Over the weekend I heard from a friend who had received a gift of art from me two years ago when I was moving out of state. It was a beautiful drawing done by an artist in his student days. The piece spoke more to her than it did to me, so I gave it to her.
My friend emailed me this weekend, curious about the artist and wanting to know what more I knew about him. Unfortunately I had lost track of him over the years, so I decided to do a google search. I knew he had been an award-winning emerging artist and later had spent a few years teaching art in a community college. But I had neither heard nor seen anything about him for several years since.
Google turned up almost nothing at all past the year 2000. Even before that time, while he was selling his art at outdoor shows and winning awards, there were no websites showing images of his art, nor any indication of galleries or media publicity. It made me a little sad, and also made me wonder just how many artists leave so few clues to their art careers and their work progress. I suspect there are many. But in this era of blogs, social networking and free art websites, it’s difficult to imagine an artist staying below the radar.
I am happy that I have two more pieces of this artist’s work in my collection, and they give me pleasure every single day. A few years ago I had wished I could afford more of his art, but then suddenly he stopped doing shows and apparently is no longer teaching. This doesn’t change the way I feel toward the works that I have, nor my pleasant memory of the person who created them. But what will happen to them after I’m gone? Will anyone care?
What does this say about artists and how we publicize ourselves and document our work? Do we have a responsibility to the interested public, our collectors, our families? Does it even matter whether or not we leave clues about our art? Is it enough that we just do the work and hope someone treasures it?
Personally I’m not a big fan of Certificates of Authenticity. They are worth just about the same as the paper they are written on. But we can be sure to place a consistently recognizable signature on our works. Dating them is a good thing too, even if we have to change the date later after alterations to the work. And the signature means something only if your artist biography is out there in the public domain. The internet is invaluable for making sure your work is connected with your name over time.
Your art may be more valuable than you think, but it takes a little effort and planning not to become “Artist Unknown.”
Here’s a fun quiz for you to choose which images are done by famous or unknown artists. Good luck!