It has recently been discovered that the works of William Shakespeare were actually written by another person with the same name. And lately, around this studio, there’ve been a few anonymous letters like this one: “If I look for my name on the Internet, up comes an artist with my exact name and spelling who is not me. Even worse, the subject matter this person deals in is nothing with which I want to be associated. I’m considering using another name and maybe even one with the other gender. I’m thinking of continuing to use my real name as well but only for paintings that would go to people in my area. What do you think?”
Thanks, Anonymous. Seeing as we are now actors on a worldwide stage, you’re touching on a sensitive problem. Artists are well aware of the google-ization of our small world. Sometimes just putting in a middle initial will do the trick. For folks with commonplace names I recommend dragging up a historical or family name and inserting it. You’ll begin to see more and more three-name names in the 21st Century. These days people may not even take your card or your number. They just google you. Incidentally, I don’t recommend changing your gender. It’s been done. I’m told that it smarts. Be proud of the gender you have been given.
If you accept my current dictum for success in the art game — “get good, get unique, get noticed” — a name like Richard Brown, pleasant as it is, might not cut it. Recently we made the ultimate boo-boo by publishing one of Richard Brown’s letters and illustrating it with the work of another Richard Brown. Andrew fixed the problem quickly when the Browns in question arose in amused confusion.
But more than anything there’s the value of a unique identity. While we are all part of a great human family — with only a few degrees of separation — we owe it to ourselves to sign our names uniquely. A name is an entity on which a career hangs. Never underestimate the value of ego. Do whatever it takes to find and hold the person that you are and can become. The Kabalarians may be on to something. This identity, this brand, becomes the true you. You are the one you need to be comfortable with. As Sammy Davis Jr. said, “I gotta be me.” A name may seem a small thing, certainly not greater than the work attached to it, but a name is part of the package. “For a man to achieve all that is demanded of him he must regard himself as greater than he is.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
PS: “I’m beginning to consider myself stronger than all those around me, and the good opinion I have of myself has only been reached after mature consideration.” (Paul Cezanne, to his mother)
Esoterica: I was surprised to notice another Robert Genn in a British telephone directory. I rang him up and found out he was a retired Secret Service spy. Next thing I knew I was staying with him down in Dittisham, Dartmouth, Devon. Turned out Robert Genn collected art so we had lots to talk about. We went to his “local” where his buddies were amazed to lay their eyes on his strange colonial namesake. Bob and I became great friends. Later, he and Betty visited us in Canada. When Bob recently passed away it was like a part of me had been torn away.
This letter was originally published as “What’s in a name?” on October 25, 2005.
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“We all name ourselves. We call ourselves artists. Nobody asks us. Nobody says you are or you aren’t.” (Ad Reinhardt)