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Whistler's dilemma- January 19, 2009

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Whistler's dilemma- January 19, 2009

Mesaj  Admin la data de Mar Ian 20, 2009 9:58 am

Yesterday Bob Whistler of Brainerd, Minnesota wrote: "I've been a painter for nine years and I sign my work "Whistler." I put my full name and date on the back. James McNeill Whistler, a distant relation, signed his paintings in different ways during his lifetime. Early works had his full name and date. For a while he signed Whistler with date and lastly with the abstract 'W,' which became the butterfly. How should I sign my work?"

Thanks, Bob. Unfortunately, most people who have the name of a great one are thought to be imposters. However, when handled wisely, you can reap the Whistler benefit and still be your own man. Not that you were thinking about it, but it's important not to adopt any device or logo that is anywhere near Whistler's butterfly. The best idea is to be straight up and sign your whole name. You don't want anyone to think you're coat-tailing. Whistler alone is not enough. I suggest a clearly lettered Robert W. Whistler. No confusion. Honest goods.

Nowadays, with so many artists out and about, your name is mighty important. I believe in including first names so there is at least the suggestion of familiarity and friendliness. Further, in a name like Joseph Smith, a third or middle name will distinguish him from the Mormon guy and make him findable on the Net. Joseph Gascoyne Smith.

Clarity of signature is valuable too. While mystery is fine, and it's dynamite to have folks recognize your "signature" by looking at your work, to be able to see and read clearly is an appreciated courtesy. Even a roaring ego like Picasso valued clarity, and he wrote it large to match. Only later when he was a household name did he reduce to initials. Singular names, monikers and avatars like Cosmos, Crumpet and Christo (Christo is a combine of two artists) can appear smug and artificial nowadays. Singular names work better for rock stars where glitz is more important than content. In my experience a return to quality art is taking place, and names are cooperating.

I'm not saying artists should join the flock--we need to maintain our individualism at all costs. Who can blame Mary Brown for signing "Paintergirl?" On the other hand, while cute, Paintergirl has a slight odour of merchandising. Maybe she should think twice. Signatures should be neither condescending nor vernacular. After all, it's called "fine art"--and it's getting finer. Unless your genuine name happens to be George Stink, it's best to hang your life on what you were given. Incidentally, some of the Stinks I used to know put it all behind them and changed their name to Stunk.

Best regards,


PS: "Remember always that you have not only the right to be an individual; you have an obligation to be one." (Eleanor Roosevelt)

Esoterica: Back in the old days, John Singer Sargent got away with an inept scrawl, barely legible on some of his works. It was part of his calculated mystique of appearing casual. "Genius," said Elizabeth Barrett Browning, "is the power to express individuality." A name may be ordinary, but these days, as long as someone can google it up and discover work that vibrates with individualism, you've got it made.

Current clickback: Four excellent questions contains illustrated reader-tips and live comments on business of scheduling, self-management, volume of work, goal setting or taking time for creative exploration.

Read this letter online. And please comment or advise on the business of name signing. Illustratable comments relating to this letter can also be made at We look after the illustrating by going and finding your work on line or using what you send to us.

Facebook: Michelle Moore, 20, who manages our free links, thought my face would be okay for Facebook. She put the letter there too. Please go here.

Robert Whistler is at

Featured Responses: Alternative to the instant Live Comments, Featured Responses are illustrated and edited for content. If you would like to submit your own for possible inclusion, please do so. Just click 'reply' on this letter or write to
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