The vulgarisation of signature and the birth of art branding.

In the field of art, signature artwork means, the works of art which are created by established artists that can be easily identified as theirs due to the distinct characteristics in subject matter, style, or medium. This way of identifying the artwork is specially used in the identification of the artists of the medieval age or before. These days most of the artists use their special signature to signify that the artwork is created by a specific artist. The general reason for this is given that it can stop the spread of forged art. But this ownership of art has also lead to branding of artwork and this brand creation is used by many mediocre artists to raise their value in the art market.
Da Vinci
Medieval Art and Signature by Artists

Most of the artists in this era either didn’t sign their artwork or signed only one or two special creations. That’s why most of their art creations are associated to them by identifying their distinct style they used for creation of that art. Some of the good examples are:

· Giotto (1266/67 – 1337)
Giotto di Bondone, an Italian painter, associated with several painting of the medieval era. He was also an architect. He signed some of his famous masterwork. Besides those few pieces he never signed any of his artwork.

The Renaissance and Signature by Artists

· Robert Campin (1375 – 1444)
This painter, who belonged to the Flemish Primitives, is one of the true masters of Northern Renaissance. This painter was from Netherlands and was famous for the art of oil painting. But none of the great work of this artist was signed by him, thus making it difficult to attribute his art to him.

· Leonardo Da Vinci (April 15, 1452 – May 2, 1519)
Da Vinci was the first artist in the recorded history of art whose paintings used to sell by his names. There were collectors of his paintings who wanted to acquire his artwork. But he didn’t sign his work, that’s why many of his buyers started signing them on his behalf. This was probably the initial signs of branding of art.

· Michelangelo (March 6, 1475 – February 18, 1564)
Michelangelo created his masterpiece sculpture Pieta in 1498-99. He didn’t sign it, like any other of his creations. But as the story goes after the installation of the sculpture, Michelangelo overheard a visitor talking that the sculpture was made by some other artist. After this Michelangelo signed the sculpture to say that he was the artist who created it, this was the only work he ever signed. But later it is said that he regretted the signing of the sculpture attributing the act as an “outburst of pride” and decided that he would never sign any of his creations ever again.
· Caravaggio (September 28, 1571 – July 18, 1610)
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was a painter who was born and worked in Italy. This famous Italian artist never signed any of his paintings except “The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist.” This oil painting made by him is widely considered his masterpiece and is also believed to be one of the most important works of western painting. Interestingly enough the signature was found during the restoration process of the painting, as the signature is hidden in the blood of the Baptist’s cut throat.

· Francisco Goya (30 March 1746 – 16 April 1828)
This Spanish painter is famous as both the first of modern era artists and also as the last of old Masters. But there is one more thing that he is famous for and that is the micro signatures that were found in his paintings, which can be used to identify their authenticity. These micro signatures were found by Professor Antonio Perales and they are minute signals of identity, which Goya cleverly placed in all his paintings as his signature.

· Pablo Picasso (25 October 1881 – 8 April 1973)
Picasso is probably the most popular of the 20th century painters. This famous Spanish artist is also associated with the co-founding of the cubist movement. He never signed his paintings until the moment it was sold leaving behind all the unsold and personal work without signature. Initially he used to sign “Pablo Ruiz y Picasso,” but by the year 1901 he started signing simply “Picasso.”
Bottle drying rack
The purpose of signing by most of these artists of this era was to associates themselves with something which they thought was their special creation. Several times the artists believed that god was the true creator and didn’t want to own their creation by associating with it. Then there were artists like Picasso and Goya who used their signature as a tool which had a purpose.

Modern Era Artists and Branding of Art

· Marcel Duchamp (28 July 1887 – 2 October 1968)
This French-American artist was one who used the signature in the crudest way. He signed a bottle drying rack in 1914 and called it “Bottle Rack,” but then in 1917 he signed a urinal, named “Fountain” and while signing this he used a pseudonym “R. Mutt.” This ordinary and vulgar display of signature to increase the value of the product shocked the art world. But this also displays how signature can play an important role in making money. There were several artists before him who signed their creations regularly, but he made it point out of practice. He proved that contemporary art was what someone was capable of accepting it as such and not a true display of an artist’s capabilities.

With the advent of artists like Marcel Duchamp, the use of artistic style for the recognition of the painter has completely diminished. This has also increased the use of signature as a tool to create a brand name, rather than a tool to associate an artist with a piece of art. This has only increased the mediocrity in the field of art and increased its relevance as more of an investment vehicle than a work of creativity and skill. Great artists of older times didn’t use to sign their work, however, it is still recognised, not by the signature of their name but by the signature of their skill and creativity.

-Cedric Koukjian

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