Artist Unknown – Why I Never Sign My Paintings

Hi there.

I’m J Edward.

I paint. A lot. Maybe too much. Honestly, these days, it’s all I do. If I’m not painting, I’m preparing canvasses. If I’m not prepping, I’m conceptualizing new trees, new landscapes, new ways to end the world.

All day. Every day. And most of the nights, too.

Yes. It’s true. I have no social life. I live in a colorful hole, and I’m fine with it.

For the last two years, life has been good to me. I’ve found myself able to make a living almost purely via art. It’s a dreamlike state, and surely one I never thought I’d reach. Yet here I am, up to my elbows in Mars Black and Unbleached Titanium, knee-deep in stacks of pristine canvasses gleaned from the shelves of the local Michael’s craft store. My house is a museum, almost every square inch of my walls covered up by images of trees, ships, towers, and strange, surrealistic objects.

It’s a good life.

But there is one thing.

One little dilemma.

A small something about which my collectors have reached out and tapped me on my shoulder.

I never sign my work.

Sorry…didn’t sign these.

*

The other day, a nice lady who’d just purchased several originals and prints sent me a message. She was very polite. Very reasonable. “I was disappointed,” she said. “None of the pieces were signed.”

She explained her distress at length, and I tried (and hopefully succeeded) in politely and honestly explaining myself.

“I never sign them,” I said. “It’s about the art, not the artist.”

“It’s just a thing with me.”

She never did reply. As of today, I’m not sure whether she understood. Or appreciated my view. Or whether she quietly fumed and plotted never again to buy from me.

Frankly, I get it.

Truth is…original art isn’t quite like any other consumer purchase. It’s just not. Sure, a signed Spiderman # 1 comic might fetch a high price, but it’s not the only Spiderman # 1, and it’s probably not the only signed one, either. Paintings, especially canvas paintings properly varnished and cared for, have a long, long shelf (or wall) life, and tend to endure the ages better than other items, given that they are rarely touched, typically only viewed.

What I’m really getting at is…

…what my point is…

…my art will outlive me.

Being of only modest talent and ambition, I’m never going to be the next Van Gogh or H.R. Giger or Zdzislaw Beksinki. And yet, I’ve still created things, unique things, in which my beloved patrons have placed much faith. These objects, well cared for, might sit upon their walls, their children’s walls, for many decades to come. With any luck, I’ll be long gone before they start to decay, and the slow entropy of the years wears down their color.

And finally, on that day, the person who created them (me) will no longer be recognized as their creator. These creations will become creator-less. Orphans, if you will, haunting the walls of people who haven’t the faintest idea who I am…or who I was. They’ll become free, in a way. Unbound to me.

If I sit on my couch and dwell on it, I realize something:

Most artists are not okay with this arrangement.

I suppose, not signing a painting (or a sculpture, or any hand-crafted item) is a little like having a child and giving it no last name. It’s maybe a bit like having a favorite pet, then forgetting it once it passes on. To some collectors and artists, it might even be considered arrogant. I’ve been called as much by a few buyers. And on the same subject, I’ve been asked, “Why? Why don’t you sign them? Don’t you want to be remembered?”

The short answer is…

…way deep down…

No.

I don’t care about being remembered.

And while it may challenge the prevailing wisdom of signing one’s art with a flourish (or at least subtly inking the back of the canvas) I know I’m not the only one. To me, the art really is all about the art. My part, creating it, is my joy, my passion, and oftentimes my suffering. But after I’m done, after each piece ends up on someone else’s wall, it becomes no longer mine to claim. My part in the story ends with each painting that leaves my walls, and a fresh story begins in the dwelling of its new owner.

Graveyard of the Gods (Artist Unknown….)

*

To me, my reasoning feels simple.

These created things spend mere moments in my hands, and possibly lifetimes in the presence of others.

And truly, art belongs to everyone. What I see and feel as I create in each piece has no bearing on what its owner will feel.

So perhaps, in the end, my true signature is…

…no signature at all.

We’ll leave it at that.

*

Sincerely,

*

J Edward

About grimwain

J Edward Neill is a dark fantasy novelist. He lives in a man-cave in North GA, where the sun shines too much, but the wine is fantastic.
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