Quiet Desperation

Seeking significance in a signature

Column by Craig Marshall Smith
Posted

I have worked very hard on my signature. Have you? It's imperative to have a snappy signature, if you are an artist.

I understood this pretension at a very young age, so once a year, I signed the blank pages in the front of my dictionary. If I had amounted to anything big as an artist, those pages would be worth some good money now.

The signatures perceptively changed little by little every year. The signatures I use now have been in use for about 35 years.

I have two signatures, no, three. When I sign one of those credit card screens, I just draw a horizontal line. I have seen people try to spell out their name diligently, as if the screen can tell if you are a forger.

I sign "cm smith" on checks, letters, and forms. I sign "cms" on all of my artwork.
I took a calligraphy workshop at the Denver Art Museum. A very petite Asian woman was the instructor. The class was full, and I had a good time because I appreciate calligraphy. I try to include flowing line work in all of my paintings, and that includes my signature.

I watch "Pawn Stars." Periodically someone comes in with a celebrity's autograph. One guy had Chuck Berry's signature on a cheap guitar and wanted thousands of dollars.
If I inherited autographs, fine. Otherwise I would never ask for anyone's autograph, or be an autograph collector. I have said so before. I just don't get it.

Why would I want the autograph of someone who doesn't even know me?

People have asked me to sign my book for them. I sign "cms." I don't add anything else, like, "Bon voyage, Omar and Flo."

Picasso had a great signature. He signed "Picasso" on everything he did, and he did a lot. His birth name on a canvas was out of the question. Pablo Diego Jose Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno Maria de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santisima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso.

Artist Oscar Kokoschka signed his paintings "O. K."

Georgia O'Keeffe didn't sign her paintings on the front. "Would you sign your face?" she said.

Signatures have become an afterthought, because cursive has become an afterthought.

About the only time that some of us handwrite anything, is when we sign our names.

Everything else is done on a computer.

A signature can give you a heads up about someone. In "L. A. Story," Sarah Jessica Parker's character, Sandy, signs her name like this: "SanDee*." I would excuse myself and leave by the lavatory window.

Freshmen in my drawing classes had the largest signatures, and they liked to sign their names, not discreetly on a corner, but right up there next to the image.

Advanced drawing students knew better, and kept it simple, in a corner.

What are the world's most valuable autographs? If you have Neil Armstrong's you have a very good investment. Babe Ruth's went for $150,000 in 2005.

There are only six existing signatures belonging to William Shakespeare. You're looking at $3,000,000 or more, if you own one. Shakespeare's signature is the most valuable one in the world.

"Shoeless" Joe Jackson's signature is highly prized as well, partly because he couldn't write.

It always amuses me when I see a celebrity or an athlete sign something. It is often done without looking.

I think Stephen Wright signs his name with invisible ink. You can make invisible ink right at home. Squeeze a lemon into a bowl and add a few drops of water. Write something on a piece of white paper with a cotton swab that was dipped into the lemon juice. Let it dry. When the piece of paper is held up to a light, you will be able to read the message.

Mae West had another thought about all of this. "A man's kiss is his signature."

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.