing development or transition thru varied styles. If it is simply hanging on a wall, and by an artist I know, seeing the date helps me fit it into their total oeuvre, again to understand the artist’s practice better. After an artist’s death, or when they arrive at fame enough to attract an art historian’s attention, having paintings dated makes their scholarship much easier. Having the date on the back still allows all of these things; simply put the date on the exhibition label.

        If I rework a painting, I either add the current date with a hyphen between, or if major reworking, paint out original date and put on new one. When I made art quilts, the protocol of the time (1970s), was to affix a label on the back, giving date completed, design credit if not original, materials used, and all other contributors, such as quilter(s). This was to make it easier to care for the quilt itself and for conservators and historians of the future to know what they are dealing with. I now put that information on the backs of my paintings to help whoever needs to know about it in the future.

    3. Renee–I’ve seen that regarding some shows and competitions, and I don’t understand it at all. I can’t think of any reason, after a lot of trying to figure it out, to limit a submission to two years or less in age. I’ve been on both sides of producing shows and entering them, for many years. And for every reason I could think of for that limitation, I’ve thought of reasons why it’s illogical.

      The “needs to be new” concept also doesn’t work. If it’s not a very good piece, or looks a little damaged, the committee or producers of the event can choose not to show it. But if it’s a good piece and brings good comments (which also reflect on the show itself) then why not. The silly “Ooohh..they showed that two years ago at the ___ show!” Is just as petty as “Ooohh–she wore that dress at her son’s graduation too.”

      Pardon my crusty-ish attitude, but you can see that I’m for promoting an artist’s talent and good works, and putting together a good-looking show that brings success to the artists and the venue. That’s the end result, and other less important limiting factors don’t thrill me too much. 🙂

    4. I enter a lot of shows and I NEVER date my paintings. I enter work based on the theme of the show. I’ve never had anyone ask me to prove when the painting was made. I hope this helps.

    5. I have been an exhibitions director for several art organizations and we just have to trust the artists that the work is 2 years old or fewer. Maybe some gallery owners have other ways of dealing with this, but I think most art organizations simply trust the artists.

  2. I do include the date, but only on the back, along with title and medium.
    I totally agree that a date on the front could be off-putting to some prospective buyers for all the reasons you mention.

  3. I see no need to date artwork on the artwork itself. I do keep a list in case somebody asks. Sometimes a painting can sit in your gallery for years and you never show it. Other times there are shows with certain themes and the date of the work should just not be a consideration. I have just started keeping my art in alphabetical order in my studio. This helps me much more than dates.

  4. Hello Jason
    In my experience selling to the public, I have never yet had a customer ask the date a painting was created. I agree that it could become an unnecessary distraction. That being said, I do keep records of the date in my own files and will sometimes put it on the back of the painting.

  5. I agree with the curator on this one, primarily because I’m not in the business of churning out new work to satisfy the buyers. No judgment intended, but I probably work more slowly than a lot of other artists and I don’t do prints/multiples. I recently sold one of my older pieces that had never been shown simply because the buyer happened to come to my studio, saw it against a wall, loved it and – the rest is history.

    I don’t put the dates on the paintings themselves, but always include it in the information that accompanies the paintings in a show, along with price, size, etc. Perhaps it’s my background as a writer that makes me want to include the date. I see the dates as a way of helping establish my credentials as an artist, my history. If a buyer is put off by that, the buyer is probably not someone I’d want to sell to anyway.

    In general, I think this is a personal choice for an artist and either possibility is okay as long as it works for the artist. If the gallery prefers no dates, I can go with that, too.

  6. The old masters? I think some dated and some did not. Many museums do not collect art from living artists. They like dead artists, so dates can help them out.
    .
    With my photos there is a ‘date taken’ and a ‘date printed’ date. If a photo is printed within a few years of being taken it is considered vintage. As opposed to a photo that is printed 25 years after it was take. In any case, it all goes on the back of the photo with my signature. I hate photos with signatures and writing on the front.

  7. I agree with your observations, Jason. For some reason buyers want your most recent work no matter that an older piece is certainly as “valuable” artistically. We revisit themes and artistic observations over our life time when an older piece may have been a touchstone to that series and should be considered as “salable” . If in my opinion an older piece isn’t up to the standards of a more current piece I don’t show it. In fact I have destroyed them. But when I have a really good piece I give it every chance available to me and it wouldn’t be so if I had dated it.BUT I do keep my own photographic records and it is date in my notes to self!

  8. I do not add a date to the front of my artwork by my signature. However, I do put a date on the back for catalog reasons. I have found that the date does deter some potential customers.

  9. If the date is a put-off for the buyer, it then reflects on the buyer as one who does not appreciate the piece for what it is. Instead, the buyer wants perceived bragging rights as to the “value” of the piece. So, when selling, the artist has to choose between a self image as a commercial success or as an artist.

    1. I agree with Yoram… An “honorable” buyer, I believe, will appreciate an artwork for what it is. Hey, early works also have intrinsic value. They will possibly appreciate in value as “newer” works are created and an artists reputation evolves. Earlier (than “recent/current”) artworks can show developmental growth of the artists style or reveal insights into the artists vision. The date might reveal a historical context or a biographical relevance. All these factors are made possible and convenient when a painting is simply marked with the YEAR of creation/completion (on the back, of course).
      I also include the Title, Copyright, the Medium, and Dimensions. (I keep a separate written notebook with specific dates of completion and general hours worked.)

  10. I agree placing a date on a piece of work can cause unnecessary judgement by prospective buyers. Most artists work in series, and a grouping of ideas seems to be more important than a listing of dates. If and when a museum wants to purchase some of my work, I’d be happy to add the creation (completion) date.

    1. I don’t think it’s the end buyers so much as the middlemen. There’s so much art available for them to chose from, that they can impose date-of-creation rules simply as a way to reduce the number of works they have to consider.

  11. Dating a work makes it easier for the Art Historians to write about it.

    I’ve heard there are some artists who have built a resume from one painting entering it in many exhibits. I suppose that’s why there seems to be a “pull date” on art work. Most exhibits want work done in the last 2-3 years. As the cultural lag is about 10 years that doesn’t make much sense.

    I usually date my work when I finish it.

    I don’t like big signatures and prefer to initial my paintings but that confuses the viewer.

    Apparently artists started to date their work during the Renaissance. It’s now traditional and I think it should be done.

  12. Jason, absolutely agree with you. Adding a date of creation adds no value to the painting and is just a distraction. As is often the case in paintings, “if in doubt, leave it out”

  13. I like the idea of no dates on my work. I make sculpture and sometimes people have to think for awhile before purchasing. Sometimes years. Sometimes waiting for a new home to be built. Re: the issue of proof of date: Keep inventory updated – and on that inventory have a Date section.

  14. I’ve stopped dating my work for precisely the reasons you stated. Curators are paid to figure these things out. I want to sell my work, not make life easier for a curator in the unlikely event my body of work ever needs one.

  15. I agree totally … I almost never date my work .
    I recently did have a collector that came up to my studio … of course the one painting that especially interested her did unfortunately have a date from 2007 on the back , which she noticed & commented on …. to my horror , there was no getting around it , she quickly figured out how old it was !!!
    I can’t believe I had put a date on it , way back then , since that’s something I usually never do .
    Bottom line … think it cost me the sale!!!
    I’ll be shocked if I hear back from her !

  16. I have every painting professionally photographed and each year a new CD records that years work. With the constant change in technology though, I wonder if years from now these CD’s will be able to be opened. Noting the date on the back is certainly a good way to be sure- in pencil perhaps? Due to the frequency of entering shows with timelines less than two years, it makes a new painting seem old in a hurry.

  17. I use an ‘item code ‘ for each painting. It includes the substrate (CV for Canvas), the last two digits of the year (as in 18 for 2018) and the number in the order the painting was created for that year (1,2,3) So for instance: The first painting of 2018 on canvas would be “CV1801”. This information does go on the back of my canvas or panel, and I keep a log of works that includes that identifier. There is no obvious year to ‘distract’ from a sale, but it is not secret – just not so obvious. If asked, the info is there. (I also put this on the COA)

    1. I use similar coding for my sculptures… there are multiple bits of information encoded in the inventory#, including the year, but it’s mostly for my own use.
      If a piece is worth buying, it shouldn’t matter when it was made, and like some of the other responding artists, I have pieces that require multiple processes and that span the turn of the year…. so just when was it “created”?

  18. I agree with you Jason. Dates of the production of Artwork are only important from a historical point of view. Collectors of contemporary Art want fresh & new Artwork & a painting that is, as an example, five years old according to the date on the Piece may put them off of the purchase. When collectors of my Artwork purchase my paintings, I write the date of purchase on the back of the Piece.

  19. Hi Jason,
    I do not date my paintings on the front or the back of the canvas, but I do keep written records of the dates. I do have the dates on my website and now I am considering removing them. Thank you for this dialogue.
    Katherine

  20. Why not just put the date and artist signature discreetly along the edge of the canvas where it can be found by archivists or forgetful artists who wonder “when did I paint that?” but it’s normally hidden by the frame?

    1. Because the people who want dates want dates that are easily seen. My county fair doesn’t specify WHERE a painting must be signed and dated, but in 30 years of exhibiting, I think I’ve maybe seen two check the back for a signature/date. I’ve even had works where I’ve even had to point out the signature to avoid my work getting disqualified–which is counterproductive, since the signatures are required to be covered when they’re checked in (so the judge doesn’t know who painted it).

  21. As a collector, I care about the date. I don’t care whether it is a new or old date. I just want it dated, signed and titled on the back so I can place it in the artist’s oeuvre. As to concern that it hasn’t sold elsewhere or earlier, I don’t expect other people to like what I like.

  22. I used to date my paintings, but ran into this same problem with potential buyers. If the work is good, why is the date important? Older work may be even more ground-breaking than recent work – hence, more significant – but unless you are an art-historical figure, no one gives a hoot about your big breakthrough in technique back in a 2010 painting. I’ve also had work on temporary loan through the US Department of State, and they keep it for at least a year. So by the time you finish the painting, post it on their website, someone sees it, and you go through the logistics of getting it to Europe and back, that painting is already probably 3 or 4 years old. And that also makes it ineligible for many calls for entry where the work must be no more than 2 years old! I’ve felt that I was being driven into the somewhat deceptive practice of making minor changes to “old” paintings in order to put a later date on them. I work slowly and love it; when I have to (deadline!) I can speed up the process enormously with good results, but working like that on an on-going basis so I’ll have a lot of 2018 paintings is a recipe for burnout. So dates to me are irrelevant and should be divulged to potential buyers only under very exceptional circumstances. As in “this 2012 painting is the first time the artist used these particular color combinations which became her signature palette for the next 6 years.”

  23. I wholeheartedly agree on not putting a date on a painting, and for that very reason cited by you Jason. From much experience, the date is off-putting to many!!

    On my husbands paintings (oils & watercolors) we make one exception – EVERY commissioned painting is signed on the front and signed/dated on the back along with “commissioned by bla bla bla”. Down the line, let the historians & curators earn their keep. 😉

  24. Both for different reasons with an elephant in the living room.
    The curator is interested in chronology for biographic and stylistic reasons. A look at Piet Mondrian’s chronology will show clearly why the dating is important from a life-trajectory point of view. The Jackson Pollock story is equally murky without dates. I had the occasion to be visiting with a friend who was an archivist at the Lee Krasner-Jackson Pollock Foundation. We were in front a Pollock Painting and he stated that the date and opus as posted was wrong. His proof was the floor of the barn where the paintings were produced. “See that black there” as he pointed. Jackson used that paint for a short time and only on (i can’t remember 2 or 3). On the floor it is underneath a paint that he used later and yet the museum wants you to believe it’s revered. Point to be made- chronology can be important across an artist’s arc as a historical endeavor.
    The artist selling a piece as I see it, is in a marketplace which is dynamic, fluid, and always being “re-stocked”. We live in an avant-garde world. New, New, New! The latest model. That may not be the surface reaction with collectors but it’s probably an underlayment. Last year’s work is no less valuable this year than last year but yet if other buyers haven’t bought, the question becomes, “What’s wring with it?” And Jason has outlined many of the better answers above.
    The curator should know better than to suggest that a dateless painting is somehow automatically suspicious but in partial defense- the curatorial world has suffered a series of very public and very controversial events of provenance that has upended their confidence in attributing artworks correctly. I could appreciate that they might be erring on the side of extreme caution. However- the art market and the museum in my case at least may never have to interface.
    What I can do for myself, those that will handle my estate when that happens, and anyone trying to figure out my art work would be to keep accurate and up-to-date records. A task I’m not yet good at.

    1. I need to do way better..I produce a lot and I use mixed media. I do try to use archival products but sometimes I like something that may or may not be archival. My feeling is if it comes to being important enough to be curated after I am gone..then I will trust the curators will do their jobs. I don’t date my work. I really dislike being hemmed in by the “2 yr. or newer” art required for a show. I want to enter what I think will do well..not what is dated within a certain limited time. Keeping track of my latest work over the past 5 yrs. has gone by the wayside and I need to do better. I think I will do an inventory and try the system mentioned above. I also have had difficulty selling work I may have called old or older..I can be my own worse enemy!!! So no dates on the work for me! But I always sign the front in small printed letters.

  25. I was an art investor and collector before I started to paint myself, and I would personally stay away from buying any undated pieces. A date shows the context of when it was created in relation to the artists career. I like to look for early pieces by artists who are still “up and coming” – but working as artists full time. This allows the potential to resell at a higher price later, but while the artist is still alive. I’ve even had artists I’ve bought from offer to buy back their own art years later for double or triple what I paid for it.

    I do date my pieces, on the back. I don’t put a date on it for me to help sell art, I put a date on it for my collectors/investors and the person who’s potentially going to be dealing with it for resale,or at an estate sale in 30-40-50 years. Will any of my art end up in museums? Maybe not, but there’s even less of a chance if I don’t date them. Provenance is everything in art resale…

    “Why hasn’t this one sold yet, what’s wrong with it?”

    ” I love each and every piece I create. I know for each one there is that perfect someone it will resonate with out there specifically waiting to find it, and this one was waiting for you! So, the only thing wrong with it is it’s still on my wall here, and not on yours yet!”

  26. If you have your canvases framed, you could date the back and have a dust cover applied to the back which would cover it up. It isn’t likely that anyone would remove it unless it is being reframed… and by that time it will probably be with a new owner…

  27. I have to agree with other artists that said the signature and date on the front is very distracting to the painting as the eye goes right to it and the eye should go to the subject of a painting. I always sign and date on the back. Some of the old masters did sign and date on the back only.
    I have always kept dates in a file for myself since some art competitions want the date created. That being said, this system works well for me.

  28. In the past, I usually listened to art dealers, including representatives of museums, and dated my work. Then the same reasons that you list as negative for doing so became apparent to me, also…I stopped putting that unimportant little number anywhere on my art.

    Like you, I’ve noted that no one who really gives a rip about the painting even cares when it was created. All they care about is that I am the one who brought that particular vision to life.

    In my humble opinion, that’s all that really matters. Thanks for the clear response to this hair-splitting non-issue.

  29. Hello Jason,
    I feel like cheering!
    As far as I have ever seen, dates on artwork is nothing but a negative for the living artist. It may be fun for curators so they can organize the one or less percent of artists that they may want to make notes on. For the rest of us people we are just trying to make art and sell it without it being judged because it is ” Old”.
    I honestly would like to know what are we supposed to do with our work that does not sell within the first two years that is the status quo for submitting artwork?
    Why is Young always best?
    It seems to be a form of ageism to me.
    I would like to hear more about why dating our artwork is a benefit to artist, and gallerists, from the curator.
    Best
    Tania Garner-Tomas

  30. If the artist keeps records with title, date etc. including an inventory number and likewise includes that inventory number somewhere on the back of the painting then potential curators can get the date from the inventory records. Inventory records should be kept for the sake of the heirs and will obviously be necessary should the artists’ work become collectible. Including inventory numbers is a practice I am turning to now. Jason, how do you feel about including the last 2 numbers of the year in the inventory number somewhere on the back of the painting, like on the inside of the stretcher bar where it’s not evident? Ie. 04W18. The first number being the 4th painting of 2018, W or any other letter to differentiate between paintings, series or whatever is relevant to the individual artist.

  31. I have never been concerned with dating or keeping track of dates … so thank you for the insights. Guess I better change my ways! But what do you do if a year or two later you come back in and rework a painting (using archival methods). Maybe your style has changed, maybe you kept it because it was not quite up to par, maybe it came back from a gallery and maybe now you know why it didn’t sell Also another reason for a old piece entering the marketplace, I like to keep a couple samples of my more successful work. If I get off track at a later date, I can go back and see what made that previous piece successful and identify where I went off track. When does that one get dated … when it was created, or when I decide to release it to be sold? I think Melissa Brauen’s system (post above) solves a lot of those questions.

    1. I agree with you… I do all of that to… I’m in the moment… I evolve & flow with the need at the moment… it all sounds good if I were a curator but I choose to be an artist!

  32. Hi Everyone, I am a full time artist, I’ve been painting since a child, I sell constantly I paint on several so much I sometimes forget to sign the works & people want to buy them. I used to date them even write a note
    now I date them on the back usually when I sell them with a note I try to sign them at that time of creation or at time of sale if I have forgotten. I also have pieces from the past that I worked on after 10 years some
    I do a date example 1999-2018 usually on the back occasionally on the front. It’s all Interesting’s d it’s sort of a crap shoot. One way I create and write a date usually water colors even write a title or at times incorporated words in the painting. Now mostly I just paint.
    I have some that are dated & I agree it seems to affect sales also just touching a painting with your hands or thinking about it affects its sale.
    I’ve just moved a painting in my gallery & it sold right away when before it sat.
    It’s all from what point of view you want to take. Curating wants dates … ok we want sales! Choose experiment. I even remove price tags most times it seems to help sales. We start discussing and then a sale happens.
    I’ve seen artists/professors erase the date to get in competitions, that always bothers me, so just don’t date it on the front. I understand the curator wants a date & yes , let’s be honest, are we hiding something or just to busy to put it all down., or trying to sell??? Let’s look at the great masters… ( I was watching,” Genius Picasso”) Did they all date everything? Did they all sign everything? Did they all sell??? Does a little mystery help??? Does a story help??? This is a fantastic topic & it’s sort of art itself I say You choose… try & see what works for you what is your motivation to be organized or document to categorize to create to sell…
    Do we look for that date when we walk through a gallery or a museum? Is it part of the creative process or laziness or hiding something… ok maybe a bit of all of it. We are the artists some of us are out for sales … I heard if you paint what people want you are prostitung your art.
    I’ve wonder? I’m making a living painting something wonderful, that’s a gift.
    I have many clients that are more than pleased to watch me sign or date the painting on front or back in front of them. In a gallery setting that doesn’t always work out & I agree I’ve seen awesome art sit there and at times I’ve brought it out years later and sold it immediately sometimes without barely touching it sometimes just a little enhancing it. I agree it’s a connection with a buyer & a painting or a piece of art. I have a piece I recently took out of my private collection and put up to sell with much interest. I also have had works that a person wanted to sell or needed $ and resold immediately years later.
    I don’t think there is a right or wrong way.
    Not dating leaves a bit of mystery & communicating about the painting telling a story gives a connection.
    I love the idea of cataloging my work but I don’t have that much time. & it’s gone, I’m happy to sell it & get a picture.
    I think those ideas are all fantastic, but reality, I have discovered painting & selling is my passion.. sometimes I even forget the exact date I finished a painting cuz they may overlap so I usually work in series & groupings that helps me remember with photos too. My iPhone works great!
    I may need to duplicate myself to do it all well….
    This season I had a studio hit by a hurricane & had to clean & move it still working on it & at another location the building was sold so it had to move also.
    I took me weeks to even want to paint & in the beginning it was dark & not so happy… so I revisited those paintings & within a day after touching them they all sold to different clients. It’s a connection it’s an energy it’s a modivation. Do you, be happy you are creating, take charge of your gift & share it the best you can, be bold & paint! Create, sell!
    Some Days there is more to do than catalogue so I choose to paint!

    Noel Skiba

  33. The curator seems to view the date as part of the artwork in such a way that the date’s absence represents an omission of significant information. While that might be true in some select instances, it’s really hard to find any broad support art historically for that notion. Indeed perhaps quite often the date is irrelevant. Certainly in the cases of many famous artists from history specific dates are not knowable. In any case one could argue that if the date appears on the artwork then the date should serve an artistic purpose. If you can see the date, then it becomes a visual element. If it’s not part of the visual significance of the image, in my view the date shouldn’t be there.

    But in no case is an artist omitting important information by omitting a date. On the contrary, almost any serious artist today will be marketing his or her artwork on some venue — usually the internet. That marketing in itself dates the art. Once you put the image on the internet (or other similar venue) clearly it dates to at least that period when it first appears. Thus you cannot market the artwork in any relevant way without giving a rough, de facto date to the artwork, which is the date of its first public appearance (on the internet, in a news journal, in an exhibition catalog, etc.).

    All that said, I know I’d prefer that there be no date visible on the artwork unless the date is clearly commemorative or somehow itself meaningful to the art’s visual purpose. If a collector asks for a date, then tell them the accurate date. As to how that date relates to the individual artwork, using the artist’s biography, professional evolution, etc., can provide ways of assigning the information a positive meaning.

  34. I date + number all of my work on the edge or back. This also relates to your recent article on naming works: a fairly common practice among abstract painters is to number works, rather than lead the audience to a conclusion with a descriptive title. A year + work number is often employed, ala Pollock et al.

    I paint seriously, but I do not rely on painting for my living. I keep most of my product, as I like it a lot, and have ample walls. And nost of my sales are commissioned.

    But when I do sell existing work, it is all dated. This has not been a problem as I am usually presenting older work as a reference for a commission, and sometimes this leads to selling the reference piece instead.

  35. I absolutely date everything, on the front and on the back. If I re-work the painting, I add/change the date. I also keep these records in my database/spreadsheet, along with notes as to where, why, and how. As you said, if often takes a while for a buyer to find “their” painting, but I make no apologies for the date. Sometimes I will re-analyze to see if there is a compelling reason a work has not sold; but if I determine, “No, I stand by this work as is”, then I may pull it off the market for a while, or even decide it will be part of MY permanent collection. I may gift it. I may hang it in my studio, and often a patron will see it there and purchase the piece. No apologies. If I increase my prices, which I do about every 2 years, the price on those items go up as well.
    On the other hand, if I determine the work has some features that could be improved, I will either fix the issue as I now see it, sand and repaint, or take the work off the stretcher and store, with a note as to why I felt this was necessary. But I am in it for the longest haul, hopefully to where dates and information WILL be important.

  36. I do not date on the front but I like the idea of using the year and a code in the inventory number. I was using LS for landscape, PT for portrait etc. and then the last 2 numbers of the year and then the order created starting with a 01 in stead of just a 1. You can get as specific as you need for your types of work so an inventory number such as could be FL1801 for the first floral you create that year.

  37. Artists are not iPhones so the new 7G Plus is desirable over my “old,” serviceable 4G. I can think of more than one artist I prefer their early work over their later or current output. Artists should be evaluated for their body of work, not necessarily what is fresh off the easel. The assumption is, this one is new and improved when that is not always the case.
    I have never been asked when I painted a piece, ever. I have only dated one historical work, plus a related portrait; I painted it the same year, and dated it for myself. I do note the date on the back on all my work with the location, medium, etc.
    Surely, artists today keep extensive enough records the estate could provide verification if a curator needs it … sounds like a good project for a grandkid or even hire a student as a summer job.
    We understand juries want new work so the same piece isn’t entered year after year. Judges don’t want to see it again any more than the public. Rather than insisting on dating some competitions state the piece can’t have been entered in another show in the last five years. Of course they want new work … but not dating it doesn’t prove is hasn’t been. An artist can pull something out of a closet and paint 2018 on it. Integrity has to be our guideline.
    Dates have some merit with contemporary photographers and printmakers if negatives and plates turn up decades after the artist’s death … the artist obviously wasn’t involved in the production. Foundry dates on sculpture have a different argument for the same reason, but paintings don’t “need” dating.

  38. I sign the front (first name only), sign and note the year created/ medium used on the back–I do this so that there is consistency among all of my pieces. Also, many of my paintings match blog posts/newsletter articles, so the date also helps place them in that context as well.

    I figure by the time someone sees the back they’ve already (hopefully) fallen in love with it and bought it. I don’t put dates on the front because I find them distracting; however, I appreciate that as artists this is one more way we get to make a unique impression on people looking at our works.

  39. I enjoyed reading the viewpoints on this subject. I always put the date on the backs of my paintings, but when I sold one a couple weeks ago, I was a little embarrassed that it was dated, as it was over three years old!. I agree with most, when the customer sees the date, it does make the work seem less valuable as time passes. It’s akin to shopping for a new dress, and one you like is from a few years ago- vintage is cool, but three years old isn’t so cool. It has little to do with the quality of the art, but definitely a factor in market mentality.

    1. I volunteered the date I painted a five-year old canvas … I told the buyer I planned to keep it but changed my mind. That explanation satisfied him. Rather than “old work” being a negative I turned it into a buying point … he figured if I wanted to hang on to it the painting was special for whatever reason.

  40. i frequently paint over older paintings with which i am unsatisfied. The newer paintings are almost always (not alway) “better” than the original. My paintings are signed on the back of the canvas as it causes distraction with the composition. The “new” painting is dated with the current date on my inventory. It reflects the history of the painting from inception to sale. i believe the argument has more to do with buyers/collectors who focus on the wrong thing (date created – length of sale) as if it were a real-estate transaction. Houses on the market too long = Not good. Painting on the market too long = Should not be an issue. Like wine, sometimes it takes a while to “age.” aRt is NoT like puppies at the pound who don’t get adopted, or people in the dating pool who don’t get married.

  41. I never date my paintings, but I include the date of completion on the Certificate of Authentication and on the Excel Spreadsheet that records all the data about each individual artwork I paint. Works for me.

  42. In the very early years of my painting, I did date everything. However as I time went by, I heard enough comments about the pieces “still not being sold” that I decided it wasn’t smart business sense to broadcast the date something was completed. Some people are not bothered by it – if they like it they are going to buy it no matter what. But there are many others out there who are insecure about purchasing artwork. They buy it because they think it’s “valuable and sought after” so if it hasn’t sold quickly, they back off.

  43. For stretched canvases, I will sometimes write the date in pencil inside the stretcher bar on the back. This is mostly for my convenience.

  44. As an abstract painter I never date my work as I never know when I will change something in the work. To quote a famous artist when asked how he knows when the work is done…’when I have a cheque and the painting is walking out the door!’. If my work is in the gallery then it may be done unless I get it back in which case…maybe not.

  45. Thank you Jason. I agree with everything you say. I don’t date my work. The complexities of Artists is that the Art world and buyers may find at times your earlier work of more interest and value. I believe it is the body of work that is important and certain periods in the process of that body of work that create interest. So a date is a shifting factor. Somehow people think that an Artist’s development is a steady inclining chronological phase. It isn’t. I often hear newer Artists saying “oh they put some older paintings in” a show. As if they are devaluing their own work. It annoys me that many competitions stipulate a maximum period of a painting’s existence or it doesn’t qualify. I have missed on many such shoes as a result. My work was busy circulating around in galleries and sold or returned after a while too old (more than a year or so) to be hung in that competition. I get a big kick out of selling art that’s older. Most Artists I know don’t date them. We think it’s irrelevant but we follow the terms and conditions of a competition.

  46. I incorporate the date within a “smart” inventory number. An example is something like: 017-013 meaning the 13th painting of 2017. It’s simple enough to decipher, but obscured as the inventory number. This is written on the back of the painting along with the title and a signature.

  47. Very interesting discussion. I’d like to see a forum on signing a painting. I like a signature that is so subtle that it is not the first thing the viewer notices. I find that the less skilled the painter, the more prominent the signature.
    I believe the picture plane should not include a prominent signature. It’s terribly distracting.
    I sign all my canvases on the back of the canvas along with the title. No dates. If this hasnt been discussed before I subscribed to this blog, please consider making it a topic soon.

  48. leaving the year off my signed works simply breeds chaos! I don’t believe it’s accepted professional practice to omit the year from the data attached to the art object. it does sow more chaos than order, don’t you think, and makes any would-be collector believe that the artist is hiding something, to when not provide this necessary info.

  49. I suspect the problem is with the buyer being insecure about “art”. They like it, but, they wonder to themselves, is this a good purchase decision? In the back of their minds they are evaluating the expense. Why create more anxiety with the perception that they are buying something that no one else wanted? Leave the date off. Keep the dates with photos in your inventory for your own use.

  50. When I post a picture of one of my paintings or ceramic sculpture on my blog or on my e-zine I always include the title, medium, my name and then add copyright 2018 or whatever year it is especially since it goes up on twitter and facebook or instagram. I used to always put copyright symbol after my name on the front of my piece and follow that with the date. I had a teacher who suggested this was was wise to avoid theft of an image. This could be an issue for me since my artwork has a graphic quality and is fairly unique. I have actually had a number of pieces that have been stolen over the years. Because I had the copyright on there, someone who wanted to use one of my images for their book contacted me. Otherwise the implication is they would have used it without my permission. Now I still put my name on the front in a fairly unobtrusive spot, and also on the back of my artwork with the title and date. I have been known to change the date if I end up messing with the painting again and put say 2013/2018 or in some cases just 2018 etc. I do wonder if all this dating is helpful or not actually for sales, though for me it helps me years later to be aware when I did what. I like putting the title on the back so I don’t forget what it is since titles don’t come easily to me.

    1. Cool work! That’s pretty much what I do, too. I agree that art of this (your) type, bold and graphic, usually colorful, attracts infringers more, maybe because it stands out even as a small thumbnail. The pieces of mine that have been infringed were mostly those with a central, bold character, often very colorful and simple, and read well even as a tiny thumbnail. I also put a copyright notice on mine; we’re not legally required to, to have copyright protection anymore, but it does inform viewers that, ‘yes, this belongs to someone,’ and some viewers mistakenly believe an image without identification or copyright notice is “free.” As for the date, I put it on the back and have for years, as I have no intent to even appear to be trying to hide it from a buyer. But, I’ve not had a buyer yet who cared what year it was made in, and have sold some old pieces when the right buyer came along.

      1. Meant to say I put the copyright notice on my online images as a watermark or text. On the original piece, it’s on the back. I sign the front “C. Schnackel” except for really tiny miniatures like bottle caps, then I put it on the back. Occasionally I’ll just initial the front if there’s just no place to work in my name, but my whole name is on the back no matter what, along with year and copyright notice, and medium, and I usually put the size back there, too, as much for my memory as anyone else’s need to know.

  51. As a buyer, I’ve NEVER thought to look at the date of a piece – it’s strictly “does this work speak to me?”. And, none of the other buyers I know are concerned about dates.

    As a painter (albeit, a fledgling with no aspirations to sell) I date my work on the back so I can track my own progress.

  52. I learned from Clyde Aspevig not to place a year on the face my work. I place it on the back of the painting. Signatures should be subtle. When it comes to the work….it will speak for itself… and those who know the artist will see the evolution not he year it was created.

  53. I don t date my artwork unless it is a portrait commission. I keep a numbered log of all my work which includes the year created. I agree with you on potential buyers looking at a date and wondering why it has been on the market for a length of time . A lot of people will ask what is wrong with it. Nothing is wrong with the painting but it’s just like you say. It may just not have found its home yet. I have had several older paintings not sell at one gallery the several years later sell at a different gallery.

  54. Selling art is certainly a numbers game, as in, the more people that see it the more chance of selling. In this vein negating even part of that group is against you as an artist. I have never had someone say “this doesn’t have a date on it” but I have had them look at a date and then not buy. I am not sure if the date was the reason but I have not dated my work for quite a while as I want the largest chance of selling and do not want to cut out anyone from my group of potential buyers.

  55. Thanks, Jason. Great points. I don’t paint a date on the painting, and I only date on the back after I’ve sold it–as part of a personalization to the buyer. That said, I haven’t sold much through galleries yet, and may do it differently in the future.

  56. If, for future curatorial purposes you wish to let the world know when it was painted, assign a unique sequential ID number to it, and keep it in your permanent database. I do not date mine on the painting but keep track of the information this way, along with the name of the collector, etc.

  57. I totally agree with and understand your point of view, Jason. I used to date all of my paintings and I found that very situation. Some people looked at the date and figured “something was wrong with it”, and this goes for paintings they loved until they got up close and read the date. Then they weren’t so enamored, all because of the date. It’s hard enough to sell art – we need to eliminate any barriers that we can!

  58. I definitely agree that a date on a painting often has a negative effect on a sale. ..and we may not even know a viewer was interested as the date put them off right away. Having run a gallery for 16 years and held many exhibitions of my own work, your points of view are right on target Jason. However, yes, artists should keep accurate records of all artworks put out there for sale, including when they were created. I am currently holding a show where some of the work is actually over twenty years old…..( no it is not a retrospective exhibition ) some exhibited before, others never exhibited and kept in ideal conditions for preservation. And yes, sales have been made. I have been open to those buyers who queried the history of the work out of curiosity. By then they are enamoured with the work and engaged with me the artist and I have explained on many occasions to prospective buyers why some works sell immediately , others take years. However, first you need to engage that viewer and then the revealed date does not worry them . Seeing it upfront can be a deterrent. There is of course the current date on the Certificate of Valuation and Authenticity which is provided as the value may have increased in the intervening years as the artist’s reputation grows.

  59. As a buyer, I don’t care when a piece was created. If I love it and can afford it that’s what matters. As an artist, I’m up front about when a piece was made as much as what it was made out of. All that info is on the back of most of my pieces. On the front, I just sign it, as my name is more than enough text to fit in. None of my buyers have cared when my work was created, few even ask. I bought a small painting a couple of years ago, noticing it was a little different from the artist’s usual work, and later found that he’d painted it quite some time ago. It didn’t make me regret the purchase, and in fact I think it’s kind of cool I got one of his “early works” because he probably doesn’t have many of those left. I don’t worry that future historians will be thankful I dated my work on the back, but it’s nice to think that one day that will matter!

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