The Artist's Signature
an Essay by Daniel Botkin
Illustration by Daniel Botkin - Published in Gates of Eden 2011
The book Art For Dummies downplays the importance of an artist's signature on a work of art. Art For Dummies states that "the presence or lack of the artist's signature is not as significant as you might think in establishing the importance or value of a work of art."
The Art For Dummies writer views the artist's signature as unimportant because of the ease of forging a signature. "In the fine arts," the writer concludes, "it's the overall quality of the work and its condition that are important, not the signature."
There is an element of truth to this, of course. Nonetheless, most artists today do sign their work. Not all artists signed their work in the past, leaving art historians uncertain about who created some of the great works of European art and some early American art. The signing of artwork in America was inconsistent in the 1700s and the early 1800s.
Eventually, though, signing one's artwork became the norm in America.
The artist's signature can serve as a form of advertising for the living artist. After the artist's death, the signature can help to verify the authenticity of the work. While it is true that a signature can be forged, such forgery is not as easy as some people might think. An amateur forger might be able to deceive an amateur art collector, but serious art collectors have ways of detecting forged signatures.
Art historians and researchers have compiled facsimilies of the signatures of famous dead artists. These facsimilies are reproduced in large reference books such as Dictionary of Signatures and Monograms of American Artists by Peter Hastings Falk, American Artists: Signatures and Monograms by John Castagno, and The Classified Dictionary of Artists Signatures, Symbols and Monograms by H.H. Capian.
It is fascinating to leaf through these volumes and see the ways various artists have signed their work. The monograms and symbols are especially intriguing. Most monograms consist of the artist's initials enclosed in a circle, square, or odd shape. Sometimes the letters in the monogram are so stylized that they are not legible, even if you know what letters you are looking for. Some artists sign their work with a symbol, a cryptic logo of their own design, with no letters whatsoever.
As a human and an artist, I am intrigued by the signatures of human artists. As a Bible teacher, I am intrigued by the signature of the Divine Artist.
The idea of viewing God in His creative role as the Divine Master Artist is not a new idea. This idea has existed for centuries in Christian thought. Most people are familiar with William Blake's The Ancient of Days, an illustration of God as the Divine Architect, compass in hand, bending down over His creation. About 500 years before Blake, an unknown artist similarly depicted "God the Father as Architect," compass in hand, in a French Bible.
Judaism, too, has long viewed God as the Incomparable Artist. To communicate this idea, the rabbis took the well-known Hebrew phrase "There is no Rock [tsur] like our God" and slightly modified the pronunciation to make it say, "There is no Artist [tsayar] like our God."
Genesis describes the six days of creation, but there is no mention of the Creator signing His name to His finished creation. If God is the Master Artist, did He sign His name when He finished His work? If so, where?
Some artists place their signature on their work in a way that is not so apparent to the casual viewer. According to the rabbis, this was the case with God. It takes a trained eye to see where the Creator signed His name at the end of His creation, but it is there.
First of all, one must know God's Hebrew name. God's name is not "God." His name (which is not pronounced by observant Jews) is spelled with the four Hebrew letters yud, he, vav, he, transliterated into English as Y-H-V-H.
The late Pinchas Peli wrote the following in 1987: "As is the wish of every creative artist, God too wished to sign his name on his completed work of art before handing it over to humans to master and use. Thus the last two words in the first chapter of Genesis are yom hashishi ('the sixth day'); and the first two words in the second chapter are veyekhulu hashamayim ('the heavens were finished'). When these two chapters are joined together, the first letters of the two last words of Chapter 1 and the first letters of the two first words of Chapter 2 (Yom Hashishi/Vayekhulu Hashamayim) form the four-letter name of God: Y-H-V-H. The acronym represents the signature of the author."
There is yet another way in which God signed His name to His creation. The signature of God pointed out by Rabbi Peli is in the Hebrew Scriptures, God's written revelation. God's revelation in nature, i.e., the physical creation, also bears His signature in a very literal way in a specific geographical location.
One thing art collectors look for when trying to judge the authenticity of a signature is the position of the signature on the painting. Many artists make a habit of signing their work in certain locations. If God literally signed His name on His physical creation in a specific geographical location somewhere in the universe, where might that place be?
The universe is a big place, but the location of God's signature can be narrowed down by considering the following statement: "Heaven is God's throne; earth is His footstool; Jerusalem is the city of the great King" (Matt. 5:34f).
Jerusalem is the one city that is holy to Judaism and Christianity. Therefore if God wanted to sign His name in a literal way in a specific geographical location, Jerusalem would be the most obvious choice.
God did not sign His four-letter name Y-H-V-H in Jerusalem, but he did place His signature there in another form. God is also called by the name Shadai, a word usually translated "the Almighty." This name is often indicated by just the first letter, shin, as an initial. (See below.)
If a person sees an aerial view of old Jerusalem or looks at a topographical map, one can see that the three valleys of Jerusalem join together to form the unmistakable likeness of the Hebrew letter shin, the initial of Shadai, the Almighty. (See map above.)But there is even more. The letter shin can be pronounced as either "sh" or "s." A small dot placed above the letter lets the reader know which way to pronounce it. If the dot is on the left, it is pronounced "s"; if on the right, it is pronounced "sh." (See below.)
If the location of the Temple is noted, it can be seen that the Temple functions as the dot above the shin. Perhaps this is to make it clear that Jerusalem belongs to Shadai, the Almighty, and not to a certain evil being whose name begins with a shin which is pronounced like an "s," if you get my drift.
In several places the Bible refers to Jerusalem as the place where God would "put His name." He did this in a literal way by carving the three valleys of Jerusalem into the shape of a shin.
The artist's signature denotes ownership. With all the recent political turmoil over Jerusalem, it would help if the world would take note of the Master Artist's signature that is carved there, and remember who the real Owner is.
The above essay by Daniel Botkin was published in Art Calendar, a business magazine for visual artists. The author grants permission to reprint his essay with the following conditions: The essay must be reprinted in its entirety without any form of editing and must be attributed to Daniel Botkin.