How Artists Can Organize
and Document Their Art
And Why Doing It is So Important
Anytime is a great time to sort, organize and document your art, particularly now when many of you may have more free time on your hands than usual. Why bother doing this? Because creating a system for storing and accessing your art and art-related information will save you major amounts of time when anyone asks you about specific types or works or time periods of art, or for any information about them. Plus, you'll have a system for storing new work and whatever information goes with it.
You may not think this is a big deal now, but the further along you get in your career and the more art you create, the more you'll come to appreciate knowing exactly where everything is and what it all means without having to excavate either your brain or your studio for it. Don't think for an instant that you'll always remember everything because you won't. Trust me on that one. With all this in mind, here are some simple steps any artist can take to make their art lives easier:
* Sign all completed work that's currently not signed. This way, you make sure that every artwork is conclusively identifiable as yours. You can sign anywhere on the art itself. You decide where. Keep in mind that unsigned art is more open to being questioned than signed art. Signing eliminates doubt. Plus, signed art is worth more than unsigned art in the eyes of collectors.
* Title or otherwise identify and label any completed works that lack this information. You can either do this on the art itself or in a database or notebook.
* Date your art. You don't necessarily have to date it on the art itself but do it somewhere. You can also keep records of incidental information like when you created each piece. This might not seem important now, but when retrospective time comes around, chronological information like this becomes invaluable in understanding the evolution of your career.
* Provide information about the mediums you work in, especially if you use unconventional materials or ingredients. That way, if anything ever gets damaged or compromised as it ages, fine art conservators will know how to treat, repair, or restore it to its original condition.
* If you create editions, catalogue essential information about each one including title, medium, date created, who printed it, how it's printed, what it's printed on, and edition size.
* Develop a system for filing and storing your art, for what goes where and why. How you do this is up to you as long as it's relatively easy for others to understand.
* Organize your art into groups or series of related works. You can either do this by physically storing them all in one place, or by itemizing and writing down whatever you can remember about the significance of each series, what inspired you to create it, what it's about, what you wanted to communicate, how you worked on it, and any other details that help others to better understand your relationship to the work as well as the relationships between individual works.
* If individual works of your art have stories or special meanings, write them down. You can do this either on the art itself, in a physical record book, or in an online database. People love reading or hearing about art from the artists who created it. Stories always enrich the experience of the work.
* Document any significant events in an artwork's history including when and where it was exhibited, any awards or distinctions it received, when and where it was pictured or written about by third parties, and other events that set it apart the rest of your work.
* Make videos of yourself talking about your art. Do this at regular intervals starting now. It doesn't have to be long. Two or three minutes will do. You'd be surprised how much you can say in a short amount of time. Again, the more you make and the longer you do them, they more valuable they'll become over time in terms of documenting the evolution of your career.
* Never discard or destroy any works of your art without getting informed third-party opinions first. Regardless of whether you think its no longer representative of your current work, you could make it much better now, it brings back bad memories, or you just plain don't like it, don't toss it without asking trusted friends or professionals first. They may well see value where you don't. No matter how you feel about it now, you kept it for a reason when you first created it, and that reason still stands. All of your art provides valuable insight into your history and growth as an artist. Plus this-- significant early works often become the most sought after and valuable to collectors over time.
* Sort, organize, and label any notes or writings you have scattered around your studio and file them away, especially if they provide insight into your thought patters, feelings, details about creating certain works, life events, and so on.
* Starting now, photograph or take short videos of your studio on a regular basis, like maybe once a month, whenever you do a major reorganization, etc. People love to see how and where artists create the magic that is their art.
* Photograph yourself with individual works of your art. You don't have to do this with every piece of art you've ever made, but each time you do, you create indisputable proof (whether physical or digital) that you are the artist who made it. These images serve the exact same purpose as provenance or Certificates of Authenticity. Plus, people love to see photographs of artists with their art.
For information about how good documentation increases the value of your art, read How to Make Your Artwork Worth More Money. For information about estate planning for artists, read Art & Artist Estate Planning.
In case you're interested, I've done and continue to do a ton of estate work with artists and their descendents as well on how to identify, gather, organize, document, archive and present the art as well as materials related to it. If you need assistance in this regard now, or are an artist interested in enlisting my services at any point in your art career, email email@example.com or call 415.931.7875.
(art by Jarek Puczel)
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