Certificates of authenticity are essential for all professional artists but have you ever wondered why? When art is your career, maintaining your professional reputation as an artist is as important as maintaining the creativity and quality of your artwork. Artists are not just creatives, they also need to be business people. The business side of art makes it crucial for artists to reach out, connect and showcase their art to the world and establish themselves within the art business. This is how artists can sustain their careers, find new work, and grow their career. When running a business you also need to protect yourself from business risks. Forgeries and fakes are rife in the art business, however, and a certificate of authenticity can help protect you as an artist.
A certificate of authenticity is a document that you as an artist or creator can use to authenticate your work from plagiarized work, copies, forgeries and other fakes. But do you really need to create and authenticate a certificate of authenticity to go with each one of your artworks? Do all artists need certificates of authenticity for their work? How do you create a certificate of authenticity in the first place? This article will answer some of those questions!
Understanding what is a Certificate of Authenticity?
A certificate of authenticity or CoA is exactly what it sounds like. It is a document or certificate that is signed and guaranteed by a relevant expert or authority certifying that a piece of art is an original, authentic and certified creation of a particular artist and not a reproduction, forgery or fake. The relevant expert or authority is usually the artist or creator of the artwork themselves but in case of historical artwork it may be an expert or scholar of art, specializing in the artist or era that the artwork belongs to.
Certificates of authority can be contentious when they accompany historical art pieces. This is because the provenance of older artwork can be complicated. Provenance is the history of a particular artwork – when it was created, who made it, the history of its sale and ownership etc. A painting originating in the Italian Renaissance has existed for centuries and may have exchanged multiple hands and survived multiple wars, civil strifes, natural disasters and other historical events. This can serve to obscure its exact origins. Many historical artwork have gaps in their provenance or periods where it was ‘missing’ or when the exact ownership or whereabouts of the painting was in question. In such cases a group of expert conservationists and art historians can look at the painting and perform tests to determine its age and compare it with other works by the same artist to verify its authenticity. In such cases the experts may provide a certificate of authenticity to guarantee that the artwork is original and authentic to the best of their knowledge.
However such certificates of authenticity may be called into question because they don’t originate from the artists themselves and instead rely on the knowledge and expertise of a third party who may be fallible. In modern times, contemporary artists often provide a certificate of authenticity with each sale to serve as a guarantee. These certificates of authenticity are rarely called into question because they originate from the creator of the artwork and can be verified by them or their representatives. Such certificates of authenticity also come with failsafes including serial numbers or holograms which can be used to verify and cross-check the certificate’s genuineness.
Why do you need a Certificate of Authenticity?
Certificates of authenticity are important for professional artists because they are useful in separating a genuine piece of artwork from a fake. Artwork is frequently plagiarized or forged. One of the most notable cases of art forgery is the Flower portrait which is the most famous and commonly replicated portraits of William Shakespeare. In 2005 the Flower portrait was found to be a 19th century forgery. Such forgeries are usually successful mainly due to the fact that the provenance of a lot of artwork, especially older artwork is difficult to ascertain. In the absence of proper provenance it can be hard to prove or disprove whether a particular piece of art is genuine or forged.
Certificates of authenticity can be used to prove both the authenticity as well as provenance of a particular artwork. It serves as a physical proof that the artwork is original, authentic and genuine. Therefore, even in the absence of proper provenance it can be used as a physical document of proof authenticating the artwork’s genuineness. By providing a certificate of authenticity to a buyer you are essentially protecting them from accusations of fraud in the case of resale of the artwork.
Certificates of authenticity can also be used by professional artists to protect themselves from being victimized by forgers or frauds.
When you issue certificates of authenticity to go alongside your original work you make it difficult for fraudsters to impersonate you or your artwork and thereby cause you to lose revenue or reputation.
Certificates of authenticity are also proof of your professionalism as an artist and a businessperson. Drafting a certificate of authority that is professional and legitimate is as important as writing your own artist's statement. By the way, if you were wondering how to write the perfect artist’s statement, don’t forget to check out our guide to artist's statements!
Where can you get a Certificate of Authenticity when you buy an artwork?
When buying an artwork you can get a certificate of authenticity to accompany it. This certificate is usually provided by the seller themself. If you are buying the artwork from the artists directly, be sure to ask for a certificate of authenticity to protect yourself in case of future resale. If, however, you are buying the artwork from a third party, for example a private seller, gallery, auction house or art collector, demand to look at the certificate of authenticity before you agree to buy the artwork. This is, again, to protect yourself and ensure you are not buying a fake or a forgery. When buying art it is important to do all of your due diligence and verify the authenticity of the artwork before you exchange any money or sign anything.
For certificates of authenticity originating from the artist, it is always better to have the certificate issued, signed and authenticated by the artist themselves. However, sometimes in the case of major artists, the certificates are issued and authenticated by third party representatives of the artists who have been legally authorized to do so. If your certificate of authority is issued by a third party representative of the artist, always verify that the representative is authorized to issue the certificate in the first place. For example, the street artist Banksy’s artwork is certified by the Pest Control Office which is the firm legally authorized by Banksy to authenticate and sell his work on the primary art market. No other third party is authorized to issue such a certificate for Banksy’s art.
Here are 6 Useful Tips for Creating a Certificate of Authenticity for your own artwork
- Make it look professional
- Include relevant details of the artwork
- Always include your signature
- Include a hologram or serial number
- Keep a copy of the certificate with you
- Display a sample COA on your artist portfolio website
Make it look professional
A certificate of authenticity is a professional business document as well as a personal guarantee from you. Therefore it is important for it to look professional, legitimate and authoritative. Print your certificate of authenticity on good quality paper or cardstock and try to laminate or frame it to ensure longevity and durability. The certificate of authenticity should use a clean, legible, professional font to ensure readability. The language used in the certificate of authenticity should be clear and concise. Don’t go off into tangents or philosophize too much. Instead try to stick to the topic and focus on describing the artwork and declare that it is original, authentic, one of a kind and certified by you.
Practice minimalism and professionalism in designing your certificate of authenticity. Less is more is a good approach to take when designing a professional document. Speaking of minimalism, take a look at some of these amazing minimalist websites to see how minimalism can be a wonderful design philosophy.
It can also be a good idea to look up examples of certificates of authenticity from professional artists who are established and successful. You can also use a certificate of authenticity template and then customize it according to your needs.
Include relevant details of the artwork
It is important to include the relevant information and details about the artwork accompanying the certificate of authenticity. This is to ensure that the certificate is used only for the artwork that it is issued for and not reused or photocopied to accompany forgeries. Clearly mention the name of the artwork, the date or year of its completion and other details like medium used, dimensions, subject matter, genre etc. For works of art that have been sold and resold, you can include a section that lists the previous buyers or owners as well as the history of its sale and ownership to maintain and establish provenance.
You can also include a short description of the artwork and the inspiration behind it. This gives the certificate of authenticity another dimension beyond simply establishing provenance. This way you can have the certificate of authenticity act as a supplement to the artwork adding to its history, meaning and depth.
Always include your signature
Your signature is one of the most important parts of a certificate of authenticity. A certificate of authenticity is a guarantee from you that the artwork you are selling was made by you, is authentic, original and one of a kind. Any such document needs to have the signature or stamp of the guarantor in order to be valid. Just as a signature is key for authenticating the authorship of an artwork, it is also key for authenticating the genuineness of a certificate of authenticity. Without your signature a CoA cannot be used to guarantee authenticity since there is no guarantor.
In the place of or in supplement to the signature you can also include a stamp of authenticity. If you are including a stamp make sure that the stamp carries your signature and is one of a kind and unique. Stamps are more easily reproducible and forged than signatures however so it is a good idea to include both your signature as well as a stamp.
Include a hologram or serial number
A hologram or a serial number is a great failsafe to prevent forgeries. Holograms are extremely difficult to forge because they are usually produced from a single master hologram and require expensive equipment for reproduction. They serve as an excellent failsafe to distinguish your certificate of authenticity and prevent it from being forged and used for other purposes. If holograms are too expensive, you can also try using a serial number which is unique to each work of art produced by you and can be used to authenticate independent works of art.
For example you can assign a serial number to each painting or other piece of art produced by you, and mention that in your certificate of authority either in plaintext or in the form of barcode. Then if you are ever in a situation where you have to ascertain whether the certificate of authenticity carried alongside an artwork was actually issued by you, you can simply match the serial number on the certificate to your own records and verify.
Keep a copy of the certificate with you
Keeping a copy of the certificate with you is another good idea to prevent forgeries or fraud. This works similar to a serial number. If in case someone has created a forged artwork and produced a fake certificate of authenticity for it you can simply check your records to see if you have the matching pair for that particular certificate. If the copy does not exist or does not match then the certificate is most likely a fake.
Keeping a copy with you also has the benefit that in case the buyer loses their certificate of authenticity for whatever reason you can reproduce a duplicate certificate for them by replicating your own copy. When producing duplicates be very careful because having multiple certificates of authenticity in circulation can muddy the waters and increase the risk of fake or dubious certificates devaluing your art. Only issue duplicate certificates in rare instances and after proper verification and safety measures.
Display a sample CoA on your artist portfolio website
You can display a sample of your certificate of authenticity on your artist portfolio website. This serves the purpose of showing buyers and others in the art world what an original and genuine certificate of authenticity from you looks like. This can help you by spreading awareness and dissuading fakes. However, keep in mind that uploading your certificate of authenticity publicly can also make it easier for people to forge it. This makes it even more important to include security measures like holograms, watermarks, stamps of authority, physical signatures and serial numbers to make it difficult to forge your certificate of authenticity.
Creating your art portfolio website can be a wonderful and easy way of promoting yourself, selling your work and marketing yourself as an artist. Your art portfolio website is not just a simple gallery to display all of your artwork; it can also be a very versatile business and marketing tool to help you grow your art business.
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Do check out these art resources
A certificate of authenticity is crucial in showing buyers that you care about the legitimacy and authenticity of your art. It also shows that you are committed to combating art theft and forgeries and protecting the interests of art buyers and collectors. This can boost buyer confidence in you as an artist and help your art career.
While we are on the topic of boosting your art career, another way you can boost your art career is by creating your very own artist portfolio website. Pixpa can help you build your online artist portfolio website easily, effortlessly, and affordably. Check out this article on the costs of building a portfolio website to see how a website builder like Pixpa can simplify the process of building your art portfolio website, bring down costs and give you the greatest possible return on investment. Also, check out these amazing art portfolio websites and get inspired now!
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