I was recently at an art show where I found myself drawn to various art pieces.  I noticed that my steps were usually the same with each piece:  After staring at the work from several angles I would walk closer to the piece and look for the label to see the Title of the piece.  Then my eyes would look for the Artist’s name and then the medium.  After that I would look at and engage with the piece again from different angles.  If I was intrigued enough still I would finally pay attention to the price.

There was a particular reaction I had to many of the pieces which was to become rather disappointed at the works named “Untitled”.  There seemed to be a plethora of them at this show.   It was a mixed show with different mediums, genres and artists so I couldn’t even blame it on them all being one type of work or on one Artist.  I realized that I often have that reaction to untitled pieces.

Now your process of viewing art may be different than mine but bottom line is it has been proven by lots of people that are in the business of Art that art viewers and buyers (vs. Artists perhaps) like titles. When I am being an Art viewer you can call me lots of things: lazy, unimaginative or whatever you want, but … I want a Title.  That Title is an additional connection between me and the work I am admiring.  Somehow having no title or, even worse to have it labeled “Untitled”, leaves me flat … like missing the punch line of a great story.

Each time it happens I wonder why an Artist would bother to create something so amazing and not take the time to give it a name.  Didn’t they care? Didn’t they know that I (and many many other viewers) care?  Did they just not know better or did they purposely choose to deny us? Did they, perhaps, fall for some old myth about why they shouldn’t title it?

Bottom line is that instead of being further connected to the piece or having some great Ah-ha moment about the piece and the Artist, I end up in my head trying to figure out why it didn’t have a title and off to find one that does.

Giving a name to a work of art is, historically, a relatively recent phenomenon, and it is even more recent that artists provide the title themselves.  Though out most of history titles were given later by people trying to clarify the world of art such as dealers, collectors, etc.  Are there reasons to not title your work?  Yes, I have, over the years, heard many reasons for not titling work including, but not limited to:

  • The work should stand alone.
  • A name on a piece may turn off a potential buyer.
  • The work will forever be stuck with that name for good or bad.
  • The title gets in the viewer’s way of interrupting the work themselves.
  • A title takes the mystery out of viewing the piece.

Clearly it is your prerogative.  It is an individual choice.  But I encourage you, if you plan on selling your work, or getting your work easily known, to take the time to honor it by naming it with a title.

So to pitch the importance of titling your work, beyond my o-so-humble opinion, here are some really GOOD reasons WHY you might consider titling your work if you have been an “Untitled” sort of Artist up til now (particularly if you care at all about your audience, want your art to be remembered, recognized and if you are interested in selling it):

  • Words and titles actually matter a lot to a lot of people.
  • Titles can tell a story >> which evoke emotions >> which sells art.
  • Titles can often help market you. It is challenging at best to market just another untitled work.
  • A title may connect the work to a viewer as it reminds them of something or someone or someplace in their life.
  • An ‘Ah ha’ moment can occur upon seeing a title and those are usually quite exciting and can become a further reason to want the art, remember the Art, want to know more about the artist, etc.
  • Titles help the Artist (that is YOU), Dealers, Gallery Owners and Collectors catalog and organize their work.
  • Titles help people recall, reference and talk about specific paintings they like – the more unique the better (try to remember the difference between Blue Bird #1 vs. Blue Bird #6, several hours later, for example).
  • The press and reviewers love titles and it makes it easier for people to write about you and give you good PR.
  • Titles can intrigue people, which has them think more about your work.
  • Titles fulfill that part of being human that has people want to know more about the Artist and how they think.
  • Remember that MOST people want guidance. Titles give them a starting point if they do not already have one – this is particularly true of abstract work.
  • Titles look professional on websites and in print.
  • Titles add to the history and ownership of the piece and adds value to the work.
  • IF you care at all about people finding you and your work on-line: Search Engines cannot “see” and differentiate in order to find your work without words.  Try Googling “untitled” and see what happens and how long it takes you to find a particular piece. Make a buyer, who may have loved your work, look too long to find your piece or you again and they may find something else in the process.  So that Title can make or break you when it comes to your work being found.

NOTE:   I am not promising that a title will sell your work.  I am saying it is part of the work, can contribute to the work and deserves attention.  On the flip side a really bad title can discourage some people so there is some care that needs to be taken.

Do you find yourself challenged in naming your work?   Let me provide at least some guidance so that it will be easier for you to title your pieces now that I have given you more of a reason to.

You can title your work before you begin, during the process or after you finish it.  Some artists start with a word or thought or even title and have the work arise from that.  For some artists the title shows up as part of the process of creating the work. Finally, you can name it after you are complete. This where most Artists hit a block if they do.  How do you get past Title block?

How about you consider having some fun with creating the title?  How about you treat it like another part of the creation process?   Here are some recommendations I and other artists have used that you can use also to create your titles:

  • First and foremost, try not to stress out over the process – stress kills the creative process so it will provide you with nothing to help you and actually block you more.
  • Be patient with you.  Don’t expect a title to come to you instantly (and it might).
  • What is your piece about?  What do you see first?  Is there some hidden meaning? A moral message? What do you want the viewer to see?
  • List a few words or thoughts or feelings that could describe the work to others.
  • What were YOUR thoughts or feelings as you worked on the piece? i.e. Thoughts Floating into Happiness
  • What is in the piece?  i.e. Water, Rocks, and Elephants
  • Play with words – Take out a dictionary, thesaurus, synonym finder, poems, music, books, etc.
  • Make a list of possible names, thoughts, concepts, words.  Some artists keep a journal or list going all the time with names that come up for them to use for future pieces.
  • What is the central, most important thing about the artwork, that you want others to understand or see?  i.e. Finding the Depth of Love
  • Do you want others to understand the artwork through the title, or do you want the title to create some mystery or suspense?  i.e. Enigma of a Turtle
  • Leave some room for viewers to explore the piece to figure out for themselves how the name relates to the piece.
  • Why did you create the artwork in the first place? Let people know in the title, i.e. Releasing and Forgiving.
  • Who is your target market or audience? Make sure the title will speak to them.
  • For sketches and less important pieces you can simply include when it was produced, medium, subject matter, such as Pencil Study of Bella, August 2016.
  • Attempt to be original. Google it and see how many you find with the same name …  add a twist if you find more than a few like it.
  • Look at titles of other artworks or pay homage to another artist, i.e. Ode to Anne Lennox
  • Generally, short titles work best. Names that ramble on and on, tend to bore the viewer.
  • Ask others … other people’s input is sometimes shocking & amazing and mostly impartial.
  • Sit your work where you see it throughout your day and walk away from it.  Trying to force a title is useless but something may bubble up as you pass it while going about your day.
  • If it is a landscape you can use the name of the location and the date in the title, i.e. Old St. Pete Pier, St Petersburg, Fl.  2016.
  • State a relationship to the subject, whether it is yours or someone else’s, i.e. My Dog or Winter Home.
  • If it is a portrait or figurative work you can use the person’s name even if it is a model, i.e. Eliza Sits Waiting or Alexandra Smith, 2016.
  • Look for an emotion that is evoked and describe the feeling, i.e. Feeling Mischievous.
  • Use a technical term or term utilized in other industries, i.e. Garbage in Garbage Out.
  • Use a general category when you can rather than an individual one, i.e. The Girls Are out to Play.
  • Create a contradiction or state what it is not, i.e. This Is Not a Sculpture or This is Not an Apple
  • Use a color, shape, number or describe a texture in your title, i.e. Smooth Red Triangles
  • Interpret the subject subjectively; similes and metaphors often work well here, i.e. Smells Like Trouble.
  • Refer to other mediums, such as book titles, poetic lines, musical form or lines from songs, etc.
  • Avoid cliché, unless you are specifically using it for the irony of it.
  • Try to be appropriate to the scale and spirit of the piece unless you are specifically making a point.
  • Don’t be pretentious and avoid being boring if at all possible.
  • Give your viewer information without stating the obvious (unless the obvious is important).
  • Pleaseeeeeeee check your spelling unless you purposely have spelled words differently on purpose.

Now, just for fun, if all else fails you can use random generators on-line to help you with your titles. Yep, that is right … you are not the first person who has had a hard time coming up with a name for a piece of art (or anything for that matter).  Feel free to try these two out to get your mind working and free your thinking process up.  I had quite a laugh and also a lot of “OOOOOO, that is great!” moments when I worked with them:

ART TITLE GENERATOR –   http://noemata.net/pa/titlegen/

NAMING GENERATOR – http://www.naming.net/

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts about Titling work in general or your work in particular.

How do you feel about Titles as a viewer?
How do you feel about Titles as an Artist?

Do you have naming practices that you utilize?   Please feel free to share with us.   We can all learn from each other with all of our unique views!!!