A book I borrowed from the library two or three months ago reminded me that signing hasn't always been the norm. The difference between signing or not signing had to do with the function of art and how art was created. In The Marriage Artist, a novel by Andrew Winer, Josef Pick is just a boy in pre-World War II Vienna when his grandfather asks him to illuminate a ketubah (Hebrew for "written thing"). Traditionally, it was a kind of prenuptial agreement, written in Aramaic, that outlined the rights and responsibilities of the groom to insure the security and protection of the bride in Jewish marriage. A popular form of ceremonial art, ketubot (pl.) have been made in a wide range of designs, according to the tastes and styles of different eras and regions.
As the narrative unfolds, Josef finishes illustrating a ketubah for a particular couple, hands it over to his grandfather, and then says, "I should sign it, to create a name for myself and build my reputation."
Disdainful of his grandson's pronouncement, the old man argues: "One does not sign a ketubah. Art is a devotional activity, my boy, the aim of which is to glorify God, not the individual! God gave you your special gift that you might give it back to Him. Ketubot are not opportunities for self-advancement but for pious meditation--for continuing a tradition that traces back to the ancient Hebrews! You...are part of a sacred line of numerous, nameless artists."
The boy protests, "But if I don't sign it, no one will know that it is mine."
The grandfather protests in return, "The entire painting is your secret signature!"
Consider Giotto (1267-1337), the painter and architect from Florence who left behind Byzantine spiritual representation for more realistic images and became, arguably, the first of the great Renaissance artists, which included Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) and Michelangelo (1475-1564).
As an artist, do you sign your work? On the front, on the back?
How would you describe the "signature" of your artwork?