The Importance of Artwork Authentication in the Digital Era

By: Lauren Liu

The digital era has gifted the art world with new mediums, increased access to audiences, and innovative platforms for art exhibitions and transactions. For artists, the internet has provided  greater  access to the art marketplace and modern tools for bolder digital creation. However, some may also consider these changes troublesome. One of the biggest concerns in the art world is the threat of forgery. Although forgeries existed long before the digital era, modern technology has given art forgers and those who sell their products more temptation and opportunities to create and sell their forged works.

Now, more than ever, emerging artists need to protect themselves from forgeries, making the authentication of artworks increasingly crucial.

One important aspect of authenticating artwork is also known as provenance, or the documentation that outlines a particular art piece’s creator and history. A signed certificate of authenticity is one of the most common forms of provenance. For such documentation to establish authenticity, it should include the work’s title, date it was made, mediums, dimensions, and appraisal value. For example, a provenance could list an individual as the owner of the particular work of art in question in a museum exhibit catalog. This would constitute valid provenance. Most of the time, only names of previous owners do not constitute valid provenance. For art purchasers, they should consider getting full names and contact information for the current and previous owners to ensure the authenticity of the artwork in question. A “good provenance” is often taken as an indication of authenticity, because the longer the chain of ownership, the more likely that the artwork is authentic. Prominent or well-attended exhibitions of a picture are also taken as not only indications of value but also some evidence of authenticity and ownership, the logic being that an artwork would not be frequently displayed if its authenticity was questionable or if there was a dispute as to ownership. Provenance, even if not usable in court as evidence of authenticity or ownership, may still be admissible to oppose a new claim of ownership on the legal doctrine of laches (prejudice caused by undue delay by a claimant in coming forth with a claim).

Another popular method of authentication is the examination of the artist’s signature. Technology now allows fairly easy investigation of artworks and signatures via computerized databases and photographs to gather large samples of an artist’s works and signature for comparison. When creating signatures, artists should consider using a hand signature that is different from their legal signatures and is legible. Such a signature can later be thought of as a brand logo that makes artwork recognizable, and handwriting it makes it harder for forgers to replicate. Furthermore, artists should consider signing all works upon completion, preferably before the paint dries. By doing this, the artist essentially embeds the signature into the work. Artists should also use the same medium as the art to prevent the suspicion that the signature is forged or added by another person later. 

Authenticating art is important and worthwhile, especially for any artist who wants to build a recognizable brand and protect their reputation and livelihood. Understandably, the prevalence of digital art theft, fakes, forgeries, art scams, fraudulent art sales, and falsified certificates of authenticity can be discouraging. However, methods of authentication can help prevent the likelihood of such violations. While art thieves, plagiarists, and scammers continue to evolve as quickly as technology does, artists can also protect themselves using their own creativity and following legal advice on authentication.

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