The Cataloger’s Guide for Artists

As the concept of time travel is explored and expounded upon, a very real danger to artists comes closer and closer to reality: the danger that a visual resource cataloger will travel through time to the beginning of your career, and either murder you outright (I’m looking at you, Constantin Brancusi) or simply beat you to within an inch of your life (questions, Mr. Malevich?)

So, although the crimes of many artists have already been irretrievably committed, and entered permanently into the memories of VR professionals everywhere for future elimination, I thought I might provide you, the struggling and hopeful artist, with a a few simple rules that will ensure that an angry librarian does not randomly appear in your life intent on exacting bloody revenge.

1) Give it a title. For the love of all that is fuzzy and good, title the damn thing. I don’t care if it’s a cocktail napkin with a stick figure, if you sell it to someone, or give it to someone to display, or plan to use it as the sketch for another work, title it. It can be as descriptive, realistic, or surreal and incomprehensible as you want. It’s still your work. You can call that bundle of carpet, coat hangers and sisal “Ode to Jennifer of the Great Sands” for all we care, so long as it’s a title. Marcel Duchamp seemed to think that titling something made it art (Fountain, anyone?) He may be a crackpot, but I’d say it’s the start of a sound theory, as far as visual archiving goes.

2) A unique title, you insufferable twit. It is no longer cool to be post-modern and title all fifteen of your works in a single year the same thing. It’s been done, you’re a copycat, and there are far better ways to pay tribute to the artists who did it the first time around. You are also not clever for calling it “Untitled” on purpose. This is not a title, this is a description of a large quantity of detritus that visual archivists loathe, and would like nothing more than to see fall into complete obscurity. Also, titling seven separate works “Bird in the Air No. 6” doesn’t make you hip and postmodern, it only makes you an irritating little fuck. Art Historians may love you, but there will be an angry librarian with a baseball bat in your future. Or, possibly, your past.

3) Use more than one hue. Better yet, use more than one color. Art is visual. Art History uses visual surrogates. Regardless of the advances in digital imaging and photography, do you have any idea how hard it is to look at a slide of a white-on-white painting? No, you probably don’t. Here’s a litmus test for your art, to make sure it’s not breaking this rule (You may wish to have a friend or significant other do this for you, to ensure visual impartiality):

Put your work of art on a wall, or prop it up, or whatever. Then stand either three times the object’s size, or 20 feet away, whichever is greater, from the object. Now smear your glasses with your fingers (If you do not wear them, use piece of otherwise clear glass. Don’t cut yourself. If you do, it’s not my fault you have no common sense.) If at this point, you cannot clearly identify a) that you have actually completed this work, or b) which of your completed works this is (as they all have proper titles now, don’t they?) then you aren’t finished. If you divest yourself of this work now, for whatever reason, you are increasing your archivist-rage-risk-quotient.

4) Sign it. You may have decided that art is more important than its creator, but let’s think about this. Above and beyond the fact that art is, really, a fairly narcissistic endeavor all on its own, you know that other artist? The one down the street? The one whose work you loathe, and declaim as lifeless and derivative claptrap? Unless you want your work to be listed as his “early work / undeveloped style” because you worked at the same time and geographic area and exhibited at the same shows, you better sign your work just like he does his. Ask yourself how many of the “Masters of the [Descriptive] Madonna” thought their work deserved more recognition than Durer or DaVinci, and are now forever relegated to obscurity, because they were “above” that sort of thing. Now go sign all your work before we find a way to extract your DNA from your works, and come retroactively kick your ass.


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