Photo Credit: Jennie Anne Benigas



March 2013

“Approach the painting and ask, ‘Is this art?’
Since you have never heard of this artist or the work,
it is your call…”

Excerpt from the poem “Three Minutes,” A Brush with Words: Poems by Judith Ferrara, Autumn Light Press, 2013

Where to Sign

Dear Reader,

Artists have made hundreds of decisions by the time their work is finished. For example, the beginning of a piece could follow drawing or researching images. Then come choices: canvas, board, paper, wall? Primed, unprimed, ground color? Oil, pastel, acrylic, mesh, blood?

Fast forward to the finished work. When I returned to painting in 1998, there was no question as to where I would sign and date my work: front, usually in the lower right hand corner. Sometimes, it was a struggle because I didn’t want to interrupt the composition with a name and date. I finally managed to insert my last name and the year, using a color found somewhere in the painting.

A few years ago when I was delivering work for an exhibit, the gallery owner and I talked about artists signing work. He suggested that I try signing my work on the back. So I did, thinking of it as an experiment.

But why did it feel like an experiment? The question bounces around in my brain every time my painting is ready for a signature. I have seen artwork in museums by Leonardo da Vinci and others, with wall labels explaining that the signature is on the back. The majority of work after the Renaissance is signed on the front.

Have you ever felt yourself drawn to a piece of art and leaned in to check the signature or wall label? Some spark of interest made you wonder who created it. If you had ventured a guess before looking, did you feel a sense of pride if you were right?

Have you ever been attracted (negatively or positively) to a piece of art and looked, but not recognized the name? What did you do then? Vow to find more work by the artist? Dismiss it and move along until you come to work by an artist whose name and work you recognize? Does it feel safer or more comfortable to be looking at a known artist’s work?

What could be gained by making an effort to engage with the art, without the knowledge of a signature to influence your experience? Being pushed out of your comfort zone, you may be forced to make personal connections to the work. That is why I now believe signing my work on the back makes sense. I am not …(fill in the blank with an artist you know).

This is my wish: If you stop in front of my painting because you are curious, repelled or excited, then I hope you will spend a few minutes there and trust your instincts.

“Three Minutes” was recently published in my second book of poetry, A Brush with Words. Its title acknowledges the brief amount of time people typically spend looking at one piece of art. This is understandable, because of the overwhelming feast of images encountered in a museum or gallery. The poem considers the question: What if you were caught up in a painting, unencumbered by the artist’s fame?

Three Minutes

Approach the painting and ask, “Is this art?”
Since you have never heard of this artist or the work,
it is your call. Decide this might be a good idea painted badly.

Five gray people stand in a room. Check the title.
Family Gathering.
Judge that trite. Yes, lonely in a crowd… It’s been done.

The blue wall stretches at an odd angle across the top half
of the canvas. If this room had a temperature, it would be 58° F,
and you’ve left your jacket in the car. Someone would be playing
one note on the piano behind you.

A tabletop with a jug dominates the lower half of the canvas.
Recall your comment about Magritte’s The Voice of Silence:
“This is ugly, and I don’t enjoy looking at it.”
Remember the art conservator:
“It’s not about paint or pleasing images. It’s the psychology of it.”
Return to this inert square for a few more moments.
It’s still raining

and too soon to leave, so read reds, whites, blues, grays. Annoying…
Argue against the viewer’s perspective.
Are you a chandelier hanging over this white tablecloth?
Are its intersecting red and blue stripes
a landing strip, a thinly disguised metaphor?

Notice again the dense, squat, stunted adults. Saturn’s children…
Don’t try to fill in their blank faces or add to their dull clothing. Instead,
see two sisters listening to their brothers. The fifth figure,
turned toward you and away from them, clenches his fists.
Think about your own brother and his peculiar rage last night.

Stubby against a blue wall, the chest of drawers tops itself
with an oval mirror. A woman resides in reflection there,
but she is not in front of the mirror. It makes you wonder.
Gestures. Why does one brother point toward the mirror?

   A Brush with Words, Autumn Light Press, 2013