Little did I know that when I posted yesterday’s article, Debate: Should You Include a Date on Your Artwork?, I would ignite an extended conversation on this topic and that it would quickly become one of the most commented upon posts on the blog.
Apparently the question of whether or not to date your work is high in artist’s minds. Many of you agreed with my position that overtly dating art isn’t the best policy for artists striving to market and sell their work through commercial venues. There were also some great counter-arguments made.
I would like to respond to one of those counter-arguments in particular to continue the discussion and further explore some of the issues related to dating artwork. I’m choosing to respond to this particular comment because I feel it’s author has articulated very well the counter-arguments I often hear on the other side of the debate.
Reader Jeffrey Neumann wrote:
Jason, if you or any of your respondents, have placed work in museums you will know that the date is important. In this thread I see a chorus of artists who seem to all agree with your advice to omit the date or hide it on a work of art. I am disappointed that you would advise artists to be evasive. I’m also disappointed so many folks here are like sheep following your lead. I am astonished that I am one of a very few (perhaps from responses you chose to print) that does not agree with your advice.
Let me be a lone voice in support the curator who disagrees with you. Artists have been dating their work for centuries -more often than not. Why do you think this is? It is not just tradition. It is not only important to museum curators, but also to serious collectors who may want to place a work in the context of an artist[‘]s career. There are copyright, provenance, and authenticity issues that also make it wise to date your work. I’ve been a selling artist for over 40 years and a gallery owner for six. I have always dated my work and have never lost a sale by doing so. If artists and gallery owners are so insecure that they have to hide the date the work was created in order to make a sale, they must have a weak connection with their customer.
There is no need to be disingenuous with a customer or anyone else about when a piece of art was made. Not dating your work could also be viewed as unprofessional or worse, a sleazy tactic to hide the truth. Smart buyers will see through this, damaging your reputation. Being [elusive] about dates is dishonest – period. Honesty is the best sales policy and should be the only policy. Leaving the date off a piece of art is a personal choice, however it is an unbecoming one.
Mr. Neumann raises some important points in his comment and brings up questions that I suspect most artists will wrestle with as they are deciding whether or not to date their work.
Before I respond to those points, however, I would like to respond to Mr. Neumann’s implication that we are only approving comments that agree with my position – this is absolutely not the case! I love the open and honest discussion that occurs in the comments on posts, and I feel that those discussions are richest when there are a variety of opinions expressed.
We do moderate the comments, but the only ones we don’t approve are those that are overly combative, rude, or contain explicit language or attempts to intimidate. We also don’t approve comments that are an attempt to advertise products or services, or are spammy in nature.
I would point to the fact that Mr. Neumann’s comment was published as evidence of the fact that we want to encourage discussion and contrary viewpoints. The fact that most of the comments on yesterday’s article were in agreement with my position on dating is a reflection of reader’s opinions.
With that out of the way, let me dive in and respond to the points in the comment.
Museums vs. Galleries
First, the notion that dates are important to those seeking to place work in museums. Mr. Neumann is correct in his implication that I haven’t placed work from our galleries in museums, and that, if we had, I would have a different perspective on the issue of dating. I agree with this assertion, and I think this points to an important tension for artists who are trying to decide whether or not to date their work.
The prevailing opinion on dating artwork in the museum and academic world seems to be that artwork should be dated. Dating clearly facilitates the curatorial process.
I argue that the practical realities of the commercial art market are different than those of the museum and academic world. Museums are optimized for preserving, cataloging, documenting and displaying art work. Galleries should be optimizing to creating sales.
As I said in yesterday’s post, I believe that in the interest of optimizing for sales, it is in the artist’s best interest to omit the date.
Dates and Museums
Mr. Neumann also argues that artists have been dating their work for centuries, and that they include a date “more often than not.”
I have spent a tremendous amount of time in museums, and I’m not sure my experience supports this claim. Certainly there are many, many artists who have dated their work over the centuries, but in my visits to museums I see many examples of works without a date.
I’ll throw out a few examples here of some of the most famous artists throughout history that have created works without dates:
On the other side of the debate, there are certainly also many great artists who did include dates:
So what do these examples prove? Perhaps not much. I would argue, however, that omitting a date on the work will not preclude your work from one day making it onto the wall of a museum, as these examples prove. The date may facilitate curation, but it is clearly not a prerequisite.
Just as museums will display the works of artists whether or not they are dated, I find it hard to believe that a collector is somehow less serious because they don’t insist on a date on a piece of artwork they acquire.
Copyright, Provenance and Authenticity
You should always consult an intellectual property attorney before making any decisions about protecting your copyright. With that said, it’s my understanding, after having had several conversations with IP lawyers, that you are not giving up any copyright if you omit the date on your work.
Mr. Neumann is right that there would be benefits in terms of establishing the provenance of a work to have the date readily available. I would argue again that the same benefit can be found in keeping good inventory records.
In terms of authenticity, I don’t see how a date establishes the authenticity of an artwork any more than the signature does. A forger can duplicate and invent a date even easier than a signature.
Impact of the Date on Sales
Mr. Neumann further states that he has been an artist for 40 years and owned a gallery for six and has never lost a sale because of a date. I congratulate him on this record.
I have been in the gallery business for over 20 years and have witnessed buyers objecting to the age of a work of art on a number of occasions. Will a date always kill a sale? Of course not. Can it have a negative impact on a sale? I believe there are cases when it can.
I further agree with several of the commenters on yesterday’s post that galleries prefer to have newer work. Rightly or wrongly, it’s only natural that a gallery would feel that you aren’t providing them your best inventory if you ship them works dated years in the past. “Why can’t I get any fresh work?” you will hear them ask.
The Ethics of Not Dating Artwork
As far as the assertion that not dating your artwork is unprofessional, or, worse, “a sleazy tactic,” I will have to completely disagree. An artist who doesn’t include a date is simply keeping the focus where it should be, on the artwork.
I have sold many hundreds (if not thousands) of artworks without dates over the years. I have found that when there is no date, most buyers won’t even think about the issue. And why should they? If the artwork is well-executed and suits a collector’s interest and passion, what difference does it make when it was created?
We’re not hiding the age of the artwork, but we’re not going to advertise it either.
To sum up my thoughts and feelings about dates, I would simply say that while I believe it is optimal for an artist to keep track of dates in their personal inventory system and not on the artwork itself, I don’t believe that the ultimate success of an artist’s career will be determined by this one issue alone.
I do not assert that a date will kill every sale – instead I argue that if a date has a negative impact on even one out of one-hundred sales, the cost is too high for any benefit derived from dating the artwork.
I also recognize that some artists will find the counter-arguments persuasive and will perceive enough potential benefit in including a date to decide to continue dating their work. I don’t believe that these artists are making a career-ending mistake.
My hope is that this debate has given you solid arguments on both sides of the discussion to help you make an informed and well-considered decision. I truly appreciate all of your comments – there is real wisdom to studying out an issue like this and making a decision informed by all sides of the debate.
My personal position as a gallery owner is that none of the arguments raised by Mr. Neumann, or by other’s who have made them before, have convinced me that there is any benefit to overtly dating artwork that would outweigh the risks that come with dating your work.
What do you Think?
As I stated at the beginning of today’s post, I value the open and honest conversation each of you brings to the blog. Let me know if you are persuaded one way or the other after reading about this debate, and please add to the discussion by sharing your experience and thoughts.