On Sunday Elaine Caulton wrote, “I have tried to find out what the ramifications would be if I chose to paint under a ‘nom de brush.’ I could sign paintings with whatever name I chose, but where does that leave me regarding payments for paintings sold, tax returns, etc.? Actors use stage names — why can’t I? (No, I’m not wanted by the Mob, but maybe I’m a little paranoid at putting my real name ‘out there.’) Any information you could provide would be a help!”
Thanks, Elaine. Elaine also goes by Mary Martin van Pablo Degas Gogh Hepworth Kitaj Hamilton Finlay-Frink. Perhaps it is because she has too many names that I was not able to find her on the Internet. I have to admit I once considered having several names myself, and then reconsidered. Actually, many creators want to hide behind a pseudonym — even a variety of them to match the artists’ various styles. The idea of filing taxes under other names is appealing too, with multiple personas below the radar significantly lessening the overall bite. I don’t recommend it, unless you think you might enjoy the quiet solitude of a Federal slammer.
The idea of many names arises from a personal identity crisis and needs to be dealt with. On our short walk on this planet we are all given a precious and unique “me.” We need to realize that there is not enough time to be more than one me. We need singularity to shine our individual light. For most of us, a single moniker is enough. Archie Leach’s transformation to Cary Grant was not self-inflicted — it was the whim of Paramount Studios. He would have been just as funny and effective as a Leach.
Elaine, you need to realize that as a creative person you have the capacity to do many things. This is nothing to be ashamed of, nor is it unusual. Forget yourself and concentrate on whatever is attracting you at the time. By diluting your name, you also dilute your ego. You need your ego and your ego needs you. Settle on a single label, your personal brand. For Internet purposes you might make it a bit unique — needed to distinguish yourself from all the others. Sign proudly and uniformly. People will not be confused by you; they will begin to appreciate your diversity, you will feel better about who you are, and all the cheques will arrive in your name.
PS: “Creativity does not depend on inherited talent or on environment or upbringing; it is a function of the ego.” (Silvano Arieti)
Esoterica: In The Rise of the Creative Class, Richard Florida describes the vast number of frustrated artists making the transition from the dullness of drudge jobs to the elixir of creativity. The democratization of the arts, which includes cooking, teaching, barbering, gardening, child rearing and Web development, is one of the sociological phenomena of our times. Individualists from the shop floor are recognized by name as they step forward with ideas and systems. Next time someone is handing out name tags, you need to take the one that says, “Hi, I’m Elaine.”
Your name is not your identity
by Ann Chaikin, Bellingham, WA, USA
This letter makes me wonder about the relationship between name and identity. As a man you have probably had the same name all of your life. As a married woman, I’ve had three different last names. The first time I married I assumed my husband’s name without thought. Later when I divorced I reconsidered what name to use and kept the same name as I raised my son. By then it didn’t feel like his name but like mine. When I remarried I considered keeping my name or reverting to my maiden name but decided to take my new husband’s name instead. This was a considered decision. It was quite different choosing to do this rather than just doing it because that’s what everybody did. Since I’ve had three names I don’t see my name as who I am but what I am called. I can imagine a person choosing a different name to sign their paintings without denying their identity. Judy Chicago is an example of an artist who did this. She didn’t do it to hide who she was but to make a statement about who she was as an artist.
Justified name multiplication
by Barney Davey, Scottsdale, AZ, USA
We humans do want to pigeonhole and categorize people. It’s part of our nature, and we’re not always generous in letting them out of the box we’ve put them in. For some artists who have built a following, they find it easier not to disturb the careful marketing they have done to build the following by creating and selling art of a different nature, medium or price point. For other artists, especially prolific ones, it allows them to sell their works in different venues without creating conflict among their galleries or distributors. I worked in a gallery here in Scottsdale that represented mostly Arizona artists. A couple of the artists we carried used a nom de brush so as not to offend other local galleries who carried them under their given name. They painted an entirely different style so as not to knock off or directly compete with their own work. If you check with top poster publishers, you’d find many have artists creating works using a “nom de brush.” For them, it’s not a matter of ego as rarely does an artist use sales from a huge poster catalog to break a career. Most poster publishers don’t require artists to participate in any marketing, so it’s easy enough for them to remain obscure.
by Ray Johnson, Aventura, FL, USA
I’ve been an artist all of my life. That means I have been painting for over 60 years plus a few more. I also was an agent for many artists. With my connections with all of the galleries it was easy to invent another artist. A nom de Plume. Then two more artists and then there was no stopping me (dozens). Each artist had a different style, a creation that was depending on what was selling at that time. The galleries would choose several artists of my creation giving me, in many cases, half or more of display space. Eventually I gave up being an agent. I just sold my work, not telling anyone that all the artists that I represented were actually me. This had nothing to do with taxes; it had to do with sales. I’m no longer painting to sell. I paint under my own name and don’t sell. I paint for the pleasure of painting.
Young family name change
by Brad Michael Moore, Perrin, TX, USA
My name was Brad Michael Weiss, now-dba, Brad Michael Moore. I remember when my mom told my two brothers and me our last names were being changed from my father’s family name to my mother’s family name. It was the year of 1960, and my parents were divorcing (first family on the block to do so). I asked my mother what the difference was between names like, “Weiss,” and “Moore.” She answered, “Someday, you’re dad is going to help you go to college, and with a name like “Moore,” you’ll have a bigger selection of schools to choose from, and therefore a better chance to be accepted by one you’ll like…” This was way too complex an issue for an eight-year-old to absorb. I went along with it all — what else could I do — besides, my dad signed the papers agreeing to the change (for the gift of a fast exit from his family)… It was all more than I could allow to meet my own eyes. In the end, my deadbeat dad didn’t help me and my brother out with college after all. So, at seventeen, I went away into the world on my own to become an image capturer, and later an artist. People like to believe times have changed a lot in the last 47 years — others are not so sure. Would Brad Michael Weiss be an artist? I’ll never know, I am only who I am — even if you just call me Mister.
Consistency is everything
by Helen Howes, Norfolk, England
The problem of names can be particularly difficult for women. Many of us become artists after we have married and changed an original name to that of another. It can be seen as disloyal to use the original (my ex would have gone ballistic) and anyway the former is one’s father’s name, so still part of the patriarchy. I am divorced, have been for longer than I was married. I still use my married name, because that’s how I have been known for many years. In a way it doesn’t matter a bit, in another, it’s a real problem for the “serial married women” I meet who seem to think that constant name-changing doesn’t matter. Picasso didn’t get to be Mr. Marr, nor did Browning become Mr. Barrett… Consistency is all.
Finding potential in stage names
by Amanda Jackson, Lincoln, UK
I can see a singular benefit to the nom de brush. Many performers have a stage name, a person they become when up in front of us; fearless, attention seeking, a risk taker. Of course it really is just Reginald up there but somehow Elton can do things Reg might not… Never for tax purposes, never to hide, nothing so grubby as being ashamed of your alternate style, but if the new name and invented ego/persona can produce breathtaking work then be her and make it.
Stage name as entertainer
by Malcolm Cudmore, Stafford, UK
As someone who has, for the last 20-odd years, earned the bulk of his living as a professional entertainer whilst, latterly, pursuing a less prominent interest as a painter. I have a “stage” name for my work as a performer and feel this is appropriate. Firstly, it is a slightly more easily remembered name (actually based on my middle name) – important in the competitive entertainment business. More importantly, perhaps, is the character I assume as a professional magician is similar to my own, natural, personality but sufficiently enhanced in some respects for me to “be” a different person when I’m performing — rather like an actor playing a part. By contrast, I have always used my real name when captioning paintings as I feel they are absolutely the product of the “whole,” natural, me – my background, experiences, personality, age, etc. In actual fact, I use a small monogram, based on my initials, as I feel this is a tidy, discreet way to “claim” the work. I rather dislike the practice, adopted by some contemporary artists, of “plastering” a disproportionately large signature in a wildly contrasting colour over the corner of a painting. All artists should aim to achieve a position where their work is sufficiently distinctive that the whole painting is, in effect, their signature.
by Michael Chesley Johnson, AZ, USA / NB, Canada
I’ve often considered changing my name. Back when I was getting started as a writer, my byline was simply “Michael Johnson.” This all-too-common name led to a number of strange bylines, including “Michael Jackson” and “Michael Jordan.” My wife suggested I start using my middle name, too, and so I became “Michael Chesley Johnson.” That middle name, which so well serves to distinguish me from all the other Michael Johnsons in the world, has now become a source of trouble. For some reason, people just can’t seem to spell it right (much less pronounce it), and I have seen it as “Chelsey,” “Chelsy” and “Chesly.” This play havocs with search engines, of course. And at one recent national painting event, the team in charge tried twice to get my name spelled correctly — this, on prominent placards in the gallery — and still got it wrong. And this was the second year in a row of them getting it wrong. So, now my wife and I are thinking hyphenation may be the way to go: “Michael Chesley-Johnson.” But maybe that even won’t be enough. I’m thinking of something more daring. If the “Artist Formerly Known as Prince” could do it, why can’t I?
Same name confusion
by Mark Davis, Boise, ID, USA
I have been tempted to change my name for painting’s sake because I have such a common name. There are about 6 Mark Davis’s here in Boise, Idaho and one of them is also a painter, although in a completely different style. Even so, I have had people say to me at shows that they have seen my work before and about how I changed my style. I then have to explain about the other Mark Davis. In spite of all that I continue to sign my name Mark Davis. I think it would be a disservice to past patrons to change my name for painting.
Keeping the collectors happy
by Edie Pfeifer, Hermosa Beach, CA, USA
I once met an artist who used one name for her more commercial art, and her real name for her serious art. Her reasoning was that collectors of her fine art would be upset if they knew she was producing less expensive, more commercial art. The commercial stuff was very different from the work that went to her gallery.
Dealings with double the names
by Dianne Olchowy, Caledon, ON, Canada
It’s better to use different names when you are selling two different styles of artwork. Apparently collectors like this as well, preferring to see you develop in one area rather than seeing you are doing several styles at once, which gives the appearance that you are not focusing on anything particular. I know one artist who is well known for only selling her originals. So when a publishing company approached her she used a different name and style to publish prints under. It’s not always about ego and it’s not always so cut and dry. If an artist sets themselves up with a numbered company they could have the cheque written to the corporate number and go on using whatever name they wanted to sign their art. This would not put you behind the slammer. You could also set up a sole proprietorship under each name and have people write cheques to those names and still file all income under your personal income tax. This would not put you behind the slammer either.
Split creativity disorder
by Helena Tiainen, Berkeley, CA, USA
All creativity is a sophisticated dance that involves all the different parts of consciousness. If we use the theory of Sigmund Freud, these would be: id, ego and superego. If art is totally ego-driven, it tends to lack in depth and tends to concentrate on separateness, comparison and competition. I think artists who have such distinct styles that they feel like they need to use aliases for those different styles may have either not yet developed a style that is natural for them or may suffer from a creative split personality disorder. Life is full of choices and we make them. If one has made enough art, one eventually arrives to a style that feels more natural than the other styles. This does not mean that the art will all be replicas of the other art in execution or subject matter. We all change, we all need to experiment, expand and grow. But underneath it all there will be some kind of a line that follows through. A signature touch that is so much like the artist that it becomes inseparable. This may not be obvious to all observers but the ones that familiarize themselves with the artist are going to be likely to pick up on the style. Maybe the key to creating unity is to know oneself. For a person who knows their strengths and weaknesses and their likes and dislikes, making choices becomes a much easier process. Whether conscious or subconscious, making art is also a dialogue.
by Richard Harrison, Venice, FL, USA
My art rep company was a corporation and the expense of doing business, from travel and insurance, car expenses, use of part of my home as a studio, etc. were all tax deductible. The same is true for an individual using a Schedule C to report expenses. Every artist should have a knowledgeable accountant to turn to. His fees are also tax deductible. Just be sure your buyers make out the check in your name or the name of your business entity, whether corporation, LLC, partnership or sole proprietor — usually the name on your bank account. I don’t recommend taking cash and trying to hide the income — that’s bad business and dishonest, too.
by Ron Ogle, Asheville, NC, USA
I am known as an oil painter, specializing in portraits and landscapes. A few years ago I had an exhibit of assemblages, which horrified a friend of mine who advised me to use another name for the occasion. A book in my collection has its title, A Handbook of Graphic Reproduction Processes, as well as its contents, in three different languages. So, from the cover of that book, I selected Manuel de la Gravure to be my nom de brush, and since then I have always labeled these works as being by that fictitious person.
Following through with a stage name
by Victor Bosson, BC, Canada
Some artists can be innovators. Elaine, choose a new identity and a name for yourself, have fun and be wild. First be sure that you are this new persona. Don’t waffle or apologize. Take this new you seriously and to a high energy level and make it a very real part of you. Say those things in your art that the other you would not have the nerve to say. Choosing a name that feels right for you and it is important that you talk with authority about your art as say …”Madrona.” Be prepared to be this artist persona a long time to establish yourself through your galleries. At the openings you will show up as Madrona. Open up a checking/ business account under your new name “Madrona.” You are a business and your business is named Madrona; nothing fishy about that to the Tax people. Madrona sells paintings in 8 galleries and happily your portion of the sales are made out to Madrona by the Gallery. This is a business approach to a new identity. If people in town are confused by your new identity don’t worry you’re an artist with integrity and it is your option to be different from the regular crowd. You are the one who chooses who you want to be. That’s why many love a costume ball. Wearing a fancy exotic costume and a mask loosens up most people under the mask. If you go ahead with a nom de brush, some will question it but art and artists should be a touch mysterious. You are the one in the driver’s seat of your journey as an artist and innovator.
Enjoy the past comments below for Nom de brush…
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.That includes Nicholas Rosal of NJ, USA who wrote, “Please let Elaine know that the best ‘signature’ for her painting is the work itself!”
And also Coulter Watt of Quakertown, PA, USA who wrote, “Ethnic persecution and fraud are the only legitimate uses of a pseudonym. Okay, so when I do really stupid things one of my alter egos, Dr TT Coupe and Dakota Jones, ridicule me about it in a totally false and fabricated story on my Web site. Otherwise, I proudly use my real name.”
And also Anne Daletski of Camano Island, WA, USA who wrote, “If this is the same Elaine Caulton who painted the lovely piece titled Timber Wolf, I do not understand why she would want to put a name other than her own lyrical name on her work. Her name is pleasantly musical, strong and real.”
And also Rosemary Leach of Clayton, ON, Canada who wrote, “I haven’t seriously considered an alternate name, but the letter put my feet on the ground, reminding me I can do both.”
And also Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki of Port Moody, BC, Canada who wrote, “We all have an ego, and size matters, right? How to be an egoist and not lose sight of humility? Encouraging the ego of another person is the way to go.”
And also Mark Jackson of New York, NY, USA who wrote, “Archie Leach doesn’t sound cool, Cary Grant does. Marion Michael Morrison doesn’t sound cool, John Wayne does. Is Reginald Kenneth Dwight cool? No, but how about Elton John?”
And also Delores Hamilton of Cary, NC, USA who wrote, “You’ve not been through the schizophrenia of many women who go from their maiden names to a husband’s name, get divorced, remarry and take on another married name, become widowed, and finally decide that none of these names identifies her.”
And also Bill McEnroe who wrote, “Elaine, etc. Just think of the terrible confusion future historians and museum folk would have if they had to track down all those different names. Your shot at fame would be diluted, if not vaporized.”