Firmas (Signatures)

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I play lots of games (in my head & with others) when I visit museums. There's one game, "Zoom In Until You Get Yelled At," that I often share with others so we can play together (see "Art Games" in my Instagram story highlights!). But I have NEVER shared my favorite game with anyone: Find The Signature.

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I don't know how this started or what initially drew me to focus on signatures, but I have been playing this game/taking pictures of artist signatures for longer than I can remember. For me, art is about human connection, and I find the most value in understanding the artist & their story. I know that's not the case for everyone, but it is for me. And I feel strongly that each individual signature on each individual artwork (or the lack of a signature) SPEAKS VOLUMES about the artist. I think it tells you about their personality, how they felt about a piece, their relationship with the subject/commissioner, etc. For instance, Degas pretty much always signs with a very discrete signature in a corner. He uses a color similar to that of the background in the area & you have to work to find his signature. So then why does he sometimes sign in red over a dark brownish background? I mean that is a big departure & not an accident. Once you notice that, then you can start imagining what it was about the piece or that time in his life that made him want to stand out more, be more bold.

Here’s a few examples of the different ways Degas has signed. But note that the ones where you can barely see his signature I just didn’t take pictures of (sorry!)…but take my word for it, there’s a lot of those & it really is hard to find!

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Then there’s my girl, Mary Cassatt. Sometimes she signs very intentionally & beautifully, sometimes it seems a bit rushed & messy, and then there’s that gem where she dedicated this MASSIVE painting to her nephew…I’m so obsessed!

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To me signatures are the most underrated/overlooked detail in each work of art. I find it strange that we pay so little attention to artist’s signatures, as they are the one element of any artwork that is guaranteed to be entirely about the artist. Signatures are like little selfies, or autobiographies for specific moments in time. Was she in a rush? Were they proud? Depressed? Humble? Indifferent?

I feel like I have unknowingly had this idea incubating within me for at least the past decade, and I can't even fully explain how overwhelming (in a good way) it feels to finally have it surface into something I consciously understand. I’m really excited to get started on this project & share it with everyone!

Natalie Dark1 Comment